Skip links

The Truth Behind Half Truths

“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.”- Oscar Wilde In our contemporary society, a recurring issue is that everyone speaks half-truths. It’s instinctive; something that seems ingrained in us. Talking about our true feelings and speaking out our mind seems to be something of the past— there’s always a front; a veneer behind which we have to censor ourselves. The crux of this issue is our broken system. ‘Peace-keeping’ bodies like police forces and similar organisations torture and arrest people whenever they say something that—even negligibly— threatens to knock down their veiled and shrouded appearances of civility. 1 A world which once boasted about free thinking and the right to object to and contemplate whatever one saw fit, has now turned into a world that has censors and surveillances that coerce our conformity and solicit our submission. 2 Our democratic world which hails tolerance as one of its primary objectives, still continues on its regressive path towards intolerance.

The Blind Side

Our own world is inundated with examples where we have failed to provide an amenity as basic as speech. Countless horrifying crimes stay unheard and suppressed because it did not favour the interests of the government or the individual. We have seen innumerable instances of people obscenely dragooned and intimidated to keep their silence. For centuries together minority groups have tried to raise their voice against the injustices they are subjected to only to find every door slammed on their faces. It took years upon years and a lot of bloodshed till the world learned to accept their voice and reason with their requests, and yet we find journalists being interrogated and put behind bars for expressing any ideas and thoughts apart from the convention and convenient one. 3 We still find people being attacked and thrown into prison for saying something 'objectionable' in social media. 4 This has created an air of fear and trepidation in our society. People still fear to express their true feelings and ideas and resort to half-truths or lies to escape the almost-totalitarian form of 'justice'. Hence, masks. Masks guarantee the wearer anonymity. Anonymity gives one the power and courage to speak out in a world where opinions have become the fast pass to the con college. Anonymity also guarantees the wearer the aegis of an alias—wherein one can nail their colours to the mast without being imprisoned for it. Here we find the context of Wilde’s quote- we human beings, due to the condition of our environment, can only be our true selves when we hide behind a façade.

Through The Veil

This growing censorship in our society is reaching a point wherein we do not have any freedom to say what we like. In the world of entertainment, James McTeigue has beautifully portrayed this sentiment of the mask in his film ‘V for Vendetta’. The opening monologue captures the status quo flawlessly. “ . . . This visage, no mere veneer of vanity, is a vestige of the vox populi, now vacant, vanished. However this valorous visitation of a bygone vexation stands vivified, and has vowed to vanquish these venal, virulent vermin, vanguarding vice and vouchsafing the violently vicious and voracious violation of volition. . .” V talks about how the government has completely subdued the voice of the people and no longer cares for their opinions. However, V emphatically expresses that this system was unacceptable and thus the "bygone vexation" of the masses would be unleashed upon them- "these venal, virulent vermin". Here, the mask becomes symbolic of his struggles against the barbarity prevalent in society and also acts as a beacon of hope to all those who subscribe to his ideals.

They know that the mask represents rebellion and indirectly, it inspires courage among the masses to speak out loud and unafraid. What is really pathetic to see is countries banning the film and its ideas as they felt it would incite violence and thus expose their totalitarian leadership. The governments felt insecure about their own leadership and therefore grew apprehensive about the response of the 'vox populi' from the film. 5, 6, 7 However, the mask represents self-preservation in the form of anonymity, in a time where the totalitarian leadership has silenced everyone’s voices. There is a beautiful coalescence of the various symbolic interpretations of the same mask—to the point where there remains no difference between the actual man behind the mask, and the mask itself. That is one important realization in the movie—whatever V’s identity is, it remains inconsequential to the storyline. At the end of the day, “beneath this mask there is an idea. And ideas are bulletproof.”

The Flip Side

Kurt Vonnegut in his book ‘Mother Night’ says, “We are what we pretend to be, and therefore we must be careful who we pretend to be.” Here, we get to see yet another aspect of the mask—the loss of self-identity. One of the most important themes in ‘Mother Night’ is the protagonist’s and/or antagonist’s journey of understanding his own identity—was Howard Campbell really a Nazi propagandist or was he a true American at heart? Was he neither? It was his role as a double agent that caused millions of people to get caught in the crossfire. However, what we understand is constantly wearing the mask of loyalty to a single cause changed his disposition and personality to the extent where both his true self and his masked self merged together as one. Both these examples of masks bear some similarity, but have distinct differences too. While in the first situation people put on masks to find courage and show their true selves in front of the barbaric leadership, the second scenario showed people wearing masks to hide their true selves, to the extent they lose their self-identity behind those veils.

Breaking The Mould

All these examples from our own world and fiction put into context the deplorable condition we are in. ‘V for Vendetta’ was set in the future—in 2038. A dystopian novel/film, it focussed on the worst condition that human beings could have to face. We’re 18 years shy of that, and are already facing something similar-- no freedom of expression unless it romanticizes the leadership and euphemizes their faults. Sigmund Freud had himself spoken volumes about the necessity of freedom of speech in our contemporary societies. He had stated that our right to freedom of speech and expression provided us with an innocuous avenue for expressing ourselves, instead of turning towards violence and carnage. 8 At the end of the day, why should our voices be suppressed? Why should people be hunted down because they said or expressed something the leadership does not subscribe to? In the words of V, “I am not going to censor myself to comfort your ignorance.” By Sankalp Ghosh Senior Secondary Student, Don Bosco Park Circus

References

1-https://www.researchgate.net/publication/46641577_Human_Rights_Violations_by_the_Police

2-https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/resilience-bullying/200907/the-death-freedom-speech-and-the-growth-intolerance

3-https://www.cjr.org/opinion/reporters-press-freedom-police-protests.php

4-https://www.livemint.com/Politics/sWTiTg8jscRZpKwSPN25UN/Prisoners-of-memes-social-media-victims.html#box_1543986164071

5-https://www.scmp.com/yp/discover/lifestyle/features/article/3067925/why-movie-v-vendetta-has-become-part-hong-kong

6-https://world.time.com/2013/02/27/bahrain-bans-v-for-vendetta-masks/

7-https://foreignpolicy.com/2013/05/30/saudi-arabia-bans-guy-fawkes-masks-for-instilling-culture-of-violence/

8-https://www.jstor.org/stable/1960865

Leave a comment

This website uses cookies to improve your web experience.