We all wear masks. Once you’ve lived long enough, you begin to recognize and read people via the mask of their face before any words are spoken. There are few original masks in the world and once you’ve reacted and interacted with one face you quickly begin to learn all masks of that sort behave and express in the same way. What happens when the faces of the dead are resurrected into masks of the living?

Is there an eerie disconnect between the reality of expression and the fantasy of science?

What makes a face human? Are we our expressions or not? If we lose the inborn DNA in a mask that tries to be another’s face, have we lost the who and the what that makes us unique and ties us to a specific familial past?

Can the slant of an eye and the curl of a lip and the cut of an eyebrow matter in cultural identification?

Do we risk tempting a universal theory of beauty that will give each of us the same nose, same cheekbones and same chins? If we are not unique in our ugliness then what makes beauty sought-after if everyone wears the same aesthetic face?

Perhaps we need to look backward to warn against our futures and let the Deathmasks of the past remind us of personality and form and beauty in the expression of the unique.

Our faces are our histories.

To create a stone face in life is to wear your Deathmask in blood.

We have been trained to recognize the dangerous face, the taut expression, the evil eye, the twitching lip, the perfect nose and the strong chin and we find appropriate comfort and fear in those instant identifications.

How did we get these values of facial expression?

If we one day all have faces perfected by science and technology, will our ability to discern and intuit meaning and expression become a lost tactic of survival?

If our faces begin to lack identifiable characteristics like wrinkles and worry lines and crow’s feet and age spots — will we then become the wearers of ordinary dead faces before our deaths?

We are obsessed with youth and beauty in the face — but not within the body or inside the heart — and we are all cheapened a bit in the end when those among us who shatter their Deathmasks in life are ostracized and mocked by the carvings of the mainstream mask makers.

41 Comments

  1. I think we are already crossing the line – Bottox injections are already removing some of the history in our faces, but also rendering them inflexible.
    Flexibility and feeling differentiates between mask and face. When our faces loose that flexibility either to hide emotion and expression or to hide intent it becomes a mask. The same thing happens when we fill it full of bottox.
    I have every sympathy with the lady who had the face transplant and was a supporter of her right to try the technique and of the surgeons who carried out the operation. She seems to have kept her humanity.

  2. Hi Nicola —
    It is a sign of how unhappy so many people are when they change their mask but leave the rest of their bodies and personalities to rot. We’ve become an international culture of Wanting the Beautiful.
    I agree trying to falsely defy age creates an immobile expressionless face that cannot be read or interpreted.
    I completely support “face transplants” for those who unnaturally lose their faces. That is when science and medicine add to the good nature of humanity.
    I am, however, concerned when we will inevitably be able to change our facial expressions at a whim — not with the musculature in our faces but by the means of instant science.

  3. David- i read an interesting study in the New Yorker magazine within the past year or two which stated that there is a universal language that shows up in facial expressions across cultures and ethnicities that is beyond the control of the individual, and has nothing to do with cultural training. Even with the individual attempting to give a false impression it is impossible to totally mask the inner feelings and emotions, and the past one has experienced and felt. These inner aspects are involuntary and involve different facial muscle groups compared to the voluntarily controled muscles. Some individuals may be more adept at making their faces more of a mask, but there is much underlying truth that even a yogi can’t mask.

  4. Fred —
    When one uses plastic surgery to cut expressions in the forehead and to poison the muscles with Botox and collagen injections you begin to winnow away those universal expressions because the muscles are dead and cannot form the Deathmask into a Lifemask.

  5. “I am, however, concerned when we will inevitably be able to change our facial expressions at a whim — not with the musculature in our faces but by the means of instant science.”
    I think we have already reached that point …… the bottox and other treatments which are a very easy option compared to the surgical knife.
    What amazes me is that these treaments are being sought by and provided for teenagers.
    You can now get liposuction in your lunch break as well – without the inconvenience of surgery and the whole hospital stay thing .

  6. Right, Nicola!
    We are already able to wear our Deathmasks in our lives.
    I saw a “radio face lift” profiled on television that can be done in 20 minutes in a doctor’s office. The device somehow cooks the muscles under the face to tighten up everything using radio waves. The results are supposed to be cheap and amazing but every example I’ve seen doesn’t show any improvement whatsoever to my eye.

  7. Makes me feel very uncomfortable – almost deceptive and against the *rules of nature*.
    We have a phrase – “a lived in face” meaning a face often of great age and character that had lived and experienced a fine and interesting life.

  8. Yes! Deceptive is the right word. How can a “faked face” ever be trusted again? They are hiding from who they are and what they were born to represent.
    “A Lived in Face” is the way it should be — your life is earned in the depths of your expressions. We’re washing away the who of us when we betray the natural progression of expression.

  9. Hello Mr. Fred!
    Yes, those are examples of superficial faked faces though some would claim letting a beard and mustache grow interfere with facial expression perception. I know many Deaf people have trouble reading lips when faced with bushy mustaches.
    I’m more concerned with the irreversible effects of surgery, invasive techniques and injected toxins on the natural expressions of the face.

  10. Nicola —
    I think it’s more about fitting into the middle. Real beauty cannot be faked or imitated and honest ugly is also undeniable.
    The middle-mind — achieving the middling aesthetic — can make ordinary people pretty and ugly people average.
    The more you press your looks into the conformed center, the easier your life will be.
    You will not be idolized or rejected — you’ll just fit in enough not to be bothered or mocked.

  11. Beyond Hello Mr. David- Animals have concepts of beauty that are reinforced thru breeding, aggression and other means, so it is only natural that people, being animals are part of this process. Of course humans add to this. Some human tribes were more concerned with beauty in general (such as the Celts) and this might have skewed the general populace to favor and accept their additional standards of beauty, more than other tribes who had other concerns that overrode the overemphasis on superficial beauty..

  12. Hi David,
    I think some people focus too much on the exterior and fail to realize that the interior is what makes a person really beautiful. There are plenty of pretty faces that offer little to society, whereas there are many “average” people who are beautiful because of their attitudes and love for other people.

  13. David- The point of beauty in the animal world is to continue the animal’s genes. A beautiful bird is more likely to reproduce, so a mate is chosen for it’s beautiful plumage which correlates with the health, sexual power, stength and other assests that aid in reproduction and the continuing of genes. Sometimes there is a cost involved. Some roosters “lie” and grow extra-large dominance symbols, that are “forced,” such as “undeserved” large combs at a tremendous cost of energy in the hope of attracting a mate. This do-wop procedure is even imitated by some men, maybe at a similar cost in parental and societal alienation. (It certainly costs in the shampoo and creme rinse department.}

  14. Hi fred!
    Yes, I think you’re right that we falsely prop ourselves up in order to win the love of another.
    I’m not sure if I’d use the word “beauty” to explain your animal kingdom effect. Isn’t it more about “attraction” and smell and size and weight than just a beautiful face?

  15. Hi David,
    You caught me in hypocrisy. 🙂
    But that’s entertainment where looks count for a lot — especially aspiring music video and magazine models.
    In real life, beauty is the totality of deeds, actions, and attitude. Many “beautiful” people aren’t that beautiful in real life.
    Lindsay Lohan might be physically attractive, but her actions make her unattractive. See Hollywood Grind: Lindsay Lohan Still Mean but Sober.
    http://www.hollywoodgrind.com/?p=4083

  16. David- Yes we prop ourselves up falsely, and there is a natural proping up also (natural beauty).
    There is a lot of “beauty” involved in animals and it can’t be separated that easily from size and smell and is often highly correlated. Some families such as the birds and fish seem to place a greater emphasis on beauty than other families. The peacock is one of the more obvious examples, as are many ornate and highly colored tropical fish.

  17. Hi Chris!
    I’m not trying to catch you, my friend, but I do think a website that celebrated the minds and achievements of Black Women who might not be scantily clad would do a great and honorable service in breaking stereotypes about physical beauty and intelligence.
    That said, I LOVE NEW YORK debuts tonight on VH1! Oh, yeah, baby!
    :mrgreen:

  18. Hi fred!
    Yes, I think you’re right that we falsely prop ourselves up in order to win the love of another.
    I’m not sure if I’d use the word “beauty” to explain your animal kingdom effect. Isn’t it more about “attraction” and smell and size and weight than just a beautiful face?
    Beauty is a value judgment. Attraction is instinct.

  19. Hi David,
    That’s a good idea!
    It would be interesting to see how it would fare compared to the entertainment sites. Of course we have the best of all worlds — Melyssa Ford is known for her intelligence as well as her beauty.
    From the New York Times:

    Jeff Robinson, Ms. Ford’s manager, who also represents the Grammy Award-winning singer Alicia Keys, said he sought her out after seeing her in the video for “Knock Yourself Out,” by Jadakiss.
    “We brought her down to New York, and we found her to be so articulate, talking about how she was in school for psychology and forensic science,” he said.
    “I said, `This girl can put two words together.’ Which is unusual for a video girl, to be honest.”

    I might have to check out I Love New York!

  20. Hi Chris!
    I agree flesh will always be more popular than intelligence — but that doesn’t mean you have to play along with that meme unless, of course, you want to be popular and make money.
    😀
    A “Sexy Ebony Brains” website covers you from the other side. You can celebrate accomplishments of the mind and the soul and the spirit. You become a keystone for cultural positivity.
    I would not start with Ms. Ford.
    😉

  21. David- Did you ever watch a peacock in front of a mirror or even a shiny chrome bumper? If his love of his own image is an instinct, and not his own attraction for his own (what can only be called) beauty, it is a very strange instinct indeed. It is obvious the peacock thinks he is beautiful, and is attracted to his own beauty; call it what you will. Beauty is more than just a value judgement. It is intimately tied into instinct and procreation, and is not solely value judgement.

  22. fred –
    I think you’re pressing your human values system and your need for possessing beauty and projecting those wants and desires onto the blank canvas of animalistic peacock behavior in order to give your life and their behavior context.
    Beauty, vanity and preening are human values, not innate animalistic behaviors.

  23. David- Although some see the peacock as the work of the “devil,” most admit that there is “beauty” in the plumage. The peacock’s behavior in front of a mirror is different from any other bird’s to a marked degree and can not be explained in any way except that both humans and peacocks share a concept of beauty. The same can be said for what is commonly called “beautiful” tropical fish. Both the fish themselves and humans are attracted to their “beauty.” i feel that on some level the phenomenon of the peacocks behavior is here to show humans many things such as how “beauty,” “vanity,” “superficiality,” “wasted energy,” are often tied together, and that there is such a thing as “beauty,” as a universal concept which is there to aid in the breeding, procreation and genetic extension of some animals more than others, and is not just an anomaly in humans. What is commonly called “dominance symbols” by biologists speaking of the animal world (lion’s manes for example) could just as easily be called beauty symbols.

  24. fred!

    Although some see the peacock as the work of the “devil,” most admit that there is “beauty” in the plumage.

    We still feel you are applying human values to the animal kingdom where they do not apply. You have provided no animal kingdom empirical proof of the idea “beauty.”
    A peacock has no sense of beauty or pride or and neither do fish! They are what they are and any markings of attraction are for procreation only on an evolutionary scale and have nothing to do with human applications of adjectives of objectification of “beautiful” patterns of being.

  25. David- Empiracus was a skeptic. i’m skeptical of empiracism and behaviorists like B.F.Skinner who said there is no empiracal proof of pain in animals. i think we are all artists, (even though it doesn’t pay) first and formost. Animals do suffer pain and experience beauty, but this or anything can never be proven to an empiracist. i am convinced that rocks appreciate beauty but how could this be explained to anyone but a Native American or someone in touch with everything. Native Americans woud occasionally turn rocks over, knowing the rock would appreciate the beauty of the change. Everything is one. It is not only humans who all the human words apply to. There is no separation between anything except in the minds of separatists and this has led us to our current state of 40 million killed in slavery saying black people were not human, 127 million in war and countless Native Americans. There is no “reality” except what Machiavelli and his followers have sold. If humans are human, so is everything. “There must be someway out of here, said the joker to the priest”- (Dylan). LOL.

  26. fred —

    Animals do suffer pain and experience beauty, but this or anything can never be proven to an empiracist. i am convinced that rocks appreciate beauty but how could this be explained to anyone but a Native American or someone in touch with everything.

    Pain, yes, beauty no. Beauty is a value judgment. Pain is not. Rocks only take on human attributes and feelings when we apply our prejudices against them and define them with our language and not theirs. Let a rock be a rock! Let a peacock follow natural instincts. Don’t imprint the human on nature.