To wear a disguise is to reveal your true self: The person who you are, the person who shall act and say as they please, the self we wouldn’t dare allow others to see. The freedom of hiding behind a mask is intoxicating, to say the least. It’s because our actions and words won’t be associated with who we actually are. In society, you are expected to subsume your ‘self’ and conform to a degree. Of course there are basic advantages to doing so as it’s an easy way of blending in to avoid attention – a disguise in and of itself.
Particular elements of our modern culture and world necessitate disguises. How else is someone expected to voice an opinion that would get them socially crucified? Self-appointed Thought Police will make absolutely sure that every paragraph, sentence, word, syllable, letter, and punctuation mark any individual emits within the zeitgeist is held in account so the tribunal of public shaming may have its petty “justice.”
But certain masks can be quite revealing (much to the wearer’s dismay). A username can be considered a sort of mask. These masks, the face of another, can become somewhat informative as to who lies beneath if you pay attention. It’s debatable as to whether the mask involuntarily dictates the persona that is adopted, or whether the persona had selected for the mask. Perhaps both. Some lament the notion that there may be a point at which a mask can’t be removed. If so, was it ever really a mask? Masks like that of Guy Fawkes, Mr. Robot’s “Careful Massacre of the Bourgoisie,” Rorschach’s “face” in Watchmen, and the J. D. Salinger-quote-bearing AR motion graphic that the Laughing Man from Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex uses to hide behind all reveal an element of the person they adorn. “I thought what I’d do was, I’d pretend I was one of those deaf-mutes,” is the quote plucked from The Catcher in the Rye that is more than enough information to tell you who the Laughing Man was. Yet, it’s so painfully obvious what the intentions of such a hacker are. He selected a mask with more purpose than disguising who he was. The same could be said for Elliot Alderson and Rorschach.
The ultimate mask, however, is complete anonymity. No pretenses whatsoever. The preferred guise of internet denizens the world over. Anything can be said and done by those who have no identity. As Tyler Durden had put it in Fight Club, “It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.” And of course there are those who see this as a bad thing. Yet, I get the distinct feeling that once these same people are several layers beneath society, behind the black mirror, behind a VPN, behind the green text reading “Anonymous,” they’ll muster up an ineffectual brand of zealotry that would make Hitler tingly. It is ultimately ineffectual because any other “anon” could retort with the same amount of bile. When we all can spew, nobody can. Anonymity equalizes everybody, and it’s all a joke. Every hateful comment; every “harmful opinion;” every hurt feeling, toe stepped on, and incessant bitching is all equally laughable. This is simply because nobody’s opinion really truly matters in such a space. If you want your opinion to matter, if you want it to have weight and legitimacy, you have to work for it. You have to be smart about how you say and do the things you do if you want anybody to actually listen. You are required to have a thick skin and the prerequisite for that is tenacity. Fragile egos need not apply. This is the nature of anonymity.
But what about hiding in plain sight? As I had mentioned before, it can be a form of disguise – a proper wolf in sheep’s clothing. Although, this can be pushed even further. Perhaps standing out can be a disguise. To have others see you as a character, somebody predictable and easy to read, which can be effectively disarming. But then again, it can still be pushed further. If you take into account any perspective, pretension, or lens any observer, or group of observers may hold, one can effectively use these all to their advantage to craft any form of a disguise they want. You can hide behind even the most sinister of grins and cliché hand-wringing. Your own face, your own name, anything: It can all be used as a disguise.
At the advent of the internet and the almost exponential rate that culture now shifts and develops, and all various degrees of post- and/or meta-modernism one may regard the world with, crafting an identity is for those with no grasp of the concept of a personality. For those who already know who they are, they can play with all these notions like a game. In this way, you can tell a lie with the truth.
(This was originally written as an essay for The Work of Art class at PSU.)