Masks are an interesting thing. They can provide a cover for your shame, an accesory to your personality, or straight up anonymity. Anyone who's ever worn a halloween mask can attest for their ability to change your personality. And weirdly, they're something i know a bit about. From the ancient Japanese Samurai masks to Deadmau5, masks have always served similar purposes. Masks serve to either strike fear, humour, anonymity or to adopt an alien persona. Let's start with 'warrior' masks.
Most people are familar with samurai masks (as pictured above) which were designed to strike fear into the hearts of enemies. The human, unsure face is no match for facing off against the demon's countenance provided by the samurai's mask. Gladiators applied the same method, choosing masks which showed stern grimaces, ready to kill, emotionless.
A convention which was easily carried over into the modern day with films such as Halloween:
Human beings have a natural fear of the unknown, a faceless enemy is much more terrifying than that which shares human characteristics.. That's not to say that masks are always used for the purpose of inspiring fear, as we know masks can also be used to comedic effect.
As a side-note, perhaps this original use of masks as inspirers of fear has something to do with the fact that so many people are scared of clowns. However, their use in clowning serves a different purpose. To normalise the clown. We are able to sympathise with his misfortunes as he could easily represent any of us behind the mask. Interestingtly, all 'proper' clowns have a unique mask which is registered with the 'egg register'. A collection of eggs painted with the facepaint of famous clowns from around the world and maintained in Britain by Clowns International. The oldest clown society in the world. 'Egg'samples can be seen here.
Clowns are not the only people who consider their masks sacred though, the mexican wrestlers of Lucha Libre, the mexican equivalent of WWE. Take things very seriously. In Lucha Libre, masks are considered integral to the person, with some wrestlers literally living their lives behind their masks. I mean literally walking down to the off licence wearing their masks. Personas and masks are passed down through generations and some of the most tense, high-stakes wrestling matches are fought with the caveat that the loser must remove his mask and leave the ring forever. If not, continue fighting unmasked and shamed.
In modern culture the mask has become synonymous with various things, for example. The balaclava is now linked with criminality, shamen masks are now linked with crazy archaic voodoo, the now-famous Richard Nixon mask is just plain bad guy. But certain contemporary artists have taken advantage of the mask's ability to grant mystique, intrigue and menace. For example, Deadmau5 has become a cartoon of himself, MF DOOM has imbued himself with an entire persona. And Slipknot (like them or not) have the anonymity of their masked faces to thank in large part for their success.
The fact is that we're all easily influenced by that which doesn't seem human. A face which is immutable, permanent and without emotion shows us something above ourselves. Something both terrifying and aspirational. A stoicism, an ideal we will never know. The most famous example of which is this: an image adopted by the nameless, faceless, anonymous.