Monday, November 7, 2011

Behind the Masks

 We are one week past Halloween at this writing. I really enjoy Halloween and I don’t care who knows it. For some, it has become fashionable to crusade against the day, calling it an occasion to honor Satan or to glorify evil or be otherwise anti-Christian. Most of those people haven’t done any real research into the history of the day or to consider its origins. That’s not really why I’m writing just now. If you’re interested, there is a wealth of real information on the subject. Just steer clear of the obviously biased and/or fictional writings of those who want the day abolished completely.

I will say, however, that there are those who have taken the day hostage and are forcing us to pay exorbitant prices to survive the event. I refer, of course, to anyone over the age of 12 who goes from house to house demanding candy under the threat of property damage. There really ought to be a law that if you are old enough to shave, you are too old to “trick or treat.” That was driven home to me when I saw someone in a Halloween mask driving an Escalade into my neighborhood.

Still, Halloween makes me think. This year, as I watched the many people from other neighborhoods and even other counties clog the streets of my own neighborhood causing traffic tie-ups and worse, I thought about masks.

There are all kinds of masks. There are masks specifically for Halloween, made to resemble things familiar, scary or unsettling (clown masks are the worst). There are masks used for dramatic purposes on stage. There are masks worn by health professionals to limit the spread of potentially harmful germs. The greatest mask of all time is worn by one of the greatest fictional heroes of all time. He embodies strength, mystery and justice with a little violent fun thrown into the mix. He stands head and shoulders above all others. You know who I mean…


Yes. The Caped Crusader himself. Not the one in the silly TV show of the ‘60s. I’m speaking of the Dark Knight, the one whose name is whispered by criminals and malefactors of Gotham City. Batman was created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger in 1939 and was arguably at his best when written Frank Miller. Batman is the coolest of all comic book characters and not because he has the best toys and gadgets (although who wouldn’t kill for a real batmobile?).

What makes Batman the most interesting of all the masked heroes is the fundamental question of his identity. The iconic mask/cowl of Batman hides the face of Bruce Wayne – we all know that. The real question that must be asked is this:

Is Batman really Bruce Wayne or is Bruce Wayne really Batman?

It’s all about who the character really is. Is Batman a persona put on by Wayne in order to fight crime or has Batman become the dominant personality who uses Bruce Wayne as a mask to function in society? Believe it or not psychiatrists, psychologists and writers have discussed this at length without coming to a final conclusion.

The question, or course, is much more than an armchair analysis of a comic book character. It’s the question that we all need ask ourselves about ourselves. Do I wear a mask and does anyone know the person behind the mask? What face or mask do I present to the world? Is the face that I choose to show others a true reflection of who I am or is it a character I create for my own purposes? Do I hide my true self in order to protect myself from the world? Is there anyone actually behind the mask?

We live in a society that values image over reality and style over substance. Because of that, the temptation to create a mask that reflects what society wants to see can become overwhelming. We succumb to the demand and we create faces that allow only a small portion of ourselves to be seen. We hide the parts of ourselves that seem afraid or weak or simply contrary the political and social constraints around us. We become afraid to tell anyone else who we are inside – our “secret identity.”

We may fool others but we confuse ourselves. After a while, we have no idea who we really are. Are with the person or are we the mask?

My hope and prayer is that the question will be answered before it becomes irrelevant – before the mask and face merge forever and a person is lost in the process.