Sillabario dei tempi tristi (Syllabary of Sad Times) is a book in short essay form written by Ilvo Diamanti, a well-known Italian academic and journalist. My attention is drawn to an essay entitled “Sunglasses” where he analyzes the (mis) use of dark sunglasses in public.

Publicized and sold as fashion accessories, sunglasses have evolved from a status symbol worn by film stars and socialites to an all-generational inter-class mass object.

Diamanti points out that unlike a haircut or baggy trousers or shoes which are a way to stand out and socialize, nowadays the use of sunglasses is not that of “otherness” understood as standing out but as a barrier to block the others out.

Sunglasses like shutters, allow us to view as if we were at the window but without being seen, to scrutinize without compromise ourselves and exposing yourself to unwanted glances. Like James Stewart in Hitchcock’s film “Rear Window”, a Peeping Tom and a voyeur who finds his personal pleasure in watching what is going on around us but without exposing himself.

But more than voyeurism I would like to call it isolation. A thin layer of polycarbonate with which we cover our eyes creates as a result an insurmountable barrier between the viewing eyes.

Sunglasses. Photo by Mick Frank

 And if eyes tell more about us than a thousand words, if they reveal all about our desires, weaknesses, troubles and fears, then we stand naked amongst our peers (if people take time to look). Sunglasses make a very distinct declaration of “leave me alone, I’m not interested in showing myself” but I still can see you.

Sunglasses. Photo by Mick Frank