Publication date: Aug 01, 2023
This article explores how extravagantly visible mask-wearing relates with consumer culture. Methodologically, three purposively chosen case studies of spectacular or performative mask-wearing are used to show what the face mask can teach us about consumer culture in a pandemic. First, a Daily Mail (UK) article in which an ‘elderly shopper’ is shamed for wearing a sanitary towel as a face mask is used to explore the politics of disposable commodities. Second, the multiplying portraits of people wearing masks archived under Instagram’s #MaskSelfie hashtag allows an examination of how consumer-citizenship is performed. Third, the presence of extremely expensive luxury designer masks, as evidenced by Rich Mnisi’s Swarovski-encrusted offering, is a base for considering how virtue signalling has become a platform for luxury branding. Building on these three examples, the argument is made that waste, selfies and luxury are modalities for a pandemic commodity politics that is layered over and into the scientific citizenship signalled by the wearing of face masks. Together these create what I call a ‘sci-commodity’ sensibility, in which the face mask as a technology has become integrated with the modalities of consumption. This has resonance with ongoing debates about the object, subject and brand in consumer culture.