And there, and again, the continuous flood of news on the corona virus and covid-19 collided with some nostalgic beats and catch lines from the yesteryear. Like the repetitious ‘inhale, inhale / exhale, exhale’ of that certain one song. Something we all need to do (breathe), but are now cautious about because of the tiny things you certainly don’t want to inhale. Indeed, under the circumstances, a number of songs suddenly seems to obviously be about the corona pandemic and thematic playlists are created. On my playlist there are old goodies like Red Alert by Basement Jaxx and Extreme Ways by Moby. Now I of course added Breathe by The Prodigy on my list.
‘Come play my game
Inhale, inhale, you’re the victim
Come play my game
Exhale, exhale, exhale‘
Breathe, The Prodigy, 1996
A central breathing-related topic of corona reporting is the mask. Advice is spread on when and how to use them. A number of instructions is available about how to make masks. Then there is debate, whether the DIY masks are of any actual use or whether they confuse and lead to misunderstand the risks of infection. There have been news about millions of masks that were burnt earlier in Sweden, because no one thought there would be any use to them ever again. Der Tagesspiegel reported about doubts on ‘modern piracy’, as a load of masks was re-channeled elsewhere (to the USA) instead of the original goal, Berlin.
I started to think, how facts, figures, rumours, DIY-campaigns, panic and politics now spin around this specific object. The need for proper masks is obvious. In addition to this, this object also seems to work as a signifier of worry or consciousness, especially so in circumstances, like provincial and rural Finland, where the conditions are good for breathing your own air and keeping distance, which is also encoded to our (stereo)typical behaviour. In the Finnish case, in addition, the mask could almost be the symbol of preparedness. Truly, masks seem to communicate a lot these days.
So there I was, happily obeying the instruction to stay at home on a Friday night, rummaging through old tunes and the materials of my very own stockpile of sorts. I listened to The Prodigy (good old nineties, when a silly hair-do, heavy make-up and mix-it-all outfit could make someone think they’d be a ‘firestarter’) and decided to crochet a mask.
‘I’m a firestarter, twisted firestarter
You’re a firestarter, twisted firestarter’
Firestarter, The Prodigy, 1996
A mask is so obviously a piece you would wish to make yourself. At the same time it is a piece that so obviously requires specific materials and circumstances for production. It increasingly seems to become one of the symbolic objects of this time, also as an object of debate and dispute.
The actual firestarter is the tiny little thing that we don’t want to inhale. But the capacities to fight those firestarters, viruses, sometimes seem to be at the level of masking your face with something porous and out of place like a piece of lace. Another level of symbolism is that of keeping our mouths covered and to do as we’re told. But only for some weeks now. Then we unmask. Right?