The Hacker Culture And The Imagery Market

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Not only did I choose to talk about this topic because of its chronic relevance, but also for personal reasons –  I find it fascinating. This is going to be more of a picture-heavy post. After all, don’t they say that an image is worth a thousand words?

When I was young, I used to immediately believe in anything almost any counter-system organization said. Green Peace, WikiLeaks, Anonymous.

Let me break it to you. No matter if it is right or wrong, you should not believe immediately in anything. Anything. Ideologies are free and for free, but automatic beliefs are very costly. 

Many movements owe their relevancy to aesthetics. Nazism, for instance, identified itself with such powerful imagery that every person in the world knows what a swastica stands for. Even though a swastica has been for centuries the symbol of Buddhism, but that is a story for another day.

There are many other less extreme examples of powerful imagery. This one is from Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

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Whether we like it or not, every powerful imagery slowly sneaks in and becomes part of our culture. Niki Minaj has recently released a video that portrays clear references to nazism. She even had to come out and apologize for it. If public opinion overreacted or not, you are going to have to judge for yourself.

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I am no graphic designer, but these three images look very much the same to me. They may stand for very different things,  but its esthetics crearly resemble a pattern. All that red, white and black just cannot be random.

Fact is, both the Anonymous’ philosophy and aesthetics have reached the most unlikely of places. A year ago, here in Argentina, a district attorney committed suicide. At that time he had made some serious accusations, claiming that the former administration was involved in a local terrorist attack. Since he died in the middle of the investigation, some people took the streets and gathered in protest. Some of them were even wearing the famous Guy Fawkes mask (!), Anonymous’ emblem.

Does everybody know what the Guy Fawkes mask stands for? I confess, I had to do a little research myself. Fawkes lived in the 1600s, and he was a member of the group that attempted The Gunpowder Plot. The group Fawkes belonged to wanted to assassinate King James I of England, for religious reasons. Even though the attempt failed, Guy Fawkes became a symbol of resistance.

Out of all the pieces of pop culture which have profited from Fawkes’ figure, I have to recognize that 2005’s movie V For Vendetta was the one to portray his figure best. It may not have told the specific history of Fawkes, for it was not the point of the film, but its costume design was quite thorough. The hat, the cape, the puritan belt. Artist David Lloyd created the mask especially for V, and the outcome was so powerful that Anonymous embraced it as an emblem.

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There is no way of knowing if (all) the people who wear Guy Fawkes memorabilia, for lack of a better expression, know who he was. It happens with all powerful images, especially in music. I am sure you have seen many people wearing t-shirts imprinted with The Misfits’ logo. Band member Glenn Danzig once said: ‘ if every person who wears one of our tees would have also bought one of our records, we would be ultra-billionaires by now’. So much for iconography.

After a powerful piece of imagery is created, marketing follows. Successful visuals plus marketing equals memorabila. But it is different for a band. People who wear bands’ logos serve as ‘human advertisers’ that help the band become famous and, as a result, make more money. But Anonymous is an (allegedly) non-profit association, which happens to be counter-systemic, which is to say, anti-capitalist.

Still, Anonymous has become highly marketable.

Yesterday I was strolling around Buenos Aires’ Chinatown, a place were you can buy all sorts of cheap stuff. And this caught my attention. Can you spot mister Fawkes?

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These goods are made mostly in China and Taiwan, under who knows what conditions. Child labor, insalubrious tasks, no bathroom breaks, those are the usual circumstances for the Chinese and Taiwanese worker. Look at this young man, doing his paint job in a Brazilian factory.

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This image appeared on Reddit a couple years ago, and it stirred a lot of controversy. Sweatshop conditions much?

This is a very dense issue, full of questions rather than answers. Is it possible that Anonymous is contributing to the very same thing it is against of? How great it is the power of icons, imagery and visuals altogether? Could it be one of the reasons for Anonymous’ advance and relevance?

So many questions, so little space left. Shall we try some answers in the future? You bet.

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