The Year Of The Mask: The Mask Craze Of 2012

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Let’s go back to 2012. It’s the late Summer. I’ve just come back from San Diego Comic-Con, after a week-long assignment for MTV. The Aurora “Batman” theater shooting soon followed, on July 20th, with constant wall-to-wall media coverage. And much more seemed to be about to happen, especially in the realm of Masks.

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What a “kids” movie looks like.

But first, a word from David Cronenberg, on a press tour as he promotes his latest flick, Cosmopolis:

“…a superhero movie, by definition, you know, it’s comic book. It’s for kids. It’s adolescent in its core. That has always been its appeal, and I think people who are saying, you know, Dark Knight Rises is, you know, supreme cinema art, I don’t think they know what the f**k they’re talking about.”

Cronenberg, who was so whip-smart and prescient regarding the impact of media on real-life in the 1983 movie Videodrome, might have just missed the boat on this one. Because the fingerprints of comic book culture and iconography where everywhere that Summer in the Realm of the Real.

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What a “kids” movie looks like.

For example, by August, outside the Ecuadorian embassy in London, protesters in Guy Fawkes (or, as some media refers to them, “V for Vendetta”) masks were decrying the persecution of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange:

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And around the world people were donning balaclavas in support of recently-convicted & sentenced Russian punk band Pussy Riot:

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Globally, the iconography of the mask was being employed as one of rebellion, free-thinking, anarchy, and protest…

…while at the same time co-opted by others as a symbol of darker things, a warning against this very same rebellious impulse in society.

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At any rate, the idea that superhero and “comic book” themes do not deserve serious study or treatment is pointedly ridiculous. From political activists to the much-underestimated phenomenon of “real-life superheroes” to mass killers, the imagery of Comics is all around us—sometimes used to inspire, sometimes used to terrify…and sometimes used as an inscrutable mirror of our own ever-mutating, ever-contradictory selves:

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Justin Bieber tries on a Batman mask, 2012
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The Mitt Romney “Bane” meme
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Alex Jones does a skit with “Dark Knight”-style Joker makeup—the “Joker Obama” meme displayed on his computer monitor.
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The gas mask of James Holmes, outside the Aurora theater.

Should one, then, have been encouraged or deeply alarmed by the sudden surge of this particular iconography by the middle of 2012? I suppose it all depended on your personal taste…

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