The first time I ever saw anyone wearing a mask was my friend Robert Barondess when he dressed up as a pirate for Halloween. I thought he was really cool. I’m guessing I was six or seven years old. I just loved his costume. He looked so strong and powerful.
And, around that time I started watching The Lone Ranger. He also wore a mask. I read somewhere that someone asked, “What’s with the mask?” That question never crossed my young mind.
“He wears a mask to conceal his identity as he travels throughout the West fighting for law and order.” Well, that didn’t exactly give me a reason why he needed to conceal his identity. I mean, how come the policemen didn’t wear masks? But, again .. it was pretty cool to see a TV character in the early 1950s who was hiding his face. After all, he never had to identify himself. Everyone knew he was the Lone Ranger.
Soon more masked heroes followed on TV: Batman & Robin & Batwoman, Zorro, Spiderman, The Flash, Captain American, Ironman, Flash, Erik (Phantom of the Opera), Catwoman, Green Lantern and on and on ..
Clearly, we got comfortable with TV characters wearing masks. Not that we would ever wear them in public ourselves (unless we planned to rob a bank). As it turned out most of us got comfortable with seeing masks … until a group of middle eastern women started appearing in western cities wearing their Burqa masks. We soon discovered that devote Muslim women wore these face masks to honor their religions rules and rituals. Hmm .. Then again, to a western eye, it seemed strange and mysterious and a little scary. Who is that person? What are she hiding? Can I trust her? Many Americans started to think of these women as an aberration. Again, to a western eye, they seemed to segregate themselves by wearing an unfamiliar type of clothing and a mask. As time passed, we seemed to fear them less and started to accept their customs.
And, then came COVID-19. Now, everyone was required to wear a mask. Cowboys, Indians, Superheroes, Muslim women and … you and me.
All of a sudden we were masked men and women going about our daily business walking the dog, shopping for groceries, buying pharmaceuticals and picking up take out food. Lip reading was a thing of the past. Speak up loudly and clearly. Enunciate your words. “You want one order of Moo Goo Gai Pan or, Goo Goo Gai Sam? And, an order of Sichuan Shredded Pork with Garlic Sauce or, Stitch Watch Pork with Salad Soup?”
What’s even weirder is that we have so quickly accepted masks as our new normal. Forget about flirting, smirking, chortling or even throwing kisses. Now, it’s all dependent upon your eyes. And, if you choose to wear sunglasses .. well, the rest of that goes out the window.
And, apart from our new found communication problem was .. to me .. a big plus. While waiting on a line, I no longer had to make small talk with strangers. Since I’m an introvert by nature, the mask gave me the ability to be even more anonymous in public.
I guess the next step is to customize our masks. Drawing characters that we wish to emulate. Or, adding a ventriloquist’s mouth that moves up and down when we talk. And, maybe we need a blinking light to indicate our approval and a honking horn to indicate our disapproval. Welcome to the new world of clowns.