On January 8, 2007, I wrote an article — Wearing Your Death Mask in Life — that concerned the masks we wear to protect us from who and what we’ve become:
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?
A couple of weeks ago, I was struck with the news that the USA military is working on a “biomask” that can heal a soldier’s injured face and reconstruct lost features:
The mask will be comprised of two major layers. The top, a hard shell, will protect a patient’s face and also store electrical components. Underneath, a flexible polymer mask will fit around the contours of a patient’s face. It’ll be embedded with three more layers: An array of sensors to track the rate of healing, actuators to push up against the wound and hold the mask in place, and a network of micro-tubing and valves to pump therapeutics — whether antibiotics and pain killers or stem cells and growth factor — onto specific regions of the wound.
“Sensors would monitor the wound, and treatment inside the mask would be based on that data,” Moss says. “If healing is accelerated in one area of the burn, then the mask would know to supply different therapeutics to that region.”
Now let’s take that biomask news to the next, logical level. Specially trained soldiers get their brown eyes burned blue. The biomask gives them a whole new face. Fingerprints are replaced. Previous DNA records are erased.
You now have a whole new identity mask for and old body that now becomes an anonymous killing machine. An old body you trained and made into a killer becomes something new, but never innocuous, that you can send into the world, undercover in a civilian visage, to do your Black Ops work in the open without repercussion. If the soldier gets identified, bring in the biomask to reconstruct a whole new face and recycle the old body again into the wilds.
If we are not our bodies — are we are faces? Or are we just strings of genetic material that can sometimes single us out of a series of billions of slightly similar strands? Before we allow eye color changes to become elective surgery and before a military biomask becomes a Black Market alternative to changing faces, we must wrestle with the idea of what identity really means and how we can continue to prove who we are to others as the line between reality and imagination begins to blur into unrecognizability.