Shingles and the Art of Mocking

In early July, I spent five straight days of self-quarantine due to my first outbreak of shingles. The blisters broke out on the first morning of a Hawaii business trip.  While I appreciated prescribed painkillers, the comfort of my hotel room and the convenience of room service, my gills desperately sought fresh air and I craved contact with people other than hotel staff, kind though they were.

On Saturday, I proclaimed, “ENOUGH!” and roamed Kapiolani Park across my Waikiki hotel.  A bit self -conscious about my bandaged blister-covered forehead, I nevertheless felt smugly anonymous in my wide brim hat and Jackie O shades.

My reward was instant.  The park was a rich tapestry of relaxing picnickers, the cadence of drums accompanying young Tahitian dancers, colorful inflated birthday party bouncies, and the enticing aroma of charcoal barbeques.

The big event that day was a Korean Cultural Festival, and the smell of kalbi, barbequed chicken, and sweet baked goods infused the still hot air.  Festival booths offered information about culture, health, politics, and sports.  Grandmothers and teenage girls giggled and blushed as their I-photos were taken with Korean soap opera stars roaming the crowd.

But the best attraction was a display of traditional Korean masks.  The docent proudly explained that the masks at this festival are all antique.  The displayed masks were made from wood and gourd.

Korean masks depict exaggerated human expressions designed to elicit fear, humor,  respect, awe.  They were used in war, on both soldiers and their horses.  Shamanistic ceremonies used these masks to drive away evil spirts, but I suspect some of the masks resemble the targeted bad spirits!

Some masks were used to remember the faces of great historical figures in death masks; and often masks were used in the arts, particularly in ritual dances, courtly, and theatrical plays.

But the use I most appreciated was that described by the docent. He seemed quite fond of explaining that masks were often used by common villagers to mock political and military leaders in a way had no repercussions .

In other words, the masks were tools of democracy.  Rather than totally submit one’s being and spirit to powerful figures, Korean villagers chose to channel their subsersive opinions in plays and childish enactments.  It was an ancient Korean version of Saturday Night Live . . . a spoof, but none the wiser because it’s all in fun. 

If these masks were today’s American political tools, I could mock eloquent. Mr. President, did you really change your position on fundamental social issues like marriage, or was your initial position merely political expedience? Mr. Romney, how could you outright lie about your position on vital economic issues like the automobile industry?

Mr. Romney, how could you take credit for things that happened to fall in your lap as governor, like your state’s education?  Mr. President, why didn’t you do everything you promised within your four years of leadership?

But on the eve of our 2012 presidential election, my political masks are meaningless.  The one political tool I possess on this day is my vote.  And so I wield my vote with hope, and echew the fear preached by purse guards and dream killers.

I do have one more mask, though, and I use it to mock.  It’s been over three months  since my shingles outbreak.  I have had scar-potential facial blisters, followed by tearful and debilitating pain, altering medication that I would not normally ingest, embarrassing medicinal side effects and months of a general spirit of discouragement.  Today, the scarring seems minimal, I no longer take anti-viral meds and rarely take Advil.  But, while I can no longer bask in the sun because I do not want scars, and I’m told I rub by forehead when I am stressed, I am confident that the shingles have passed.

So, this is for you, Shingles.  You have nothing on me!