A recent Washington Post–University of Maryland poll showed that 80 percent of Americans believe it’s “necessary” at the moment to wear a mask if you’re going to come in close contact with strangers. The other 20 percent, though, has proved to be a very vocal minority.
While some object to wearing masks because they believe the entire pandemic is a Bill Gates lizard-people conspiracy, the most common case they make is that covering your face expresses fear and weakness and that real American macho men don’t admit that they’re afraid (of spreading a deadly virus). There is some logic to this. It wasn’t “cool” to wear a bike helmet in junior high in 1995—maybe it is now, I don’t know what kids do, I’m 160 years old—because it showed you were still being coddled and controlled by your parents and that you were not committed to seeking the extremes of human experience. Wearing a mask in 2020 is an acknowledgment that you respect the advice and expertise of epidemiologists, and for some of our American brothers and sisters, acknowledging the authority of anyone besides Ted Nugent demonstrates “beta” status.
On Monday, Joe Biden wore a mask, pictured above, to attend a Memorial Day event in Delaware. While a few right-wing contrarians suggested otherwise, even many of those who have been less than enthusiastic about the Biden campaign felt that the the accessory created a “look” that was not just safe and responsible but outright sharp and commanding. For Biden, putting on the mask turned out to be an “alpha” move.
Why does it work for him? A few possibilities:
• Thanks to the Trump administration, the sight of an authority figure meeting even the most basic standards of appropriateness now registers, perversely, as a guerrilla-like act of iconoclasm. This is why some people have somehow found themselves sexually attracted to Andrew Cuomo.
• Standard hospital masks are white or light blue, which matches well with hospital scrubs, but not necessarily with outfits worn in nonmedical settings. Biden, however, has chosen a color that goes with the rest of his outfit. He’s also wearing it pulled tightly across his face, which matches the trim cut of his suit. Black is also a color generally associated with power, as demonstrated by the SUV behind him. And it resonates with the badass persona of the Onion’s Joe Biden character, who, e.g., uses the White House driveway to polish his Trans Am.
• Masks are a personal safety item, which means that, like the aviator shades that the presumptive Democratic nominee is also wearing, they’re often used by physically courageous individuals in dangerous situations. Bank robbers and Navy SEALs use masks to do their jobs, but the CEOs of golf resorts don’t.
• By sealing the Democratic nomination, Biden became the singular vessel for the hopes of every American voter who would like Donald Trump removed from office. There are two statistically significant possibilities for what will happen in November: Either Biden will win or Trump will. The brains of the many millions of people who believe that it is imperative to achieve the first outcome are biased toward perceiving anything he does, even something as simple as wearing a mask, as evidence of his superiority as a leader.
Congratulations to Joe Biden for having a lowest-common-denominator sense of social responsibility and thus becoming the coolest and most inspiring person in American public life.
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