Sunday, May 2, 2010

It's Just a Masquerade: An Essay on the False Self

I remember it being mid afternoon on Government Street and the busking business was not brisk. A couple of hours playing and I had pocketed just under three dollars. Calling it a day, I rolled up my mat and walked up the block to chat with Christian, a fellow busker who played the sitar. Originally from Quebec, Christian was now just another summer busker in Victoria, British Columbia. I asked him how he was doing (a social no-no in the busking community, but we were close enough to engage in the delicate conversation of coin). He and I had been busking on the same block often enough to become familiar strangers, so to speak. On that particular afternoon, Christian had fared less than I.

I should have worn a mask, he stated dryly, and not even played. I would've made just as much.

Christian's mask reference was directed to Darth Fiddler, one of many other buskers situated a few blocks up toward the inner harbour. Darth Fiddler was famous. People came from far away to have their photos taken alongside this Darth Vader look-alike, this daily fixture playing his fiddle atop the Victoria Inner Harbour. (Google him -- he's awesome!)

A mask, suggested Christian! Just put on a mask and join the fictional forces of Darth Vader, the Lone Ranger, Zorro, Batman! And life would go on just as well.

Here is the question:
Who is it that is not wearing a mask?

And here is the answer:
All of us are wearing masks in most vis-a-vis situations. In fact, masks are mandatory for societal survival.

Example: Masks are a must when purchasing big ticket items such as a car or house. Not strangely, spending big dollars demands an authoritative posture; and to respond in kind to such spending is the least a vendor can do to humour and honour a potential customer.

Another example: Who wants to listen and laugh with the real you, especially early in a romantic or other purpose relationship? Who are you really when you revert to your creature comforts? Or better yet, how do you really behave when you think/know that no one is watching you?
(Being ever ready and on guard and wearing a mask is the way to go when attempting to establish/solidify any interpersonal relationship.

Once upon a time in a place far away I wore a crisp white cowboy hat, a pleated and fringed shirt, a red neckerchief, boot cut blue jeans, and Rockytop green leather cowboy boots. During that time I sang mostly cowboy songs, Git Along Little Dogie, Don't Fence Me In, Happy Trails to You. In those busking moments I had absolutely transmogrified into a singing cowboy, and presenting that Old West front kept me in yodel da dee lunch money.

Nowadays on the busk, I tend to dress down: t-shirt, hiking shorts with lots of pockets, hiking boots. Rarely do I wear a hat, though most buskers insist there is more money to be made when donning any type of chapeau.

While busking I've met many people for whom despair and ennui have long since punched out any enthusiasm for even the most weak attempt at a pretentious appearance. Call them what you like: Dregs, beggars, bag ladies, druggies. They are down and out and have doffed their masks.

I knew a Sociology professor, Clem, who was famous for donning a mask on his first semester class appearances. Typically, on the first day of his first year Sociology course, forty or so of his students would flock into class -- and Professor Clem was always, by design, late. In the meantime, while the seated students waited for their professor, some looking at their watches, some sneaking looks at others, some snacking, some snoozing, some chatting, a maintenance man wearing the blue university union coveralls would arrive and empty the wastebasket and wipe off the chalkboard. While doing so, the maintenance man would make such comments as Professor Clem is late again, I see ... oh well, you likely don't care much and besides, I could probably be teaching you a thing or two until he gets here.

Some of the students were polite, some were not, and the maintenance man would exit shortly after all the comments were heard. Within moments, Professor Clem would arrive without the coveralls -- no longer glozing as the maintenance man. At that precise moment, all those students in the class would have unwittingly doffed their masks!

We are whom we present. We are but a macedoine life cut of emotions and issues and circumstance. Most of us are able to wear a mask and can, therefore, present a false self momentarily. Donning the occasional mask makes us more respectful of ourselves and of others.

So when you're feeling frowzy -- don a mask!


  1. The topic you chose to discuss is certainly a very interesting topic. To me, it relates to the topic of "truth and truth telling". I think about masks and truth often, and have come to the conclusion that is all contextual.

    Ha, it's all contextual! (What kind of conclusion is that?!)

    It's kind of like wrapping things up with the statement: it's complex.

    I'll give this more thought. (To be con't...)

  2. Frank Zappa said that adult life was like high school with money. Some might scoff at that remark from the father of some Valley Girl but I like it a lot. Nothing alienates us from one another like money does, and what a word 'alienates/alienation.' I think that has something to do with masks! We sell our souls to keep up the pretence of an economic system that is pushing us over a cliff. (this post from Ken, perhaps refered to as 'anonymous.').