By Else Cederborg
Long ago I noticed the mask as a significant means of stating something, either a truth or a lie, but always manifesting an attitude. For instance, the golden masks of the pharaohs symbolized their eternal lives: A pharaoh was supposed to live forever and
to keep his live features behind the golden mask. That, of course, is a blatant lie, as also pharaohs end up dead, no matter how well their embalmment has been performed. In Asia masks became integrated parts of the culture. Also in old Greece and Rome the
mask attained significance, e.g. as theatrical props to make the sentiments of the characters visible to the entire audience. These masks were symbols of set characters and did not give room for more nuanced facial expressions. Actually that is more or less
always the significance of masks.
The same may be said about bodily expressions like e.g. laughter, crying, etc.. Put on a smile and hide your tears behind a witticism or cry to get your will by some soft-hearted individual who wants you to feel good. The first is called "bravery" as it
is considered "brave" not to exhibit one's feelings when they may be embarrassing to others. To find one's mask may be one of the most important exploits in life, but many have been forced into wearing one they did not chose themselves. For instance "the jolly
fatso" may be a not very happy or content individual hoping to shed the surplus weight, but not able to do so. However, if he or she puts on the mask of jollity popularity is not far away. Laughter of this Santa-category signals harmlessness, but had it turned
diabolical it would be very offensive to most of those who saw this individual as a harmless pussycat, somebody who did not claim a rôle in the games of the big boys and girls.
The total lack of laughter is fascinating. That has been proven by the Swedish actress Greta Garbo. Such a stony face as she might exhibit in her films was like a challenge because it signals an unbreakable integrity and a self-assured personality that never
falls for flattery or resorts to it herself. She is what she is and she does not budge - that is until her character of Ninotchka (1939) succumbs to the magic of laughter and she is transformed into as much of a living and loving woman as she can.
Diabolical laughter is known from e.g. the religious murals of the old churches in Denmark. Here we see condemned souls of citizens, kings, and priests sporting an uncanny leer that simply is diabolical in its expression. What are they leering at? They are
condemned, on their way to Hell's flames, but this is their response to their awful situation. Well, I take it that they try to "laugh it off" - i.e. to put on a mask - but fail miserably. Neither real masks nor expressions can save faces of people being dragged
off to Hell.