Copper masks and the subtle (but weird) art of pandemic flexing

Welcome to Cultural Commentary, a 23-year old’s attempt at ruminating over cultural trends and trying to ‘get’ online shenanigans. These essays, like her 20’s, sometimes have no right answers and satisfying conclusion just yet – and that’s okay. It’s much more fun that way.

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Amidst this week’s social media headlines chronicling the confounding Christine Dacera case and Disney looking for a lola‘ type actress, copper masks and their alleged ineffectiveness have also been making their way into pvblic scrutiny.

ICYDK, the debacle started from a Makati Medical Center infographic stating that Copper masks weren’t allowed within the hospital premises. Articles upon articles were then shared debunking the mask that could apparently kill any bacteria.

Apparently, purely copper surfaces can neutralize the spread of bacteria, but it’s not completely effective against COVID-19 in mask form, especially with a visible vent on the chin.

Copper masks also aren’t part of the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) list of certified medical-grade masks, but DOH says that ‘[copper masks] can still prevent the spread of COVID-19 mainly by acting as a physical barrier for droplets when a person emits droplets’ – So it is effective, but not entirely.

pandemic copper mask privilege, <b> Copper masks and the subtle (but weird) art of pandemic flexing </b>
CNN Philippines

With Copper Masks in the Philippines selling for almost PHP300 – PHP500 each, it’s obviously not a viable alternative for the everyday Filipino. With 50pc surgical (and medical-grade) masks going as low as PHP 150 per box, we can’t deny that seeing someone with a copper mask has become a sort of lowkey status symbol – a new normal subtle flex, if you will.

It’s absurd to me how we’ve managed to monetize and make protection a humblebrag, but this is just capitalism at work. With each shared debunking post, I also can’t help but feel there’s a certain level of vindication that comes with it, as if we’re playing the Internet’s favorite game of ‘I told you so… even if I didn’t‘.

Flexing on social media really isn’t anything new though, the Internet itself thrives on polarization and self-expression, but these times have undoubtedly magnified people’s privileges and unfair advantages – and though it’s a difficult conversation to be had, it’s not a bad thing to think about.

From panicking about toilet paper, some have bought 1 million random things from Shopee in the span of 24 minutes. From calls of mass testing, some are now casually getting tested to head to Boracay. Life goes on, and the inequalities it comes with.

It’s just a mask, yes, but in retrospect, it’s led to a rumination on how even a pandemic can’t stop the wheels of capitalism – and how we subconsciously turn with it.

Banner graphic by Beatrix Zaragoza