8 Historic Symbols That Mean The Opposite of What You Think

If you want to motivate people, you don't rely on logic and reasoning. No, what people need is a symbol. A slogan, a flag, the face of a hero to stick on a T-shirt.

So what do you do if the real world doesn't provide you with something people can rally around? You just make that shit up.

#8. Guy Fawkes

Misunderstood By:

Anarchists, 4Chan.

Despite anarchists' general failure to unite long enough to make any meaningful progress against their ideological enemies (democracy, capitalism, communism and Internet forum moderationism), they do have a few running themes and symbols in common. One of the most prominent symbols is the 17th century English revolutionary, Guy Fawkes, whose famed exploit was his attempt to blow up Parliament in order to destabilize the British government.

The comparison is probably most recognizable to popular culture as the basis of the graphic novel/box office catastrophe V For Vendetta, in which a dude dresses up like Fawkes and brings down an evil dystopian theocracy. In recent years, through some bizarre online game of Chinese whispers, Fawkes has also come to somehow represent Internet teenagers' struggle against Scientology.


Because hey, why not?

While anarchists may be right that Fawkes was the only person ever to enter Parliament with honest intentions, they've forgotten what those intentions were. Fawkes wasn't trying to destroy an evil theocracy, he was trying to install one.


Fawkes' face of freedom.

Fawkes was a fighter for Spain and the Catholic Church. His goal was to end the slightly more egalitarian Protestant revolution in England by restoring Catholic domination. If the Gunpowder Plot had actually succeeded, Britain would probably look less like an anarchist commune and more like the fascist police state Alan Moore warned us about.

#7. The Inverted Cross

Misunderstood By:

Satanists, heavy metal bands.

Modern Satanism walks the narrow line between bona fide religion and juvenile attention-seeking farce; like the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, but with a lot more chains, hair dye and self-mutilation. Generally intended as a giant middle-finger to Christianity, Satanists deliberately adorn themselves with symbols that they think will inspire random people to try to give them a stern talking to.

One of the most popular Satanist symbols is the upside down cross, the reasoning behind which seems obvious enough. With the possible exception of that pentagram thing with the goat's head inside it, the inverted cross is the most immediately recognizable symbol of defiance against Christianity. It's certainly the easiest to tattoo onto your own face.

That's pretty hardcore. But there's only one man on Earth who is death metal enough to have an inverted cross carved into his own throne.


Whoa, wait a second...

If those Satanists had paid attention in Sunday school, they would probably realize that the inverted cross is actually the personal trademark of Saint Peter, the first Pope, and one of the most revered figures in Catholic lore. When Peter was martyred by crucifixion he was said to have requested to be crucified upside down because he didn't feel worthy of dying the same way as Jesus. As a result, many dyed-in-the-wool Catholics actually consider the inverted cross to be a more acceptable thing to attach to your tacky jewelry than a regular right-way-up one.


"I'm more metal than you, Satanists!" - last words of St. Peter [apocryphal].

By wearing an upside-down cross, Satanists are unwittingly showing humility and unworthiness before Christ. That makes about as much sense as a neo-Nazi sticking it to the Jews by swearing off pork for life. Take that!

#6. Che Guevara

Misunderstood By:

Leftists and socialists.

Go to any college campus and you'll find plenty of Che Guevara T-shirts amongst the student body, especially in the social sciences department. Ask a cultural studies major with a minor in White Guilt about Che and you'll hear how he was an anti-imperialist hero. Ask them about Che's time in Congo and you'll probably get a blank stare.


Huh?

While the Motorcycle Diaries and other pop culture representations have covered Guevara's early life and the Cuban revolution, it wasn't until 2001 that Cuba finally released for publication The African Dream, Che Guevara's diary of his failed attempt to export the Cuban style revolution outside of Latin America. Che's Congo adventure, which he himself called an "unmitigated disaster," was the tragic result of his attempt to force Cuba onto places that aren't Cuba.

Che sauntered into Africa after the assassination of Congolese independence leader Patrice Lumumba. Using the political tragedy as a rallying point, he hoped to launch a people's revolution. By "people," we mean "Che Guevara's people," because although the local rebel leaders considered him a white guy and didn't take well to him barking orders, Che insisted on leading the project with a bunch of his own Cuban mercenaries. His lack of faith in the Congolese people being able to learn how to operate guns makes scholars think he just "sounds pretty much like an old-fashioned racist."

But he looks so open-minded on those T-shirts!

#5. Thomas Paine

Misunderstood By:

Libertarians, Glenn Beck.

Glenn Beck has recently found a soul mate in Thomas Paine, the Founding Father known for his Revolutionary War tract Common Sense. So much so that he's gone so far as to rewrite Common Sense for the modern era, essentially stuffing words hand over fist into the mouth of a centuries-dead political philosopher for the soul-shriveling disgust Beck knows Paine would feel about Barack Obama.

Libertarians and tea partiers are so enamored by their new ideological BFF that they've taken to dressing up like him on YouTube and spouting off about the evils of taxation, weak foreign policy and too many brown people.

But Beck and his minions could probably benefit from actually reading some Thomas Paine. The guy whose 17th century ghost waxes emotional about 9/11 and congressional pay raises on the Internet is also responsible for these ideas:

"Pay as a remission of taxes to every poor family, out of the surplus taxes, and in room of poor-rates, four pounds a year for every child under fourteen years of age." Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man.

Huh, that sounds like the child tax credit created under the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, signed by. . .

"It is painful to see old age working itself to death, in what are called civilised countries, for daily bread... pay to every such person of the age of fifty years ... the sum of six pounds per annum out of the surplus taxes, and ten pounds per annum during life after the age of sixty... This support, as already remarked, is not of the nature of a charity but of a right." Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man.

An entitlement paying old people to support them for not working? That sounds like Social Security, passed by...

"There could be no such thing as landed property originally. Man did not make the earth, and, though he had a natural right to occupy it, he had no right to locate as his property in perpetuity any part of it." Thomas Paine, Agrarian Justice.

It almost sounds like he's about to say we should all share in the wealth or somethi-

"Create a national fund, out of which there shall be paid to every person, when arrived at the age of twenty-one years, the sum of fifteen pounds sterling, as a compensation in part, for the loss of his or her natural inheritance, by the introduction of the system of landed property." Thomas Paine, Agrarian Justice.

Holy shit! That sounds a lot like...

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