How masks made to protect us from COVID-19 have become commercialized political symbols
Not even the Coronavirus could cause a full economic halt. Capitalism always finds a way to keep on running like a freight train, regardless of how tumultuous the circumstances surrounding it are. People can no longer shop with the same reckless abandon that they could’ve pre-COVID, so they’ve hopped on the e-commerce bandwagon. Businesses have seized this opportunity to make every manifestation of the face mask and slap it on the market.
You’ve got to respect the hustle. What was initially a flimsy piece of cloth meant to slow down the transmission of COVID became a necessary product doubling as a fashion statement. Sure, there’s the default baby blue surgical mask. Luxury brands like Gucci and Fendi flex their brand name to sell face coverings that would otherwise be price-gouged pieces of leather. Celebrities like Billie Eilish have been spotted wearing these masks, inadvertently advertising the brands.
Scroll through Etsy and you’ll find that some artists have found a new niche for themselves. Shop owner Jasmine Brinson of Etsy account ArtTravelLove fashions masks after popular works of art, like the “Hokusai Wave” or “The Starry Night.” Hop onto her page and you’ll find that within the past week she’s been given numerous 5-star reviews by customers.
Regardless of where you go, you can find masks with designs ranging from solid colors to elaborate designs. Street vendors, mall stands, pharmacies, dollar stores and even grocery stores have hopped on the bandwagon of mask customization. Even the material of the masks have variation: cloth, polyester, leather, you name it. The impracticality of some of these masks demonstrate that they’ve become more than some utilitarian piece of disease prevention.
For when one steps into the world of fashion statements, the personal quickly gets political. The creative liberty of customization opens up the propagation of political agendas. Face masks have become the new t-shirt for advertising which political sides you take or messages you want to make. It can be as subtle as wearing a mask with your country’s flag to show patriotic spirit, or as explicit as wearing one that says, “VOTE.” The 2020 election has become an excuse for people to wear such masks.
So it’s true that masks have been turned into the latest money-making scheme. But when something sells, it’s to fulfill a need. On one hand, masks sell in order to flatten the curve. But on the other hand, it’s a business, and it’s monetary.The face mask has become a new way to show your individual spirit, literally at a cost.
Laura Ilioaei is a sophomore english and communication studies major who doesn’t want you to fall victim to mask’s capitalistic allure. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Art by Eliel Safran.