When I still worked in Ottawa, my office was in a new technology park. There was a FancyPants hotel being built next to the building I was in. Before the hotel opened, it sent an invitation to the residents of the two buildings around it to join the gym/spa. It was a great deal compared to the anticipated price when the hotel opened, and was comparable to the other (far less fancy) gyms in the area. So I joined. I went every morning at o-dark-hundred, and was showered and at my desk by 8:30. It was a lovely fancy way to start the day. One day, in 2006, there was a sign up in the spa that a few days hence, the gym, nay, the whole hotel, would be locked down. The unwashed public would not be able to attend the gym, the restaurant, or the bar. Apparently, the Bilderbergs (Bilderbergers? Bilderbergermeisters?) were coming and they would not tolerate interlopers. Oh boy! A really real SooperSeeecretSociety!
The SooperSeeecretSociety people arrived in cars with tinted windows and swooped into the underground (also off-limits) parking lot. There was hardly enough space in the parking lots around the buildings without the throngs of media trucks and reporting teams with giant cameras. To the people just trying to get to work, it was more of an annoyance than a fun mysterious novelty. But it outed the conspiracy theorists in our office, so that was definitely fun. There’s nothing more satisfying than getting a conspiracy theorist ratcheted up. Except possibly people who take it personally that there are conspiracy theorists in their midst. Ask me about Kubrick and the “moon landing”. That one’s good for some laughs.
But I digress.
But here’s the thing: the current Mardi Gras krewes in New Orleans trace their history back to a secret society in Mobile established before New Orleans was even a thing! And fast forward 300 years, there’s a law in New Orleans that if you’re on a Mardi Gras parade float, you MUST wear a mask. In the early days of the Mardi Gras revelries, masks removed class lines and made it an inclusive event. Except that it wasn’t, really. Women who wore masks were looked down upon. Total opposite of the point of wearing the mask. Proper and dignified women didn’t wear the mask. Proper and dignified women also didn’t deign to revel without one. Or maybe just didn’t deign to revel. Now, women are flashing their tatas at Mardi Gras to improve their chances* at getting a coconut giveaway (like plastic beads, but different) tossed at them. Although still not with impunity – they can be arrested if the po-po see them.
*According to the krewes and Mardi Gras organizers, boobies don’t necessarily get you a rare coconut giveaway . So don’t feel obligated, so say the good folks of NOLA. Duly noted. Also: your mileage may vary.
In Venice, there are spectacular masquerade balls. In Rio and in the Caribbean, masks are an integral part of the complex spangle-y costumes of Carnival. Hiding your identity is a part of the game.
In principle, hiding your identity so that you can engage with a potentially off-limits (for whatever reason, but usually the noble/commoner class lines) suitor removes the artifice of courting. Romeo and Juliet meet in the piazza during Carnival. It was good subterfuge to begin with as they met on the cobblestones of Verona. But yeah, didn’t work out so well when the light from yonder window turned to the light of day and the Sharks and the Jets had their epic capoeira rumble. Or something like that.
Masked shenanigans aren’t as consequence-free as they seem after half a dozen Jagerbombs.
Anonymity can help provide good platform to provide feedback on employee satisfaction surveys and (in theory) whistleblower hotlines. But being able to hide behind a mask can also make easy to say things you’d never say out loud. For better or worse. Or rob a bank, or Remember-Remember-the-4th-of-November. Or fight crime in Gotham. Or, yaknow, score new digs in the bowels of the Paris Opera House.
As I head into Lent, may I do it without masks. May my intentions be transparent and may my examination of my conscience be sincere.