It gives protection, serves to conceal, is a work of art, threat, punishment and masks the defective. Why wearing a mask is highly symbolic.
Part of a disguise: Trump and military personnel wearing masks at a Maryland hospital on July 11 Photo by Chris Kleponis/UPI/imago
When President Trump jokingly pointed out that he felt "like the Lone Ranger" wearing a mouth and nose mask to protect against the transmission of the Corona virus, it was clear to this pop culture nerd: So he doesn’t know anything about that either. Because as we all know – ahem!- the Lone Ranger wears an eye mask that leaves open exactly what a Corona mask covers. One of the heroes who occasionally hides the lower half of his face with his mask is Zorro, but he’s probably out of the question for a Trump joke because of his Hispanic culture.
Masks, then. They always seem to have a symbolic meaning as well as a practical one, and that makes them a little eerie. They conceal identities; they are mysteriously linked to death, betrayal and revolt. They are part of a "disguise," transcending the realm we call "reality." That is why the wearing of masks is subject to strict regulations. And that is exactly why masks are also a great fascination.
1. masks are for protection, as dentists, spot welders, chemical lab technicians, cattle drovers and motorcycle racers can tell you. First of all, it is for their own protection. But even the surgeon’s surgical mask also means a reversal of the protective function. It is an advance of civilization that we can also put on masks to protect our fellow human beings from us. Far away in the East, there are said to be societies in which such behavior is part of the normal code of conduct even in the case of less disastrous illnesses. Conversely, there are not a few in the societies of the West for whom such consideration is considered an "encroachment on personal freedom." But perhaps the aversion to the mask has deeper causes?
2 The mask serves to conceal. Not only lonely avengers wear them, but also bandits, robbers, members of forbidden organizations, secret societies, or participants in orgies.
3. the mask is a theatrical expression. What must remain hidden in everyday life, work and politics, the desires and hopes, fears and projections, find expression in the mask; destiny, structure and "persona" find a new language. The mask says that the person is not exactly what he is. It is finally
4. the mask is a form of transcendence. In the mask, one enters the underworld and the overworld, dances with the demons, lets the otherworldly into oneself. Putting on and taking off the mask is a ritual transition. 5.
But the mask can also serve as a form of punishment, of degrading public display. Thus, the person may be completely imprisoned in it, like the "man in the iron mask" or the poor women in the witches’ masks. Exposed to ridicule like the stupid student with the donkey mask. The mask is an important instrument of caricature and satire. In the mask play the political conditions and their protagonists are to be distorted to the recognizability.
6 The mask is a work of art. Or at least it can become part of fashion. In it, it cunningly tries to subvert its own purpose, and instead of concealing, it only expresses what is hidden even more strongly. Many people try to turn a "corona mask", which is accepted as necessary, into an "acessoire" with which to represent and distinguish oneself.
7. a mask is a threat, not only in the sporting and military field. As a signal, it triggers alarm and fear. The mask helmet turns clone warriors or emergency police officers into living weapons.
8 In general, "maskedness" appears as something disturbing. People disciplining their faces to a denial of feelings or a denial of social status, in the poker face or the grinning mask of the media politician.
The social tenderness expressed in mask-wearing is already too much for the right-wing mask-phobe. 9.
9 Finally, what is defective and missing must be masked, the facade becomes a Potemkin mask, and even a human body can be prophetically transformed by partial masking. Cosmetic surgery ultimately also allows human flesh as a mask; in the visions of "posthumanism," the boundaries between human and mask disappear. The human being of the future will have to learn to feel at home in his or her masks.
10 Is the mask also a confession, not only to the Mickey Mouse Club or the fast food chain. Through masks one can distance oneself or show solidarity. It is politicized.
And that brings us back to the present of the pandemic. The mask is demanded not only as practical protection, but also as a sign of compassionate care. A society that wants to be related to critical reason and humanistic liberality would accept this "without any propriety," but this relationship has long since ceased to be self-evident. On the one hand, a form of "phobic reaction" against mask-wearing developed – which probably has to do with the aforementioned ambiguities of the mask.
On the other hand, the mask is politicized by the usual suspects of post- and anti-democracy. Anyone who wears a mask is a democratic wimp; anyone who has to wear it should in any case indicate that it is in no way part of his or her convictions or political personality. The renunciation of the mask is stylized as heroic-masculine resistance.
The social tenderness expressed in mask-wearing is already too much for the right-wing mask-phobe. What is a small hope for the liberal humanist is anathema to him: that he might become a little bit of a different person through the mask.