‘Maskless’ and the tangled Western image of masks

Maskless, a beautiful pixel art exploration, by Kultisti presents an interesting dialogue, between the literal physical confrontation with masks, and the psychosocial idea of covering your self.

I’d recommend playing through Maskless for the experience, but if you just came here for the article I’ll describe the locations in which you interact.

On one level there is the void realm of those trying to make you follow the ‘path’, they will drop you off and have you going round in circles, these are the ones who grant you your mask.

On another are those who have escaped this endless masked path, artists and chill folks who hang out in the forest, nudging you into taking off that dang mask.

Between the two, connecting them, are the paper slip boxes, which print personally ordained messages, which seem to come from the creators of the path, noting your place in their eyes.

The thing that stopped Maskless from just being forgettably beautiful, which can happen with shorter explorations like this, was that while insisting on the parasitism of conformity, it affected my ways of thinking about versions of ‘myself’. While it’s outcome is a compassionate, queer coded unmasking, I found no solid ground as expected, and predicted, in this. With all the things that had happened beforehand, it was ultimately only time and the galaxy looking back at me laughing at this moment, showing me that the mask is a flawed stand in for oppression.

That’s an idea that is killing people.

The very western, very white colonial idea about masks or any other head covering that isn’t a ‘hat’ is seemingly that they are a universal human indignity. Masks are maybe enforced in some workplaces, but mostly by the notional ethical/environmental poverty of the global East and South. Else, they are the domain of revolutionaries, superheroes, plague doctors and fetishised cultures. Masks are museum pieces, rebellion symbols, religious injustice first, life saving technology second, and integral to cultural and spiritual life never.

Now, to shield myself and others from the Spit we send out whenever we breathe, speak, eat and so on, I wear one. Within that Mucus, covering us, is a thing that has killed so many, and almost taken my loved ones. This mask is good. Also it helps me cope with the massive feelings of gender dysphoria I experience as a fem person, it kills the jawline and highlights my eyelashes. Masks are no monolithic evil, and I think, as a white British person, that notion has been buried in my skull. Years of racist, hateful media has me instantly recognise ‘mask’ as a threat, to my freedoms to be myself. To put your whole self out is one way to be trusted as able to integrate fully with a capitalist monoculture.

Only now are some white people hastening to think about masks again, while others admit that they are more bothered by covering their sacred ‘self’ than a literal pandemic.

It’s here that the conflicts of Maskless and the Covid-19 pandemic intersect, it shines a light on the resistance to masking, and the insistence on an unmasked version of true self as a pressure in itself, when the mask is the safest thing I’ve felt in terms of the sickness, and my self. It’s an issue that is intimately political, and which is killing us.

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