Friday, June 13, 2003

(Masks, 3)

Having already written here (in part one of these last three connected entries) about how exciting I think masks are, I feel obliged to acknowledge that I find them even hotter when they're taken away. Whether removed by force or lifted by choice, the discarded mask is the biggest turn-on of all.

Unmasking, or the threat of unmasking, is one of my favorite bat-fantasies. The removal of the disguise is the money shot for me, as it were. I have this cockamamie theory that it has something to do with the fact that for years the only "Batman" episode I hadn't seen was #6, which is the second half of the saga in which the Joker (dressed as the protagonist of Pagliacci) has our heroes cornered and is about to remove their masks on live television. While I could figure out the resolution to the cliffhanger (I mean, who couldn't?), I didn't see it with my own eyes until at least a decade after I first saw episode #5 -- which gave me at least a decade to cook up my own twisted endings to the duo's tantalizing predicament.

The web the garden of special-interest delights that it is, there's at least one site specifically devoted to what its creator calls "Identity Rape". I guess that designation, creepy as it is, accurately pinpoints the nature of the attraction. (It's an equal opportunity site, with pages for both genders; obviously I prefer the one devoted to male heroes, but a little pronoun change or two can work wonders for the ladies--though I gotta say, the "rape" business is a little more disturbing in that case.)

What's so exciting to me about the threat of Batman (or any other mystery man) being forcibly unmasked is the notion that in a single moment, his entire life will be changed. It's literally a fate worse than death, because it implies that all his hard work to keep the secret will have been in vain. The unmasked Batman thus faces debasement and embarrassment on top of all his other troubles. (A reader of several of my bat-stories once noted in passing that I really seemed to be into humiliation. I was all prepared to object until I actually did a search for the h-word and realized just how often it appears in my fiction. Oops: I've been revealed!)

A friend I've made through this blog shares my fascination with this scenario, and here's how he depicts the situation:

"There is something hugely erotic about imagining Batman being overpowered by a villain and being unmasked. It's not just being seen for who he really is. But, it is having something vital taken from him by force by another. I believe that it has been an unuttered truth that, if Batman were ever to be unmasked, really, he would cease to be Batman. He'd just be this rich fellow hanging around a lonely old house with an old butler and a school boy. It seems to be the Batman persona itself that is his strength: so long as he is free to go about unseen -- a pure Batman persona, uncluttered by Bruce's childhood traumas or mortal neediness -- he is free to play the part of the hero. Bruce Wayne and Batman. One precludes the other. For the two to be seen as the same would, perhaps, result in a more well-rounded Bruce, but it would surely kill off Batman."

On the other hand, on those rare occasions when Batman deliberately chooses to expose his Wayne-self to someone (which happens WAY too often in the movies, BTW-- not just with Batman but Spider-Man and Daredevil as well), he's taking a huge leap of faith, which can also be pretty exciting under the right circumstances. He's taking a risk -- one which, of course, also puts the other person at risk as well. (I was intrigued by a story in the comics just a few years back in which Batman finally lifted his mask in front of Commissioner Gordon -- who averted his eyes, if I remember correctly, preferring not to change the nature of their relationship. Of course, if Gordon hasn't figured out by now who's under that cowl, he has no business being Police Commissioner.)

In part 2 of this trilogy of blog entries, I wrote about my adoption of multiple e-mail personae. I actually exposed myself to 3 of my friends as the evil mastermind behind some of the weirder messages they'd been getting lately, inviting them to join me in the project. I felt a great sense of intimacy with them when I did so. On the other hand, a fourth friend figured out it was me on his own and inadvertently outed me (and I use that term on purpose, of course), which pissed me off a lot--that's the last time I tell HIM a secret! (This same guy, who knows about my secret fantasy life, freely blabs about it to anyone who will listen, much to my annoyance.) It's sort of like whoever it was who unmasked Joe Klein as the author of Primary Colors, I guess. There's an etiquette involved in disclosures, which is how Alfred the butler has managed to keep his job for so very long.

I am sensitive to this etiquette because I've also been on the other side of the power dynamic. A couple of years ago I figured out that a friend of mine was a key member of the Guerilla Girls, the real-life masked vigilante activists. (The GGs describe themselves as "feminist counterparts to the mostly male tradition of anonymous do-gooders like Robin Hood, Batman, and the Lone Ranger." Not unlike the Justice League/Society of America, they seem to have splintered into several factions, including this one and this one.) Suddenly I knew exactly how, say, Jimmy Olsen would feel if he finally pulled his head out of his ass about the peculiar habits of his old pal Clark. Because she didn't come right out and tell me, I feel like it's my role to continue to pretend not to know that it's my friend beneath the gorilla mask. In this sense, I am a bit like Peter Maass, who realized that "Salam Pax" was somebody he knew but chose not to name names. His testimony is enough to prove there really is a Salam Pax (since many people suspected the whole thing was a propagandistic hoax) but not enough to undo the anonymous crusader's good deeds (although he does provide enough information that a supervillain could track the guy down, come to think of it).

Every time I don my batsuit, I'm afraid that I'll be found out -- by a housemate, a neighbor, a random stranger. And I've had more than a few close calls in my day. (Once I had myself tied up in my second-floor apartment and the doorbell rang; I quickly freed myself, changed into street clothes, and answered the door. It was the cops, responding to a report of a burglary on the first floor. Guess things could have been much, much worse.) Nowadays I try to keep a pair of oversized sweats which can slip over my tights nearby so I can switch outfits in a hurry. But there's always the thrilling possibility that something will go wrong and I myself will be as embarrassed -- as out of control -- as the unMasked Manhunter. That risk is certainly a part of why I do it in the first place, and why I write about it here, too.

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