The Joker to Guy Fawkes: why protesters around the world are wearing the same masks

From Hong Kong to Chile and from Lebanon to Iraq, people around the world are taking to the streets in protest against their leaders, writes Dr Aidan McGarry.

Across these myriad different protest movements – with their different contexts, histories and goals – people are wearing the same masks. The grinning faces of Guy Fawkes from the film V for Vendetta and of the Joker have become ubiquitous. But why?

A mask is a form of self-presentation, it is the face we choose to show to others.

Masks have been used by humans for millennia for a variety of purposes from rituals to theatrical performances in order to entertain, to protect and to disguise.

Protesters have long used masks, from demonstrations against the invasion of Iraq to protests against the World Trade Organisation summits in the 1990s

They have a communicative and performative power to help protesters make demands, raise awareness and offer a degree of protection.

A mask is useful in authoritarian regimes, providing a degree of anonymity for those taking to the streets.

Authorities in Hong Kong banned the use of masks in early October, arguing that they nullify the facial recognition technology used to identify and prosecute protesters.

This led protesters to engage in creative ways to subvert the law including using hair to disguise their faces.

Read the full piece by Dr Aidan McGarry, of Loughborough University London, in the Conversation, here.

View the press release on the Loughborough University website for further information and resources.