The Mask is the Meaning
by kiddingthecity (on bank holiday weekend)
Lately, I performed a browser’s search for “surgical mask”, and I came up with many (more than I expected) interesting fictions. For instance, I learned that in parts of Asia, especially in Japan, it is quite a common thing, and it makes you a good citizen, the preoccupation not to infect your neighbour if you ever feel poor. Or that surgical mask happens to be a designer’s stuff, a fashionable item, with a lot of cool features and relative price tags. And, as you can expect, it is a cool fetish in the erotic imaginary. But in the Western News Culture it is the symbol of panic, fear of unknown germs, mixing and mingling of migrant people from faraway and exotic countries, rhetoric of crowdedness and traffic, busy professionals on the front line of the latest threat.
In other worlds, the recurrent photographies of the surgical mask on the front pages are constructed as powerful chain of signifiers, despite the reassurance of professionals and politicians of the inadequacy of that measure in order to limit the risk of contagion. And by no mean least importantly, as their exchange-value increases due to relative scarcity, wearing of surgical masks has become a class issue (see The Independent).
I can rework, quite literally here, the famous ditto by Barthes: ‘The mask is the meaning’.
Marianne Hirsh on Barthes and the gaze
How does the class issue vary by context? I think this would be important to understanding the meaning of the mask.