That the mass had a face, and that its face changed as you moved from marching columns of soldiers to workers lined up along the conveyor belt, from the passersby on Kurfürstendamm to spectators in the sports arena, was a discovery of the 1920s. The faces of the masses seen in Jünger and Schultz's collection vary from the amorphous multitude to the uniformed army. The face of the mass may thus be swarming, anarchic, and uncontrollable. But it may also be obedient and ordered, constituting a social resource prepared to follow any command issued by leaders cunning and competent enough to direct them. Two different faces, one firmly unified, the other with fuzzy contours – yet, both are observed from, if not constituted by, a point of view far away from the men and women in the crowd. When Jünger and Schultz pointed at "the face of the mass", they referred not to the faces of the individuals in the mass but to the greater collective face, in which the face of the single human being is but a small component.
In a previous era – between, say, the French Revolution and World War One – the mass was usually described as faceless and anonymous, as a changeable horde, herd or swarm. Its most characteristic trait was its lack of traits. Since the mass was described as a phenomenon produced by common affects, governed by passions and instincts, it was also seen as acting without volition or rationality. For the same reason, it was typically described as passive and reactive, owning no inherent principle of formation, no firm definition or identity. Affirming the idea that the mass as such lacks form, Jünger and Schultz at the same time emphasized that it could be given any form. Because of its reactive character, the mass was an ideal object of leadership and visionary guidance. That is to say that, once it is viewed and organized by some external agent, the mass attains form, its face is developed, its identity clarified. In speaking of "the changing face of the mass," Jünger and Schultz noted that the mass looked different depending on the regime that commanded it and the optical means through which it appeared.
Can we picture a seeing collective? A mass equipped with optical gaze, perhaps even a complete apparatus of perception? As a vast laboratory for aesthetic and ideological experiments, the Weimar Republic also fabricated complex designs for the perceptual machinery of the collective. Two historical conditions were necessary for this idea to emerge. The first had to do with the process of production and the division of labour: the factory system had shown how to organize numerous individuals according to a common logic, so that they all contributed to the same end. The second had to do with the new media situation, which made it possible to produce messages and images on a mass scale and to disseminate them to a mass audience whose members received and experienced them simultaneously. The first is a case of collective production of material things, the second a case of collective reception of signs and images.
If these two processes were connected, the outcome would be a comprehensive process of social representation, as envisioned by those who acknowledged that the masses had their own perspective and perceptual apparatus. The result, that is, would be a process in which the collective was author of the media and its contents, and at the same time its recipient or addressee. In this process, we encounter a collective representing itself in a form adapted to its own senses. Whatever the medium employed, it would be configured so as to record and transmit the contents perceived by the gaze of the masses, and to do this in such a way that the masses would apprehend these contents as a truthful representation of their situation. Or, in less technical terms: society represents itself to itself.