The legendary showman David “Bowie” Jones
rarely interviewed or discussed his process but
once offered a rare insight when he told a fan
“I am always afraid”. In order to overcome the
fear, Mr. Jones claimed to wear an invisible mask
which protected his private self while performing.
Mr. Jones was discussing the use of emotional
masks, but you don’t have to look further than
his glam rock days to realize that the out-of-this
world wardrobe his characters dawned was certainly
part of the barrier between the life of Mr. Jones and Bowie.
Reading this story I immediately related, for I too am always afraid.
Always. It’s an angst deeply rooted in social anxiety and has
impeded relationships both personal and professional. As a working
class artist attempting to carve out a living in New York City
I struggle to maneuver my way through a complex world of lingo,
social cues, and fashion signaling beyond the reaches of my
If you were to ask my friends, I would probably be the last person
they’d think of to write about fashion. I’ve never considered myself
“seriously” fashionable, but I’ve always been greatly concerned
with fashion. My interest in the subject has always come from a
place of anxiety: am I wearing the right outfit to this networking
event? How about that job interview? Are these the correct pair of
jeans to be wearing to work or not? Am I supposed to be even be
These anxieties aren’t unique by a long shot, after all, if you’re
going on a date, what do you think about first?
“Oh my god, what am I going to wear??” There’s a noticeable
trend in modern fashion, particularly amongst
those of the “fast” variety to capitalizes on the ever fading line
between our work and personal lives: wear a suit to the office,
then if/when you finally clock off, roll up the sleeves and unbutton
that fashionable collar and you’re out on the town with the boys.
The term “blurring lines” is commonly used to describe how our work lives
are becoming even more entwined with our personal ones; how we’re
working longer hours for less pay, missing out on that time with our families
and friends so we can meet a deadline. The writer and cultural theorist
Mark Fischer preferred to use the more fitting word “occupation” to
describe how Capitalism and Neoliberalism has set its sights on the inner-
space of our souls.
In his book Capitalist Realism Fischer asks: “[Capitalism] having all-too
successfully incorporated externality, how can it function without an outside
it can colonize and appropriate?” Since Capitalism has run out of external
markets to consume, is it any wonder that the Capitalist machine has
turned its sights to the “Inner-Space” of human existence?
Occupations are a complicated and messy affairs. In the course of
expanding their power, those doing the occupying get to engage in
quite a bit appropriation in the process: pillaging what they perceive
to be of value while leaving the occupied the option to collaborate,
assimilate, or face the consequences.
Fischer described this Neoliberal occupation in the broader context of
our lives and imaginations, but there are many practical considerations
that equally play into the concept. After becoming our sole viable source
of providing shelter, sustenance, and basic medical needs, is it any
wonder these systems have attempted to become a source of deeper
meaning as well?
With each passing year we are expected to give up more of ourselves,
assimilate to the supreme needs of the job. Of course this often plays
out in less of a totalitarian tone than one might suspect. Take, for
instance, the recent uptick in companies urging their employees to
“enjoy the freedom of self expression." Yet, with hiring trends such as
“culture fit” becoming common place, visible self expression has
evolved into a nearly essential element of employment.
Economic fears bolstered by a strong self-help industry, social media,
and the competitive nature of US workaholic culture has deeply ingrained the
exalted “culture fit” qualities into our off the clock lives as we’re inundated
with commercial pressures to be well manicured, totally optimized, sexy
(but not too sexy!), easily likable, and uncontroversial in any meaningful
Oh, and of course, don’t forget to “dress the part”! But be careful to
not dress too down, because then you’re not caring enough; and
don’t dress up too much because then you’ll read as desperate.
A good, hirable employee is one that truly internalizes these ideals,
and is applying them to live their #blessed #bestlives. In other words,
the ideal employee has been occupied primarily by the qualities that
are most beneficial to the company for which they work.
This all sounds infinitely bleak. If recent history has taught us anything
it’s that there are no easy answers, no quick-fix solutions to larger
societal issues regardless of how dire they may seem. But not all is lost.
I take solace in the fact that power begins with knowledge; when we
begin to understand how these forces are attempting to mold us,
we can begin to
fight back their occupation.
The many masks and personae dawned by David Bowie call to mind
the Japanese concepts of tatemae and honne; tatemae being the face
one puts on display for the outside world, while honne is the true-self,
often kept hidden from all but those closest to you.
There are numerous examples of tense confrontational moments
between Bowie and various talk show hosts who pried too deep into
his personal matters. It is through the application of a strong tatemae,
Jones/Bowie was able to interface with the world required by his work,
but also hold onto himself and protect both his privacy but his honne,
his core self.
David could be Jones at home and Bowie on stage. In a similar way, we
cannot allow our tatemae, our work masks to become glued to our faces.
Our jobs are not entitled to our honne, this last most precious piece of us
that transcends value.
I’ve said it elsewhere, but it’s worth repeating. Go write a bad poem, sing a
song out of key in the shower, learn to knit, sun bath with a library book,
make a hand drawn zine with stick figures; anything that makes you laugh
and doesn’t get you wrapped up in making sales or unhealthy competition.
We owe it to each other to not only fight for free time, but the ability to
keep that time spiritually free from the grasp of work.
It’s here that I want to turn to the wonderful photography included in this
article. Each of these images presents a professional personae that
occupies a space in my life. They are pieces of my tatemae, my masks to
the outside world, the uniform you’ll see me wrapped in when I’m work. I
love them because they make me feel incredibly seen and beautiful. You
might be asking, which one of these is my true self? I’m not sharing that
here — because those details, those little secrets are for me.
Bowie’s final album BLACKSTAR was released on his 69th birthday, just
two days before he died. The otherwise dark, and poignant record ends
with an enlightening bittersweet track entitled “I can’t give it all away...”
David Jones never did, and neither should we.
by Peter Haas, model
photography by Leah Faye
makeup by Ivy Tinker
thanks to Lightbulb Rentals
Please, no re-distribution of images without permission/credit
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