There’s two kinds of masks we learn to grow into, masks for aesthetic purposes and masks for social purposes.
The Mask for Social purposes is a mask that doesn’t require our face to be concealed. It’s a transparent mask which we morph into, to present our best constructed selves to society.
Some times this mask even helps hide the ugliness.
The Aesthetic mask is a revealing one, a personality safely concealed behind it; giving the appearance of being anonymous, we’re able to reveal more about ourselves than we would when wearing the Social Mask we construct for ourselves.
It’s these interchanging masks we juggle with on a daily basis.
An experiment conducted by me and my colleagues during a training exercise, we asked individuals to critique one another — these were soft blows, very carefully constructed so as not to harm the other individual or compromise a relationship.
Introduce an aesthetic mask, and the social mask starts to slip away — the ugliness starts to unravel, the criticism isn’t harsh blows; they’re direct and unforgiving.
The individuals are not aware to whom they’re speaking to, the terminology isn’t “I think you’re…” it’s “I think that particular individual is…” not knowing that the individual being spoken about or spoken to, may just be the person behind the opposing mask, listening.
It’s a harsh experiment, one that reveals much about once “identity” is disassociated; we’re more willing to let our guard down.
One could even argue it’s easier to rob a bank when wearing an Aesthetic mask, not just to conceal ones identity but to mask the insecurity associated along with it; it may even boost confidence.
I’ve never been good at public speaking, due to my struggle with panic attacks and narcolepsy — it was something I wanted to conquer, to overcome.
I decided, how about I give a lecture wearing a mask?
The audience won’t know it’s me, and if I embarrass myself — I can walk away unscathed.
What started off as a simple and odd tool to help overcome my anxiety, revealed more about my character than I had expected.
I was no longer paying attention to the prepared speech, I was speaking directly from the heart.
I was able to express things, I never would’ve had I not concealed my face.
It’s often argued that Sunglasses provide the same shield, they provide a mask for the eyes; the most revealing part of the human body.
It’s a vision directly into another’s soul, and if read correctly; it’s quite difficult to conceal intensions without emotional leakage through the eyes.
Mitch Hedberg (May he rest in peace), the master of one-liner standup comedy, wore rose-colored sunglasses throughout his performance and was often under the influence on stage; he too struggled with social anxiety and making public appearances.
To overcome this hurdle and pursue his passion, he used sunglasses as a tool to deflect eye-contact; even then did he rarely open his eyes whilst on stage.
Take a look,
He rarely made eye contact with the audience, often looking away; covering the rest of his face with his parted long hair as he paced along the stage nervously.
It was a method through which he was able to perform live, and persevere. Unfortunately, Hedberg left the world too soon succumbing to his inner demons; but his work prevailed and still remains to this day as a memorable reminder of originality within standup and the legacy he left behind.
On the subject of masking identity, it’s worth mentioning Joaquin Phoenix’s infamous appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman.
During the interview, Phoenix was maintaining character to promote his mockumentary “I’m Still Here”, arguably a study of the fakery of Reality Television.
Notice though, at the end of the Interview; Joaquin Phoenix let his guard down by taking off his sunglasses to shake David Letterman’s hand, letting him know — it’s all part of the act, and as such he meant no disrespect (a mistake he would confirm almost compromised his act, on his later appearance on the show).
A stint that almost revealed the act Joaquin Phoenix was putting on whilst staying in character; using dark shades and a beard to make his appearance much more eerie.
One cannot talk about sunglasses without mentioning Jack Nicholson, the man basically embodies sunglasses as a style icon but goes far beyond it, to publicly state,
With my sunglasses on, I’m Jack Nicholson. Without them, I’m fat and 60.
Of course, there’s always the argument of coming off as misunderstood when wearing sunglasses ‘indoors’; I wear mine because unfortunately I was blessed with a condition called Photophobia — also known as, Light Sensitivity.
Bono wears them for the same reason, at the expense of being misunderstood, he’s able to have a laugh about it;
The Social Mask, is one of acting — as Marlon Brando once argued with Dick Cavett; we’re all actors, it’s a survival mechanism.
In the interview, he directly challenges Dick Cavett, to expose a media facade celebrities are required to put on a talk show; where in fact every interview is rehearsed and pre-planned accordingly.
He went as far as to point out how an individual such as Dick Cavett would control his emotions in a situation where professional appearance is required, masking his “When you’re frightened and nervous in this chair, you’re distressed or uncomfortable and you’re very angry…you control your face, you’re a highly controlled person”, he was able to throw Dick Cavett off balance to which a seemingly nervous Cavett observing Brando, responded with “Really…?”.
Al Pacino had a similar remark when asked “What is acting”, to which he responded “It’s what we’re doing right now”.
In Art, Masks have often been utilised either as Symbolism (Such as Eyes Wide Shut — Stanley Kubrick, 1999) or for disassociating the art from the creator.
Such as musicians Buckethead, MF Doom, and Slipknot.
Acting, is a mask, a shield, a survival mechanism — a social construction of ourselves.
Only now, we have a different animal to boost our egos; one of Social Media — one where we can construct the most perfect image of ourselves without prejudice.
Though it’s hollow and shallow, it’s a quality through which people reflect how they view themselves or how they’d like to be perceived.
Cheating ourselves and others into believing it’s who we are, a disillusioned version painted, constructed, to eloquently present a picture perfect mask for society to appreciate.
Thank you for reading.