the anti-brand | December 08, 2011

Rob Walker: How an Anonymous Collective Made Its Mark

In Slate this week, Rob Walker writes about Anonymous—the mysterious hacktivist collective that has been linked to the Occupy movement, various high profile cyber attacks, hilarious memes, and Scientology protests. Providing a great primer on the group, Walker examines how its “branding” efforts—including its headless man logo and its re-appropriation of Guy Fawkes masks from the movie V For Vendetta—has helped the collective permeate mainstream consciousness at this politically charged moment.

Here’s Rob Walker, musing on Anonymous’ popularity:

Why has this particular set of signifiers stuck? For starters, the visuals simply look cool—headless-suit-guy and the Fawkes mask are both stark, simple, and vaguely ominous in a way that’s compelling. The suit-man juxtaposed against the U.N. map is also a cleverly subversive, and ironic, appropriation and exploitation of paranoia about Big Brother-style faceless power. Particularly when paired with Anonymous’ over-the-top rhetoric, it suggests that the most powerful entity on earth isn’t a corporation or a totalitarian regime: It’s something so amorphous that the person next to you on the subway could be part of it. And the Fawkes mask, with its hard-to-read expression and mild air of menace, extends that idea into the public sphere; at a time when privacy seems under threat, it’s a tool for mixing free expression with personal secrecy—which might be one of the few propositions that participants in the Anonymous phenomenon agree upon.

Rob Walker incorporates conversations with former Anonymous members and experts on the group to paint a compelling picture of an oft-misunderstood group. His work around branding and counterculture (he's written for Adbusters and his material-culture column, Consumed, ran in The New York Times Magazine from 2004-2011) make him a sought after voice capable of making sense of today's interwoven realm of tech, culture, consumption and branding.

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