I mean, I'd love to turn you all on to the subversive, counter-cultural glory of the British Invasion of comics in the 1980s. Here the radicals seized the means of distribution in a way rarely seen before or since. Anarchist gnostic Alan Moore led the trend, followed by the more emotionally-oriented Neil Gaiman and the punk mysticism of Grant Morrison
Before them, comics were replete with American patriotism, obedience to authority, and the resolution of problems by sheer muscular force. Somehow this group replaced that with anarchism, rebellion, and constant deconstruction of identity. And the public loved it -- it's hard to imagine how many teenage eyes must have been opened by this new breed of comics.
But, as I say, that's a side issue. What I [sic] really want to talk about is the political value of assumed identity. It seems ridiculous for me to preach about it -- I'm one of the few activists who has never managed to settle behind a pseudonym. Still, it seems the perfect path by which to resist surveillance, without vanishing into the cliquey cul-de-sac of total secrecy.
So, let me ask those of you who have pseudonyms here:
- How did you choose to become, for instance, Belvino?
- Does it affect how you write or behave, in contrast to using your 'real' name?
- How do you deal with the inevitable situations where contexts collapse, and your pseudonymous identity is confronted with your other personality?
Now, that post...
I've never been good at pseudonyms, collective identities, self-reinvention. Nonmetheless, I consider them a Good Thing at a fundamental level. Your identity, or mine, is the accretion of social conformism, gender roles, the acceptance of our own position in society. You can try to unpick it, layer by layer, but the chances are you'll never get to a 'real you'.
Or you can take the shortcut: choose another identity, put it on, change it once it's no longer useful. Be Luther Blissett, be Spartacus. Be your friends, or your enemies, or some combination of them all.
Laurie Penny just gave a wonderful interview, where she defends political action without a true name:
Anonymous is its own separate thing, an anarchic and brilliant thing, but the wider concept of anonymity itself as a political statement - whether online or offline - is gaining more and more ground as a way of rebelling against a political culture that not only seeks to root out unsavory elements with surveillance but which mandates individuality as a form of rigid conformity. Think about it: it you grow up being commanded to self-actualise, to be the best individual you can be, to define yourself by buying things, to be yourself and find your special centre and compete with your neighbors and colleagues, then choosing to be anonymous is an inherently revolutionary act, quite apart from the organising possibilities the phenomenon offers. Plus, there’s a growing sense that there is a great deal of power in the collective, in sharing a sense of solidarity, symmetry and protection in anonymity.
It's perhaps not a coincidence that Laurie writes this in an interview with a comics blog. If there's one area that comics have picked over in every possible regard, it's the secondary identity. Start with a world that has Clark Kent/Superman as the mainstream, where almost every hero wears a mask or leads a double life. Then in the 80s, along come Alan Moore and friends, devote their considerable talents to picking apart every aspect of the superhero identity. The Guy Fawkes mask now identifying Anonymous is just the smallest part of this.
The climax of this tendency, to my mind, is Grant Morrison's The Invisibles. A cell of superpowered freedom fighters draw their personalities by lot; each necessary identity is filled by a different person each week. Characters live under layers of assumed identities, brainwashing themselves at each level to forget the next layer. Heroes and villains turn out to be the same groups, veiling their consciousness in order to play out their roles. The end result is reminiscent of, say, Shaiva Tantrism. By the end, it seems that everybody is part of the same identity: a character in a dream, a player in a video-game, the 'fiction suit' with which God walks the earth, or part of a hyper-dimensional being.
Yes, this is part plot device, part stoner esoterica. But it's also a guide to discarding the unwanted parts of your past, and to acting as a group not based on prior hierarchies. And, as Laurie suggests, to dodging surveillance. When government and corporations devote so much energy to tracking and correlating our behaviour, it becomes almost a matter of duty to thow a spanner in the works. That is to adopt some identity not linked to a passport and a birth certificate. To dream a fiction suit, be it, share it, discard it, and move on to the next identity.