East/West cultural difference with regard to masks?
June 25, 2020 12:49 AM   Subscribe

A meme I saw some time ago (which I unfortunately can no longer locate) contrasted how Westen superheroes wear masks versus East Asian ones. The Western heroes tended to hide their upper face but keep their mouths exposed, while the Eastern heroes were more likely to hide their mouths but expose their eyes (and particularly their eyebrows). Is there some kind of cultural thing going on here?

I've tried to research a bit more about this but couldn't really find much. Perhaps Western cultures are more used to communicating via facial expressions involving the mouth, whereas Eastern cultures (particularly Japanese anime) focus more on the eyes? For example, anime style emoticons are eye focused (^_^ ;_;), as opposed to mouth focused smilies ( :-) :-( ).

Apologies for the reductive use of East and West here, but in terms of popular culture I think it's the easiest way to discuss the differences.
posted by destrius to Society & Culture (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Writing down this question helped me better figure out what I was wondering about, and led me to this article. I'm wondering if there is more research into this though, that seems to be just a single study.
posted by destrius at 12:51 AM on June 25, 2020

Was this it? (Reddit: While we are in the topic of wearing masks, this is a good example of why the US has more coronavirus cases. It's from a couple of months ago.)
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:35 AM on June 25, 2020

Yup that's the one!
posted by destrius at 6:47 AM on June 25, 2020

in house of bamboo sam fuller had a Japanese character tell an American that they considered eyebrows the most attractive feature in men
posted by brujita at 7:09 AM on June 25, 2020

I’m not sure how to back this up, but it seems to me lots of Chinese and Japanese and Korean cultures have a normal tradition of wearing face masks for warmth in cold weather. You see it pop up in movies and TV. Even before any modern disease usage. The Japanese characters in the meme are likely rooted in functional masks.

In contrast; the western character masks seems to be rooted in Fantasy and Looking Cool. They don’t really even conceal the identity, we could pick them all out of a lineup un-masked.

TLDR: western masks are bullshit because they are rooted only in make-believe to sell to children; the eastern masks are useful because they are based on real masks people wear for real reasons.
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:33 AM on June 25, 2020 [2 favorites]

Perhaps Western cultures are more used to communicating via facial expressions involving the mouth, whereas Eastern cultures (particularly Japanese anime) focus more on the eyes?

I've come across a few (non-academic) articles over the years talking specifically about differences between the US and Japan in how facial expressions are used and perceived. Google's not turning up anything I particularly recognise (they might have been in books, or even in information handed out by my employer when I was seconded to Japan for a bit), but here's one example. (Sorry about the unrelated autoplaying video - why, LiveScience, why?)

For a West/West cultural difference, you might enjoy this discussion of US vs UK definitions of frowning.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 7:41 AM on June 25, 2020 [6 favorites]

I'd write it up as mostly wanting to see a hero's facial expressions, while the enemy is more faceless. Also in the comics, those masks move to express different facial expressions, I mean Batman's mask moves with his expressions if I am judging from various comics drawings correctly. Since 3 are GI Joe, the most comical would be Destro, an enemy with a silver mask that magically moves with expressions too. There were regular jokes in GI Joe, as the Cobra troops wear facemasks but no unit or individual name info that they "..must memorize eyebrows".
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:48 AM on June 25, 2020

My first thought was it’s because ninjas are depicted as wearing masks that cover everything but their eyes, so the tradition is already there. (We (US-born Japanese) however did not grow up with Japanese superheroes wearing masks like those - it was either a full face mask or no face mask at all.)
posted by umwhat at 10:16 AM on June 25, 2020

I think of western masks as coming from masquerades and costume parties, where you would want to hide your face but not cover your mouth (so you can eat and drink).
posted by jb at 7:07 PM on June 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

Ack, I've been meaning to follow up on this but too many things have been happening. Thanks for all the answers! Perhaps the only way to properly answer this question is to do some kind of an analysis of a huge trove of manga and comic books and see how often the focus is on the eyes or the mouth.
posted by destrius at 9:06 AM on July 4, 2020

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