A small insight on masks


We all wear masks, but do we really know why?

Masks appear all over the world and always indicate some attempt at creating or recreating ones identity, usually that of a god or spirit. Having said this, the use of masks still manages to vary wildly. Masks are used by Native American tribes in ceremonies that are both spiritual (as in the case of the raven masks of the Pacific Northwest) and vulgar (as in the case of the Cherokee Booger mask used to play games of scare)In Japan masks are used extensively in theater while in Indonesia masks are placed on puppets to create a simulacrum of a simulacrum. Consider what it means at an imaginative level for a puppet, that is to say  the image of an entity to wear a mask.

Masks do exist to provide anonymity but it is much more than that. For example a simple black mask like a bank robber might wear in the old movies is not really a mask at all but rather a veil because it only conceals. So to is the mask of the Lone Ranger. A mask, to be a true mask must reveal as much as it conceals.

Everyone knows masks are used for Halloween but they are also used around the world in holidays that seemingly have nothing to do Halloween. The tradition of the mummer’s parade in England and the Krampus parades in Central Europe are all about masks and masking. (although I would argue that Halloween and Christmas have more in common that most people think).

In some cases a mask is such a powerful symbol that one does not even have to wear one to be considered masked. In Italy at one time during Carnival masks had become so omnipresent that many people simply wore a pin attached to their clothes in the shape of a mask and everyone whom they encountered on the street treated them as if they were actually wearing a mask.

And we can’t forget the negative aspects of masking. In the American South white sacks were worn over the face by the KKK in order to spread fear as well as to hide their identities. This had a dual role because the white sacks were also used to cover the face of a man destined for the gallows so it was also a shroud. The KKK was not only hiding their identities, they were making themselves symbols of death. And in a curious twist negative uses of the mask can have positive consequences. An old art form now considered to be highly racist, the blackface, in which a white actor covered his face in black grease and acted the part of a negro for the entertainment of white audiences actually managed to spread a message that black slaves were not so different as anyone else. By humanizing the slave these black faced minstrels made it difficult to accept slavery. After all how can a man who loves his wife and children just the same as you or I do be anything other than worthy of the same freedoms.

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