The NY Times did an article on surgical face masks called…. “The Mask”
It got me thinking because, well, what else is there to do?
Masks are in high demand now, though we are told they do no good in preventing the spread of the virus. BUT we are also told to keep a safe distance of 6 feet between people – doesn’t that imply that it must travel through air? Also it attacks the lungs – so wouldn’t wearing a mask protect us, at least a little?
I’ve always been fascinated with the psychology of masks. I wrote an extensive blog post back in 2013 about the appearance of masks within my work and how their presence frequently comes up in my images.
As the threat of coronavirus continues to become increasingly threatening and very frightening, I am specifically reminded of the well-known “plague doctor” masks that not only have a place in history but have taken root in popular culture and the steampunk motif.
The carnival-ish, bird like mask was designed with a very specific function in mind. It provided a protective and thorough enclosure for the doctor’s face, blocking access to the respiratory system through the eyes, nose, and mouth. More importantly, and more interestingly, was the reason for the long, creepy beak. At the time of the plague, it was believed that the disease was carried by the foul odors and wretched miasma that accompanied it. The beak of the doctor’s masks acted as a sort of respirator and would be filled with perfumes or anything strongly aromatic – such as dried flowers or herbs and spices – that might help prevent the spread of infection through “bad air”.
While the function of the doctor’s outfits was well intentioned (though scientifically unsound), aesthetically they were terrifying. Can you imagine being horribly sick, maybe even hallucinating due to a high fever and your doctor shows up wearing this? Perhaps it would scare the plague right out of you.
I can’t help but feel the same when I look at the modern equivalent- gas masks, full facial masks and hazmat suits. We of course know now that these are far more effective than the perfumed bird masks of the bubonic era, but their appearance is similarly intimidating, frightening, and ominous. Let’s hope these are more effective than their predecessors.
Stay safe my friends. Keep 6 feet between you, and I personally think it would not hurt to wear a mask.
PurELL like HELL!