Admit it. You never want to take it off. Sure, sure, you have thought about it logically. You’ve read all the studies about how ineffective masks are
at preventing the spread of COVID (and anything else). You have even read some studies about how masks are positively harmful
(yes, it’s the same link—go, look; I’ll wait). You have had headaches for over a year; you notice that you can’t remember things as well as you (think you) used to—it’s hard to tell, memory being what it is. You’ve noticed yourself falling asleep from lack of oxygen, and you have a cough that you just can’t shake. Your friends call it “long COVID,” but you never got COVID, as far as you know.
You have, however, had a bacterial infection that left festering sores around your mouth, but that wasn’t COVID; just think how bad things might have been if you had gotten COVID, too! You notice that you have a hard time interacting with people in public—everyone seems so distant and confused—but, again, it’s logical. They are afraid of getting sick; of course they can’t take time to read each other’s facial expressions from behind a mask. There was that time you nearly got into a car accident when a driver in front of you passed out and swerved into ongoing traffic, but that was just one incident, nothing to be concerned about.
Much worse was that other time you caught a glimpse of someone not wearing a mask! The recklessness! Much better never to see a human mouth again than to be caught maskless and—gasp!—breathing! Or even worse—eating! Plus, you have come to like the way you look in a mask, not to mention having them in so many colors. The Unelected President—sorry, His Healthiness Dr. Anthony Fauci—could declare the pandemic over today, and you would keep wearing your mask simply to be stylish. See? Masks are not just for hygiene; they are a fashion accessory. Particularly the rainbow ones.
All your friends wear them! You prefer the one with the full rainbow, but other friends have different assemblies of stripes. Blue, pink, and white; black, red, yellow, and green; magenta, green, and blue; yellow, white, purple, and black; brown, orange, white, pink, and magenta; purple, white, and green; magenta, purple, blue, and black; the same rainbow you wear, but with black and brown on top; black, grey, white, and purple; black, grey, white, lime green, white, grey, and black—every combination in the spectrum, a veritable firework display of colors!
You feel so beautiful and empowered wearing your rainbow, as if the whole energy of the universe were flowing through you. It is a small thing not being able to breathe when you are vibrating with the frequency of every color in the electromagnetic spectrum
. You have started dying your hair to match the colors of your mask; you have even found yourself dressing in more vibrant colors so as to resonate more fully with the spectrum. You feel energized, even as you feel drained; empowered by your absorption into the waves.
How to explain this new energy? It feels like becoming one with the universe. As if you have ascended to a new level of understanding by wearing your rainbow mask. You sit in lotus now for hours on end—it’s easier, not being able to breathe much—and feel your consciousness lifted up into the aether. (You have been reading about aether—it is the medium for carrying the electromagnetic waves.) Whereas previously you felt yourself cut off and alone, now it is as if you have joined in the harmony of the cosmos. You feel “with it” in a way you have not felt since you danced the Time Warp in the movie theater and sang along with Dr. Frank-n-Furter in antici...
...pation! How could people be against masks, when they channel such erotic and empowering energy?!
I’m kidding, of course. Except I’m not, either. Masks, as I have been saying for ages
, long before everyone masked up out of fear
, are powerful magic
, not to be taken lightly. They are trance-inducing, meaning-making, self-defining—and self-eradicating—magic. They are powerful vehicles of transformation, which is why they are used in both theater and BDSM. They make of their wearers both gods—and slaves. They can also make human beings into animals. Or worse. Demons.
I am not, therefore, surprised that people seem so willing to wear them, but I am still thoughtful about why the masks have the power that they do, more particularly, why they have the power that they do under our current circumstances—when the people most willingly wearing masks have spent almost two years locked up and disconnected from normal human contact, while at the same time glued to their phones.
The phones are the key.
To put it even more cryptically, the phones are the formal cause of what I call the Rainbow Effect—the overwhelming desire to change our faces and hair and clothes to blend in with the rainbow, almost as if we wanted to become one with the Light.
“The electric light is pure information,” as Marshall McLuhan famously said. More to the point: it is quite literally Luciferian—light-bearing. In McLuhan’s words:
There is no harm in reminding ourselves from time to time that the “Prince of this World” is a great P.R. man, a great salesman of new hardware and software, a great electrical engineer, and a great master of the media. It is His master stroke to be not only environmental but invisible, for the environment is invincibly persuasive when ignored.
As McLuhan realized even before the invention of the Internet, we live in an electric environment of communication and have since the invention of the telegraph. This environment is characterized above all by its speed. Communication at the speed of light is instantaneous, global, and overwhelming, so much so that people are generally terrified, even as they are unaware of this environment. Even when your internet is slow, you are affected by the speed at which information travels—thus the frustration at not being able to connect.
In this electric world, we eat, drink, and breathe the speed of light—like angels, or demons. Again, in McLuhan’s words:
When you are on the air you are, in a way, everywhere at once. Electric man is a “super angel.” When you are on the telephone you have no body. And, while your voice is there, you and the people you speak to are here, at the same time. Electric man has no bodily being. He is literally dis-carnate.
Note, again, that McLuhan died in 1980—long before the explosion of the Internet or the invention of the smartphone. And yet, here we are, surrounded as never before by artificial light, our faces continuously bathed in the light of our screens. How could we not
be affected by this environment?
It is fashionable among the traditionalists and other denizens of the not-mainstream-Internet to make fun of the wild hair colors and other bodily ornaments of the so-called mainstream Left. “Look, Clown World!” goes up the cry, with the subtext, “Can these people not see how ridiculous they look with their multicolored hair, rainbow masks, and facial piercings? Why would you mark yourself with the colors of poisonous frogs when you could wear instead the colors with which you were born?!” And, indeed, they’re not wrong—except that they, too, are infected by the Light.
Here’s my theory. McLuhan talks about the way in which our media are extensions of our physical and nervous systems, making our electric media quite literally extensions of our brains. As contrasted with print, this electric world is “more oral and acoustic,” inviting its participants into “total immersion.” This “surround
of information that we now experience is an extension of consciousness itself.” Under conditions of electric media (telegraph, telephone, radio, TV, movies, the Internet), people feel themselves a part not just of a single global village, but of a single global consciousness, touched at every moment by the waves of information traveling along the electric currents of the air.
Think about the metaphors we use to talk about electricity—currents of charge—and particularly now the way most of us interact with our phones—through touch screens. McLuhan famously (if cryptically) described television as a medium of touch—the whole person transformed into a screen onto which the televisual images were projected. Social media (as one of my McLuhan-reading friends has put it) is simply television translated into digital form. Think of all the cat videos! Not to mention TikTok and YouTube.
In electric circumstances, there is no more audience; everyone becomes a producer of content, and the audience itself becomes part of the performance. Our sense of being surrounded by “too many people” is a direct consequence, too, of this hyperconnectivity of the electric world: “electric information brings us into very close association with all of the people on this planet.” Under these circumstances, it becomes psychologically intolerable that there should be dissonance rather than harmony. And so people put on the costumes of the group, divesting themselves of their private identities even as they don the masks which enable them to blend with the power and energy of the Light.
People were so willing to put on the masks in spring 2020 because they have spent the past decade-plus staring into the light of their smartphones. Everything in our human nature is geared toward mirroring what we see in those rectangles of light, so much so that we experience physical symptoms of withdrawal if we look away for any length of time. (And I do mean any length of time—the electric world never sleeps; it is constant and instantaneous, as addictive as any psychotropic drug.) Recall how popular masks for people’s avatars on Facebook became some years ago—and how hard it was not to change your profile pic to blend with the masks of all of your friends. The symbolic meaning of the masks was less important than the fact of seeing your own image overlaid with the colors of the group.
This is why I say that the traditionalists are just as affected by the Light as the mainstream SJWs. We are all part of this electric environment as soon as we turn on an electric bulb. Although he is best known in the public sphere for his catch-phrases about media generally, McLuhan spent decades writing about the effects of the electric environment on the Catholic liturgy, drawing particular attention to the effects of the microphone and the subsequent loss of Latin in the Mass. He likewise tried to draw attention to the failures of contemporary catechizing, stuck as they are in the modes developed for print—distanced, pre-packaged, and visual, when what those of us who have grown up with the electric media long for (thanks to our shared environment) is something more participatory, intuitive, holistic, immersive, and total. The traditional Catholics long just as much to become one with the Light as do the SJWs, just as they revel in the older costumes of the Mass. We are all mystics now, thanks to the electric light.
But there are dangers. The Prince of the World is, as McLuhan noted, a great electrical engineer and a master of the media. It is perilous to enter into the electric realm, just as it was perilous to enter into the printed world of sola scriptura and vernacular nationalisms. New media environments create enormous psychological distress even as they offer novel temptations of power and control. This is another reason people were so willing to mask up in 2020: the masks were comforting, a way of hiding from the terrors of incarnation (eating, breathing, speaking) even as they enabled people to blend with their electronic friends. The masks are diabolical in that they hold out the promise of dis-incarnation—thus the association of all the different “rainbows” with sexualities that are, biologically-speaking, necessarily sterile. But they are also potentially angelic in that they participate in the desire of humanity for the Incarnation of the Light:
And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us (and we saw his glory, the glory as it were of the only begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth. —John 1:14
No wonder we are so reluctant to take them off!Quotations by Marshall McLuhan taken from
The Medium and the Light: Reflections on Religion, edited by Eric McLuhan and Jacek Szklarek (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock, 1999).
Cartoons by Bitmoji. For those concerned that Bitmoji’s only Christmas mask is a tree, reminder that the Tree of Lights is an image of Our Lady, an appropriate mask for those of us who serve Him through our devotion to His Mother.
For further McLuhanesque reflections, see Notes from the Electric Underground: A Mosaic and Our Lady of the Dynamo. For the bears’ journey in quest of the Light, visit DragonCommonRoom.com.
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