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Masks are a metaphor for the items in my personal space as seen by others. I wear masks. Through them, I advertise my personality, my beliefs and my capabilities. By controlling the way I present myself, I can control the way others see me. The role I play in a community is immediately judged first through my sense of style, then in the way I carry myself and finally, through my own articulation. To everyone else, these items in my personal space — these masks and fashion — seem like my own individual choice and self-expression.

Necessary and Superfluous

masks may not be a choice at all. Instead, they are fashioned for me and selected because of my associations with other individuals in society. I wear them because it is through these masks that I am assessed and judged by my peers.

The arabic word mask̲ara means buffoon, while the latin word masca means witch or spectre. The english word mask has etymological roots in these words. It is used to denote a covering for the face worn as a disguise and connotes a pretense; a manner of expression that hides true character or feelings.

Masks have always been used by communities for religious, official or entertainment purposes. Modern masks are physical elements of adornment and ornamentation; such as makeup, hairstyle, uniform, clothing, accessory. These masks produce a visual representation of names and forms, advertising an individual’s association with a tribal identity. They assist in my ability to stereotype others just as much as I am stereotyped by them. Stereotypes are mental models of reality, they are incomplete and in most circumstances ineffectual.

The word fashion comes from the latin facere which means do or make. In middle english the meaning expanded and shifted toward make, shape or appearance. Today, in modern english the word fashion can still mean these things, to use materials and make them into something. This original meaning, a verb, has diminished in popular usage. The meaning of fashion has expanded in recent times and new meaning has emerged, a noun: a popular trend, in styles of dress and ornamentation or manners of behavior; the production and marketing of these styles of goods, especially clothing and cosmetics. To fashion, is not in fashion at all.

Fashion is the name of an industry, and as an industry it is like an organism competing and cooperating in the ecosystem with everything else. It must sustain and regenerate itself. Organisms do this by absorbing ‘free energy’ from the environment. However, for an industrial organism the need for ever increasing production is built into the flow of capital. Because, built into capital itself: is debt. A solution to this problem has arisen in the industry of fashion. The solution is the subjective mask of beauty redefined every quarter year for every acknowledged sense of taste.

When beauty is produced by an industry, it is a clever mechanism to increase the variety of items available thereby increasing production. If the definition of beauty can change all the more better for the fashion industry because it leads to increased consumption. I will need to buy the same items again and again throughout my lifetime — along with the attendant overheads — to remain in style with my peers. When items are infused with a subjective version of beauty, the beauty of one item is often incompatible with the beauty of another. Once I acquire an item of a certain design or style, I have to acquire additional new items that match it.

Very sophisticated forms of advertising have been developed to amplify demand for a product. Advertising is a kind of mask worn by a producer to deliver a message or demonstration of emotional quality to inanimate objects. Like a symphony limited to the notes of fear, hope, authority and urgency a constant rhythm of advertisements exploit our psychological vulnerabilities. Creating the fear that there is a problem, suggesting there is hope for a solution, introducing an authority on the solution sometimes combined with the utmost urgency because the solution is limited in supply.

The manufacture of desire through advertising has enabled the development of an ecosystem of products, that is goods and services. Many of which have been designed with beauty in mind first and utility or function merely an afterthought. From this ecosystem I am permitted to pick and choose my items, and trade my time for the means to acquire them. These are my possessions, the masks I wear. The more abundance of possessions I have the more I am tamed by them. The more I perceive a need for them and the more time I spend caring for them or seeking replacements.

However, the items in my personal space should have a utility that aligns with the priority and purpose of my life. The number of different utilities I need from these items is very small when compared to the number of different stylistic nuances — the many and ever changing definitions of accepted beauty.

Societies develop ways people are supposed to interact within them. They develop ways they are to interact with other societies too. Society wears masks. For example, it wears a mask that outwardly advertises the value of diversity, individuality and uniqueness. Yet the very nature of masks is one that amplifies uniformity by actively suppressing these valuable qualities. The suppression is realized when members of society attenuate variety through heckling, bullying or social avoidance. If I am not in the correct social stratification certain kinds of self expression through masks are not available to me. I might be able to start dressing and talking like a cowboy in certain parts of the country. Dressing like a rock star might get questionable looks in those places. Going out as a ninja might get me in trouble. The differences in protocol between one society and another are on the periphery or the fringes of expression. At the heart of any society, the protocols are very similar. They all amplify certain kinds of expression and attenuate others. They all resist change from unsanctioned parts of society.

The Mask isn't a physical mask that I put on. It's not a costume. It is a reality distortion field that pretends the costume is necessary. The items I possess are apart of the mask I wear. To be shown that I’m choosing the wrong items threatens an entrenched stable identity. Is this entrenched identity my authentic identity? Is it the way I really perceive myself and how I want others to perceive me as well? Masks are protective barriers to the authentic self. That is, what I permit to be readily seen erects a barrier to my authentic self, masking who I really am. This phenomena attenuates horizontal communication within the community and limits authentic connections. Yet underneath these masks, we are all very similar human beings.

Many cultures suppress the authentic self. Historically, it has been in the best interest of the individual to form a society. It has been in the best interest of a society for its people to display the proper mask. It has resulted in caste systems, arranged marriages and inheritance of roles in ancient cultures. In modern cultures; consumerism, fashion opposing utility, advertising, declining education, media-approved ideologies, racial and social stratification.

People clash when they are their mask first and people second. Your masks and fashion are an extension of your rhetoric. What you choose to communicate prior to sharing your authentic self. What aspects of your mask are necessary for the production of well being and what aspects are superfluous?