"Remember, remember the fifth of November." You've probably seen this all over your social feeds today, probably just thinking people are cleverly ushering in Nov. 5.
However, there's so much more behind this beginning to an English verse. The verse describes the Gunpowder Plot, which involved today's namesake, Guy Fawkes. So who was this man, and why do we still care about him?
Fawkes was born in England in 1570 at a time when Catholicism was heavily repressed in the country. Though he grew up a Protestant, Fawkes converted to Catholicism and enlisted in the Spanish army in the Netherlands around 1593.
After Queen Elizabeth I died, King James I became sovereign of England in 1603. As he continued the country's hostility toward Catholicism, unrest was brewing among those who wanted the religion to reign supreme in England. Fawkes joined Robert Catesby, Thomas Winter, Thomas Percy and John Wright in their plan to explode gun powder under Parliament on Nov. 5, 1605 when King James I, other members of the royal family and members of the government would be present. They hoped with the king dead, his daughter Elizabeth would take the throne and turn England back into a Catholic country.
However, the Gunpowder Plot, as it's known today, failed miserably. Someone tipped off Lord Monteagle, the brother-in-law of one of the conspirators, warning him to not attend Parliament on Nov. 5. This led to a whole search of the Houses of Parliament the day before the planned attack, which is when Fawkes was found. He was tortured for two days before revealing the entire plan. At the end of January 1606, Fawkes was executed.
Britons still remember that fateful day of the foiled terror plot by commemorating Nov. 5 every year as Guy Fawkes Day or Bonfire Night. It's basically Christmas for pyromaniacs. People burn effigies representing Fawkes while asking for "a penny for the guy," and there's tons of fireworks shows throughout the country.
In recent years, Guy Fawkes Day has broken out of the confines of the U.K. and achieved worldwide significance, thanks in part to Alan Moore and David Lloyd's graphic novel series later made into a 2006 film, V for Vendetta. The protagonist known simply as V is a vigilante who tries to overthrow a totalitarian regime in a dystopian, not-so-distant future. He always wears that iconic mask with narrow eyes and a prominent, black mustache modeled after the cardboard ones you could find for Halloween and Guy Fawkes Day celebrations.
V for Vendetta's version of the Guy Fawkes mask would eventually make its way online. A rough illustration of the mask on a stick figure became a part of an Internet meme called "Epic Fail Guy," which first appeared on the online photo board 4chan. Just as the real Guy Fawkes failed at his terror plot, "Epic Fail Guy" can't seem to do anything right either.
Then in 2008, the hacktivist group Anonymous adopted the mask as part of Project Chanology, a campaign that organized an attack on the Church of Scientology's website. Before Anonymous' first public demonstration on Feb. 10, 2008, the group circulated a code of conduct, which included Rule 17 that stated, "Cover your face. This will prevent your identification from videos taken by hostiles." Batman and classic masquerade masks were also in the running, but the Guy Fawkes mask won out for its cheap price and availability in every city, former Anonymous member Gregg Housh told Slate in 2011.
Inspired by the final scene of V for Vendetta when a crowd wearing Guy Fawkes masks watches the Houses of Parliament explode, hundreds of Anonymous members stood in front of London's Church of Scientology in masks. Anonymous organizes the "Million Mask March" around the world every year to coincide with the Guy Fawkes Day celebrations and protest oppressive governments.
"It had a chilling effect," Gabriella Coleman, then an assistant professor at New York University's department of media, culture and communication, told The New York Times in 2011. "The photos and videos that appeared in the news from the protests cemented the mask as the symbol of Anonymous."
Soon, other political movements adopted the Guy Fawkes mask, most notably Occupy Wall Street when it started gaining ground in 2011. Since then, many other protesters have used the Guy Fawkes mask as a symbol of rebellion for their own causes, such as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange or those protesting their country's government, from Bahrain to Brazil.
Ironically, Time Warner owns the rights to the image of the Guy Fawkes mask and gets paid a licensing fee with each sale. However, individuals claiming to be Anonymous members told CNN back in 2011 that they have their own replica masks mass-produced and shipped from Asia so that Time Warner doesn't profit off of their use of the mask. The real Guy Fawkes would have definitely approved.
Image: Warrick Page / Getty Images