Continued from Part 2.
One thing which makes “Toulouse” such an awesome music video is that it’s open to multiple interpretations.
Interpretation 1: People resist the music at first, but the rhythm is too infectious, and the number of cool people who get it exponentially increase
Interpretation 2: Creepy people in masks harass and assault strangers. They force them to put on masks. Then they turn into creeps themselves and harass and assault even more strangers.
Interpretation 3: This is all a dream.
Interpretation 4: It’s not a dream, the protagonist just thinks so because the truth is too much for him to handle.
The Guy Fawkes mask has a centuries-long history in England. It represents a menace to society, which must be burned. Guy Fawkes masks gained new meaning when Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s V Is for Vendetta dystopian comic books featured them. If society is evil, and Guy Fawkes is a menace to society, then maybe Guy Fawkes masks are good?
Whether you take ‘society is corrupt and the outcasts are just’ or ‘society is good and the outcasts are a threat’ view, Guy Fawkes masks are strongly associated with outcasts.
If you associate masks with a growing menace which threatens to destabilize the society you depend on to survive… you’ll dislike masks. You may don a mask during a festival (such as Guy Fawkes Night, Halloween, or even the Venice Carnival), but as a means to symbolically purge the menace.
Since the V for Vendetta movie came out in 2005, many protesters around the world have taken up Guy Fawkes masks. Anonymous, one of the earliest protest groups to use them, made the point that they needed to hide their identities because Scientologists are so vicious. I remember seeing Anonymous protesting Scientologists at Powell Street station.
So does that mean people who like protesting authority would be more likely to take up masks? Maybe… for a limited time. Most protestors want to get on with their lives after the protest. Most revolutionaries want revolutions to be temporary. Few people was permanent social disruption, they want a stable social order which works for them. And if they get a stable social order they like, they’ll oppose anything which threatens it.
In Marshmello’s “Alone,” the masked character is a bullying victim. We’re sympathetic with the victim, but we don’t want to be bullying victims.
“Alone” also has a social spread of masking, like “Toulouse.” If we’re pro-mask, we might see this as a sign of greater social acceptance. If we’re not on board with masking, we might interpret the increased popularity of masking as a threat to our social status. (I’ll say more in a later blog post.)
In “Bachke O Bachke,” masks are part of a costume party. Let’s say this is a festival, just like Guy Fawkes Day, Halloween, and the Venice Carnival (maybe it’s literally part of a festival, I haven’t seen the movie). Some of the masks are superhero masks.
People don’t want to be heroes.
Sure, people want to admired like heroes. They want to be heroes for a day. They want to put on a costume and play at being a hero for a few hours. But they don’t want to be everyday heroes.
Last year, many ‘essential workers’ were widely hailed as ‘heroes.’ Since we elevated them to ‘hero’ status, did people flock to fill job openings for nurses, waiters, teachers, drivers, garbage collectors, etc.? No, actually, people are quitting healthcare, restaurant, education, etc. jobs in droves. People don’t want to be heroes as a full-time job.
Thus, associating masks with (super)heroes makes people reluctant to wear masks as an ordinary daily habit.
Do you want to live as a comic book superhero, including a tragic backstory? I don’t.
Many comic book superheroes are also social outcasts.
Masks are with social outsiders in East Asian cultures as well, but not to the same degree. The Prince of Lanling was not a social outsider. Though he was a war leader, he didn’t threaten the social contract of his times. As this article says of Japanese people, “surgical masks give these young people another way to blend in with the crowd.” Sometimes in East Asian cultures, masks are a mark of belonging rather than a mark of the other. That makes masks much more socially bearable over the long term.
People would rather wear, day in and day out, a mask which makes them part of a crowd than a mask which marks them as a hero.
In “Toulouse (2020 Edit),” we see cloth and surgical masks. In the middle, people in Guy Fawkes masks rip off other people’s surgical masks, which suggests that they are in opposition. But at the beginning and the end, the point-of-view character conflates surgical, cloth, and Guy Fawkes masks in a way which makes surgical and cloth masks look like they are just a cover for the nightmarish Guy Fawkes masks. It’s a great illustration of how, at the irrational, emotional level, masks threaten us–and why some people become passionately anti-mask.
Is there a way to make other cultures adopt East Asian attitudes towards masking? I’ll discuss that in Part 4.