My first impulse in the beginning of pandemic life was that mask-wearing was silly, that if you are compelled to wear a mask, you think of yourself as sick, so you should stay home. I have a niece in Vietnam who wrote about her experience there and that mask-wearing was an important part of their pandemic control strategy. I told her of my resistance to mask-wearing. Not long after that, we learned that you could be a carrier and not have any signs of sickness. That was enough to make me wear a mask, and I texted my niece — You were right! It seemed so simple to me, but yet …
I have a friend, a gentle soul, an artist, who has taken on anti-maskism as his passion project. When he first started to post these ideas on Facebook, my impression of him was that he was reasonable, so I engaged by sharing my perspective. I soon found out he is committed to his position. It seems to be uniquely American, our value for individual freedom playing out for all the world to see. These fervent anti-maskers insist we are wrong, that the medical establishment is wrong, that we are not following the science.
Conflict — the stuff of drama. Because I am a playwright, I have a tendency to want to understand the innards of people who evoke conflict, to treat them like characters in a play. So, here is a character study of a particular anti-masker. Though this is inspired by real people, this character study “is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to real persons or other real-life entities is purely coincidental.”
Resolving the ConflictOne way a play can unfold is through a thesis-antithesis-synthesis pattern. So my thesis would be that this character starts out as an anti-mask crusader. The antithesis would be as he confronts and deals with different events: friends who unfriend him, a beloved family member who dies from COVID, a grandchild who challenges his thinking. There is dissonance and confusion when confronted. The synthesis would be the resolution of the confusion. I am only listing the following in the order I presented them above, but in a narrative, it will not be this linear.
I know. I know. This is an improbable happy ending. But this is art, right? It can take us from the dismal cynical reality into the realm of the possible. So in my imagined resolution, I will evolve my character! He was drawn to this “cause” because of a need to defy authority, to resist the establishment. This gives his life meaning. He changes, as light creeps in, little by little. At first, there is cognitive dissonance when he gets exposed to more and more bits that contradict his stance. This causes frustration, confusion and depression. He uses art to bring him out of this depression. In this process, he is able to sort out the contradictions. He realizes his need for affiliation, but does not identify with other anti-maskers. He chooses to affiliate as a protector of his family. He becomes a hero by sharing the ability to change one’s mind.
Diane Aoki is a writer who explores other modes of creativity as her intuition leads her.