Let’s grapple with the continued and out-of-all-proportions popularity of the Richard Nixon face mask, and in particular its close associations with sexual, and more even specifically abnormal, sexual activity.
Wikipedia gives a partial overview of Nixon mask appearances in popular culture – TV’s Full House once put a streaking father figure in a Nixon mask – but I want to concentrate on four appearances of the mask, two in the movies, two in real space.
1. The Ice Storm (1997). Nymphonic teenage girl seduces prepubescent boy in a 70s rec room. All familiar territory. But then she puts on that Nixon mask, and suddenly we are in a world of creepy.
2. Where the Buffalo Roam (1980). Open: blocked writer distracts himself by playing with pet rottweiler. He brings out a mannequin topped in a Richard Nixon mask, makes the dog wait, shouts ‘Nixon,’ and the attack dog clamps down hard on the mannequin’s groin. Genitally fixated male sexual aggression. Castration impulse.
4. Dr. Anonymous. In May 1972 Dr. John Fryer, a closeted but professionally- discriminated-against-nevertheless homosexual psychiatrist, appeared before the APA convention to chronicle and denounce the APA’s classification of homosexuality as a disease and its effects on those so classified. Unwilling to risk his own professional standing by speaking in propria persona, he was introduced as Dr. Anonymous. For his own protection, he wore an oversized tuxedo, a voice disguise, a wig, and a Nixon mask.
The first important thing to remember is that in 1972 homosexuality was still diagnosed as pathological. So even though one year later Fryer might be classified medically Normal, at the moment he donned that mask he was still, medically, a sexual deviant. This moment of activism, this appearance of Dr. Anonymous in the Nixon mask, kick started the chain reaction that effected homosexuality’s medical acceptance. It did for gay medical rights what Stonewall did for civil rights. In contrast to most of us, the Nixon mask made America a more tolerant place.
The second important thing to remember was that this happened in Nixon’s first term.
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Hunter S. Thompson, Nixon Mask, circa 1970s (M+B Gallery):