COLUMN – Life Sideways: “The year of the mask”

By Jed Christensen – September 19, 2020

After minutes of vigorous internet research, I’ve discovered, with verifiable data, that N95 masks are capable of stopping four and only four things, which are: anything, nothing, bullets and world peace. Yes, once considered too excessive and expensive to be used as a construction dust mask, and only truly appreciated when worn by doctors or dentists known for having severe halitosis, the N95 mask has become the most adored celebrity of 2020.

Ask yourself what the most recent bit of entertainment you digested contained, a movie star? A great writer? A sports figure? None of the above. Because if you are like the rest of the world, you have been watching, reading and listening to anything to do with N95 masks. You’ve been wondering if it is or is not effective. How it will look with your new jacket. If you should buy a new jacket to go with your mask. If you paint the mask will it still retain its N95 rating? What is an N95 rating? Do you even know? Does anyone?

It doesn’t matter. N95 masks are all the rage. If you know that, you are “in the know.” Being “in the know” is more important than being knowledgeable. Not being in the know is like not knowing what’s going on in the life of the most popular celebrity, except people can’t even name celebrities anymore. But they can name a mask - and that mask’s name is N95.

The N95 mask has enjoyed a quick rise to fame. It all started around March when Americans realized that this airborne virus named after a beer was not going to avoid America, but they didn’t take it too seriously.

Nobody wanted to wear masks. Only people in other countries who ride bikes in ridiculous amounts of traffic wear masks. We don’t ride bikes in ridiculous amounts of traffic in America. We drive our cars. We don’t need to wear masks in everyday life like those crazy bike riders. But the N95 is a smart one. It’s been tracking dating sites and watching us closely. It knew the best way to grab our attention and achieve celebrity status was to make itself unavailable.

And just like that the N95 became all the rage, the topic of every discussion, the focus of every university study, the blazing banner of every headline. It’s as if the mask knew the best way to get the humans’ attention was to pit our ignorance against itself and watch us expose our own stupidity. Only when we couldn’t get an N95 mask to save our life did we want an N95 mask to save our life. Such a commercial crisis has not existed on American shores since the late 90’s when Tickle-Me-Elmo pulled the same stunt. But the N95 has one advantage over little Elmo - social media.

Never before has a celebrity pried its way into the American psyche with such strength and finesse. The N95 is a smart little bugger.

Though completely lacking the ability to think, speak, write, or show any sign of visible life or intelligence, the N95 mask somehow convinced the entire world to write more Facebook posts, get in more arguments, write more articles, conduct more studies, and create more YouTube videos than any other celebrity past or present.

N95 has dominated the headlines for so long that other celebrities are just giving up the celebrity business altogether. Look it up, they’re moving out of Hollywood in droves because they realize if you can’t compete with an inanimate face covering capable of filtering 0.3 microns what good are you?

It’s truly a crisis of American culture. What will next year bring? Will there be a new Netflix series starring the N95 mask? Will the mask be able to maintain its celebrity status for that long? Or by then will it be competing on Survivor with other has-beens? Maybe the mask will heroically revive Hollywood and the blockbuster movie. I can already see people lined up down the street to see N95 starring in its very own movie. And everyone will of course be dressed in perfect N95 cosplay. It’s as if N95 has been planning it all along. For now, we can only wait and see. Often a quick rise to fame means a quick fall to D-list celebrity status. At that point the N95 may go back to its humble beginnings as a surgeon’s spit catcher or an OSHA sign of authority. But no matter what happens we will always remember 2020 as the year of the mask.