The Emperor’s New Mask

The NFL is testing face masks, not for the fans in the stands, but for the players. Is there a face mask in the world that will stop virus particles from being inhaled when the players are inches apart and slamming into each other at high speeds? Probably not. But masks have become a cultural symbol.

That’s why masks are being deployed in environments where they’re ridiculous and useless.

A strip club in Wyoming reopened with mandatory masks. At restaurants in Atlanta, waiters wear face masks. Both are equally silly. Non-medical masks might stop large droplets, but won’t stop small ones. People interacting at close range will be producing small droplets that a cloth mask won’t stop. When everyone is inches away from each other, talking and exchanging money, the masks are just a fetish.

What a mask says is more important than what it does. That’s why it’s the symbol of the rioters who flock in hundreds and thousands, screaming and yelling, while wearing masks to cover their faces. It’s why Governor Whitmer and Governor Murphy violated her own executive orders, marching closely with Black Lives Matter racists while wearing masks to show two types of political virtue.

Governor Andrew Cuomo claimed that masks are a symbol of “respect”. He’s partly right. Masks are a symbol, but not of respect. Cuomo, whose policies killed thousands of nursing home residents, understands that better than any of the gullible yuppie emigrants to New York who made him a hero.

Against an intangible virus and the fear it spreads, masks are a protective fetish and a badge of moral superiority. To wear a mask is to say that you are a responsible person who obeys public officials.

The mask is a badge of citizenship in a lockdown society. And is instinctively rejected by opponents of it.

Clothing retailers from the Gap to Nordstrom have jumped on the mask bandwagon. There is already a ‘Mask of the Month’ club that will send you a customized mask and a Baltimore gay leather bar is selling masks with shirtless firemen on them. Major fashion designers offer premium priced masks and Disney, which never misses a licensing opportunity, will sell you Mickey Mouse masks to stave off the virus.

Why is there such a proliferation of individualistic mask designs, many of which are actually less effective than the baseline blue surgical mask? Because the masks are part of the wearer’s identity.

Advertising for these masks doesn’t delve into the medical effectiveness of their construction.

A report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Standing Committee on Emerging Infectious Diseases found a “wide variation in filtration efficiency” among different types of fabrics. It also noted that, “a mask made from a four-layer woven handkerchief fabric, of a sort that might be found in many homes, had 0.7% filtration efficiency for 0.3 micron size particles.”

Customized brand masks, like those sold by Disney, are usually polyester and especially bad.

“Don’t use a synthetic or a polyester because they’ve looked at the virus’s ability to survive on surfaces, and spandex is the worst,” Dr. Daniel Griffin, a Columbia U expert on infectious diseases had warned.

The customized mask industry is selling people the illusion of protection while actually endangering them. But the mask isn’t a medical solution. Like many politically correct products, it signals the wearer’s virtue by showing that he or she cares about other people. And is on board with current trends.

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