Halloween is coming up. Sweet kids, tricksy pranksters, and convivial adults will troll the streets, awash in the glow of sanctioned mischief. In theory, I love it. In practice… There’s something about masks that unnerves me. Utterly. Whence this anxiety? And why am I so comfortable with Covid-masking, given this aversion? (Seinfeld voice:) I mean, what is the deal?!
I feel compelled to state that this essay is not meant to assign camps amongst readers between pro-, or anti-mask: I am interrogating what it is about Halloween’s full-face masks that make me so uneasy. This being said, Covid masks are effective.
The distinction is all about the eyes for me: a Halloween mask’s very raison d’etre is to hide the wearer’s identity while disguising their line of sight. But a Covid mask does not obscure the top half of one’s face, so her eyes and gaze are unencumbered, clear, identifiable. A Halloween mask connotes scare-based mischief, whereas my Covid mask brings me comfort.
I think the answer must lie somewhere between The Great Gatsby, and To Kill a Mockingbird, and E.T. (Maybe with a dash of Rear Window.) In Gatsby the painted, all-seeing eyes on the billboard are a constant, unblinking witness to the machinations of the morally bankrupt: those eyes are always watching. The climactic scene in Mockingbirdhas Scout in an unwieldy ham costume with only a rectangular slot for her to see through. She witnesses terrible things from inside the ham, with the camera shot trained on the eye-slot so we must watch Scout see something that changes her perspective. And on Halloween in E.T., the titular alien only has two pinholes through which to see when Elliot tosses a sheet over him as a makeshift ghost costume. E.T. sees the suburbs from two poorly placed eyeholes that give him a chopped-up, incomplete picture of life on Earth (and his night ends about as poorly as possible).
I feel distrustful of full-face masks because I can’t tell what the wearer is looking at, what she is seeing. Likewise, I am fearful for the wearer because, according to the movies I keep re-watching, nothing good is witnessed from inside a mask.
So this Halloween I wish the best of luck and good, safe times upon all those who venture out.
I’ll be staying in.