Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Bal Masqué

The main reason I hate being in any medical setting (hospital, doctor's office, dental office) is the doctors. Not them personally (usually), but how unsettled they make me feel with their medical jargon and their scrubs or white jackets and their impersonal attitudes towards patients. The masks they wear are particularly disturbing to me, and I am not talking about the metaphorical masks we all wear; I mean the cloth/paper coverings over their faces that make doctors even more dehumanizing.

The purpose behind wearing a mask is to hide one's face, disguise oneself as someone or something else. I have often heard that doctors/dentists should not be feared because they're "people too" but the masks they wear make it easy to see them all as one construct because the masks strip away their facial features.

I understand of course that doctors wear masks to prevent infection, but the significance of masks is something I cannot gloss over.

When a person looks at another person, we recognize their facial features.  "Face perception" refers to an individual's understanding and interpretation of the face, particularly the human face, especially in relation to the associated information processing in the brain.

I started thinking about all the villains I have known (in comics and movies, not known them personally) and how many of them are threatening not because of their faces, but because of their masks.

Here's my favorite:

Lord Shredder is one of all my all-time favorite villains. He has it all! A secret past in a far-away exotic land, a lost love, killer instincts, scars (both physical and emotional, I'm sure), and fierce fashion sense. He is as hard and cold as the metal mask he wears, which makes for a dramatic moment when he removes it toward the film's end. Then, the audience is seeing the Man, not the Mask.

If only we could all be as brave as Lord Shredder, and pull off our own masks to reveal the men (or women) we are underneath them. But why would we do that when masks give us so much power?
Masks seem to defy human injury and death (remember how Shredder's hand pops up from the landfill in "TMNT II: The Secret of the Ooze"?) And speaking of an superhuman ability to consistently defy death, how about this dude?

There are four Scream movies in the franchise, and in every one, whoever happens to be wearing the ghost face mask is unbeatable.  .  .until they remove the mask. While wearing the mask, the killer can be stabbed, hit over the head multiple times, involved in a car crash, and yet display no signs of injury. The killers are only able to be defeated after they have removed the mask, which reveals their human fragility.

And here's contestant number three in our little "masquerade" game:

Le Fantôme de l'Opéra is an interesting case because he defies the mask convention. He wears a mask to conceal himself, and yet he he also draws attention to himself repeatedly, terrorizing anyone who stands in his way or in that of Christine's career: remember the chandelier incident?

But the reason behind his behavior is innately human: love. He is in love with his beautiful young protege, and he wants to marry her. Unfortunately, his method for courting her is kidnapping her and taking her to his his cellar dwelling. He plans to keep her there, hoping that she will become attracted to him.  .  .him, the guy in the mask that abducted her.   .  .so he is basically depending on Stockholm syndrome to make his master plan work.

Unfortunately, Christine removes his mask to his surprise to reveal his face, which is described as that of a rotting corpse. He exclaims that she must think his real face is also a mask (because it is so hideous) but the ugliness underneath is actually more human than the perfectly shaped mask that conceals it.

We all wear masks. We wear them to hide things we don't like about ourselves, or to try and be something we are not in actuality.

To end, how about a multiple choice question?

Which one of these masks is the scariest?



The correct answer is "C." Why? Because C is reality, which makes it infinitely more terrifying than any horror movie.


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Living in the Lens of Literary Theory

Yesterday I was re-reading some of my old papers from graduate school. In my final paper for YA Realism, I discussed the nostalgia factor in coming-of-age stories such as one of my favorite films Now and Then. One of the sources I used was Eric Tribunella’s article “From Kiddle Lit to Kiddie Porn: The Sexualization of Children’s Literature.” Tribunella states that adults wish to re-experience and re-imagine a fantasized childhood. He asks “Who would want to relive childhood exactly as it was lived the first time?”. Who would indeed?! Homework, cleaning your room, fights with friends over thing which, in retrospect are ridiculous.  . .we’d like to re-live our childhood taking advantage of the freedom that we enjoy as adults.

I realized that I am doing that right now. I work as a librarian in a middle school, and I am also an adviser to a group of 7th graders. This job is alot of fun for me: I went on the 7th grade camping trip, I read all the latest young adult novels, I go outside and play 9 square and I laugh at the silly, and often inappropriate jokes that I hear. I told the 7th graders in my group that I love my job because I get to be a middle-schooler again! However, I am RE-experiencing these years with adult freedom. It’s not the real middle school experience, it’s the fantasized version. I have to be in school all day, but I get paid to be here. I don’t have to do any homework. I don’t worry about my new outfit or what boy might like me that day (in fact, I barely wear any make-up). And I don't have to take the bus; I can drive myself! When I go home at night, there are no parents to nag about me math grade or my messy room; I can eat whatever I want for dinner and go to bed at any time I want.

I get to experience the fun parts of adolescence: camping trips, talent shows, a whole week of at Christmas and all summer off, but I am now the child I never was, and never could be because I have the freedom of an adult.

I always view the world around me through the lens of literary theory, but sometimes I forget that I am also LIVING in literary theory.