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March 1999 | Uncompleted

Suggested Innovation: Apaparazzi mask


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Many are familiar with the living hell which famous people experience in trying to avoid recognition in public, especially by paparazzi. For those exposed to the press as witnesses, or accused in a trial in which they may be proven innocent, the same challenge exists. And not to be forgotten are the shy, or those with facial disfigurements which attract unwelcome comment. In some contexts, this may simply be people of different ethnic groups. And with the increase in electronic surveillance in public places, many may want ways to move around in public with a sense of privacy.

This suggestion is for those who genuinely wish not to be recognized. Disguising the face in public has been the subject of attention in times past, from veils to ceremonial masks, and including the helmets worn for protection in hand-to-hand combat by warriors -- or the balaclava masks worn by special forces (and terrorists). In modern society it tends to be only those driving potentially dangerous vehicles that use such devices, as is the case with motor cycle riders. But high tech cops also make use of the silvered variety, partially to intimidate. In many cultures, veils are still worn -- usually by women (as in Islamic cultures) but in some cases by men (Touaregs).

But aside from these examples, those who claim real need do not have access to any suitable device, other than chic dark glasses. Prisoners may have a blanket thrown over their head by the police, which is rather primitive and undignified for the 1990s. What is needed is a convenient piece of headgear, which would be a hybrid between veil, mask and helmet that could be easily folded up -- like a veil. It needs to look reasonably fashionable but fairly anonymous -- like dark glasses. Some variants need to be resistant to being brushed aside -- like a silvered helmet, which has the considerable advantage of reflecting flashlight back to the photographer and protecting the eyes of the wearer.

Clearly such headgear could be developed both by the fashion industry -- possibly as an add-on to hats -- and/or by the safety industry as a very light weight helmet. But possibly those developing masks for carnivals could also offer variants -- maybe as coloured clip-ons, as with some fashion spectacles. Islamic countries might have special advantages given the particular needs of their women. Maybe the Australian bobbing-cork anti-fly hats could offer some inspiration. High tech freaks could explore battery powered variants with flashing lights and shifting moire patterns!

Such devices could initially have an image problem that the fashion industry could quickly deal with -- since there are tremendous market opportunities. What is needed is a good name to launch the innovation. It is a pity that Princess Diana, possibly a prime beneficiary, could not have lent her persona to the device -- which might have been named after her (except she never went in for silvered window cars).

But for starters "apaparazzi mask" might do. But maybe "veil of discretion". Or perhaps "Medusa mask"? It will be interesting to observe the motives for opposing such an innovation, especially by those in the security world -- and by those who only like to complain that they are pestered by the paparazzi, but actually live for that attention!

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