Masks & Metaphors in the Time of Mass Epidemics


Masks & Metaphors in the Time of Mass Epidemics

I am bombarded with videos of clumsy husbands in kitchens, songs of grit and prayers to the universe. The one forward of a video for the campaign #MaskForAll, for this COVID-19 Pandemic, has set me thinking of the masks we wear and the metaphors we live by.

I could see Jim Carey in a yellow suit with his green mask. It heralded the success of Jim Carey as an actor in his iconic film, The Mask. It was a film that many years back made me laugh a lot, those days I laughed at most things. I watched Stanley Ipkiss’ magically-unleashed Id seduce the moll and finally good triumphed over evil. I started liking that magic mask & in my enthusiastic imagination I wanted that mask so that I could slap my mean boss, make more money and just do whatever hell I wanted to do.

I also watched Stanley Kubrick’s film Eyes Wide Shut, and encountered that classic scene: masked people playing out their fantasy in a secret society of hidden identity and debauchery. It delved into the darker side of human beings, a part of us that we not-always-successfully bury forever: desire devoid of the moral code of right and wrong.

Paradoxically, hiding a part of us seems to help us become who we want to be. Masks hide what we don’t want others to see in us, and magnify the things we do. It’s protection and projection. This instinct has been with us since time immemorial. It is deep. Innate. So it’s here to stay. The proliferation of superhero movies is but one more expression of this.

Masks & Metaphors in the Time of Mass Epidemics

Right now the story all over the globe is different, we want to be seen with medical masks on, we need to be identified as law-abiding citizens and are also concerned of not infecting other human beings. The mask is now a social symbol of support and intellect. There is great social pressure against people not following the pandemic rules of proper COVID-19 behaviour code.

I have found that as we progress with technology and into a virtual world of boy meet girl and hook up, the mask is always on for most. I wish we had these many masks during our times. We trusted people and took the world at face value. I recall Yellow Fever gripping the nation & my childhood friend and I decided to go to Jaipur during that time. We returned pink after that holiday and our parents were crimson with anger and fear. Yellow didn’t deter our fearless youth. Of course, this is a different ball game of the world coming to a standstill. This is is a pandemic. The masks need to come on.

I often wonder if these days we are able to take off our masks ever. There are wolves in sheep’s clothing. There is the clown mask in the film Joker who represented dystopian America. One cannot get over the dance on the steps of the film The Joker, Phoenix with his mask on was a sight to behold. Despite the movie’s theatrical trappings, that mask represented a mass ennui and disillusionment, a tendency to violence and chaos that is very much a part of the real world.

In India we have the Kathakali, the Chau dancers, the occasional Hanuman mask that children near traffic signals sometimes wear to beg on a Tuesday, which is Hanuman’s day.

I think the new order would be of different kinds of masks. I find myself pondering how we will differentiate between the rich and the poor? Will there be a difference between the maid cleaning the house to the well-heeled madam? Maybe the poor in the days ahead would have basic masks and the rich could have some Swarovski thrown around in a bespoke design?

Perhaps COVID-19 will be a true leveller. Maybe it’s telling us even if you have the LV or the Prada right now you gotta get your hands into the sink and the mop on the floor and stand in the queue for groceries. For that at least, hell yeah!

I guess corona will cure us and curse us in equal measure.

If that isn’t dystopia what is?

My streets lie desolate,

Shops have their shutters down,

The lone crow shifts from branch to branch,

My clothes in my cupboards lie creaseless,

It’s like death that just came knocking on my doorstep,

I am humbled as I realize this is teaching me a lesson,

When the end comes,

We all fit into the same space,

Few feet under the ground,

Where the address is the same,

And the sunshine is the same,

This is a leveller,

If I don’t learn today

When will I learn to be human,

To realise that it’s not the riches that makes the difference,

It is the love for one another that creates this tolerance.

– By Mohua Chinappa, a writer, brand specialist, consultant who also runs a blog on Indian arts & crafts, gender and also writes human interest stories.

Masks & Metaphors in the Time of Mass Epidemics

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