Though there are individual exceptions, the absence of Beard is usually a sign of physical and moral weakness; and in degenerate tribes wholly without, or very deficient, there is a conscious want of manly dignity, and contentedness with a low physical, moral, and intellectual condition. Such tribes have to be sought for by the physiologist and ethnologist; the historian is never called upon to do honor to their deeds.
— Thomas S. Gowing, The Philosophy of Beards
“If you say you’re going to diversify, why not add a few red-haired emoji in the mix?” asks Emma Kelly, the site’s proprietor. “Natural redheads may be rare at less than two percent of the world’s population, but that is 138,000,000 iPhones waiting to happen.”
Kelly isn’t the only advocate who says hair is the next frontier of emoji diversification. Writing at the Guardian, Rhik Samadder noted that there are no emojis for beards or afros. Survey the list of humanoid emojis, and the hair is mostly black, brown, and straight.
No beards?! Okay, I retract my earlier sarcasm. This is serious.
As three men with hats, sunglasses and beards stand in close proximity to each other, the probability that a passerby will make a joke about a ZZ Top tribute band approaches 1.
Mark Marino wants to shake up academic publishing. To declare his intentions, the associate professor of writing at the University of Southern California chose a format both fitting and provocative: a BuzzFeed listicle.
Posted on Thursday, Mr. Marino’s piece, “10 Reasons Professors Should Start Writing BuzzFeed Articles,” serves as a “manifesto” for BuzzAdemia, a new journal he’s creating to encourage “BuzzFeed-style scholarship.”
To banality and beyond! I shared this with Arthur for the lulz, and he responded:
Good idea, but they’d better start improving their writing style: be deep, but make it snappy, is the Darwinian directive, or else large numbers of the academic species will be eliminated by the competition. How catastrophic! Will self-referential pedantry survive the epochal shift from academe to acadeMEME? Who gifs a damn!
He then asked if I had been click-baited into the linked article explaining post-structuralism by means of hipster beards. I hadn’t, so I went back and checked it out, and, you know, I have to say, I’m all in favor of this idea now. Stripped of all the mystifying jargon, it’s somewhat bracing to see just how trite these struc/post-struc “insights” really were.
I can’t help but wonder also if this public display of raw masculinity isn’t also a reaction to the relative decline in male power in American life and culture. As girls beat boys in school, and as women increasingly beat men in college, and as women out-pace men in vast swathes of the economy, and as old patterns of allegedly sexist male culture are policed and patrolled with ever-greater assiduity, the beard and the old-school manliness of the lumbersexual become new ways to express masculinity which cannot be denigrated or dismissed as sexist. It’s a way to reclaim manliness without running afoul of the new prophets of gender justice.
It’s s strange feeling to be ambling along for however many years, just doing my unremarkable, un-self-conscious thing, only to wake up one day and discover that certain tastemakers and media outlets have suddenly pronounced it to be a thing. Complete with an ideological stance, even! I knew there was a reason I kept those flannel shirts from twenty years ago; I just thought it was because they were so soft and comfortable and made to last.
Me, I was devastated years ago by the loss of my youngest dog to lymphoma, and in my grief, I happened to let a few weeks go by without shaving. As I returned to equilibrium, I decided that I greatly preferred the way I looked with a beard and decided to keep it, and so I have done. I wish I could pretend it had a more exciting genesis than that, but at least I’ll still like the way I look with it long after the politically-bearded have moved on to different fashions.
And what about that suddenly-fashionable appearance of mine? Well, according to the correspondent who recently sent me this picture from a beard site, I bear a “striking resemblance” to this guy:
Hmm. Well, the build and hairstyle are pretty much the same. My eyes are normally a little wider than that. I’m not as visibly tattooed, though, and my hair is a blend of ash-blond and light brown rather than red. And he’s probably a month or two ahead of me in the beard-length department. But yeah, I could probably strike a very similar pose, so I’ll accept it and be flattered by the comparison! I mean, that’s one handsome dude. Why, I could possibly even go a little gay for a fine-looking fellow like that. What? I could. Just a little bit, you know.
Howard: If I don’t get some action soon, I’m going gay.
Vince: What? You?
Howard: What’s so funny about that?
Vince: You are the LEAST gay person I’ve ever met.
Howard: I COULD go gay. You’ve got me all wrong. I could go gay like THAT, sir!
Vince: You can’t just go gay! It’s not like buying a ladder!
Last stop of the day, pulling in to fill up the gas tank. I set the pump trigger latch in place and walked around to the passenger side for something. While there, I took a moment to get my small boar-bristle brush out of the glovebox and give my beard a smoothing-down. I’ve been letting it grow for the last few months, so it requires a lot more grooming now.
“Feels good, don’t it?”
I turned around to look over at the next pump island for the source of the voice, where I saw what appeared to be Billy Gibbons dressed in biker leather, next to his beat-up old pickup.
“I brush mine like that all the time. Love it,” he said, affectionately patting the fringe of his long, grey facial mane.
“Oh, yeah,” I concurred. “I wish someone had told me about these earlier. I used to use a comb, but it made it all—” I used my hands to indicate the universal sign language for wild, frizzy hair.
He winced as if he’d seen someone brandish a set of electric clippers in his direction. “Ooh, no, never a comb, no. Always gotta be a brush.”
He made as if to get back in his truck before hesitating, his head still turned halfway in my direction, as if listening to some internal monologue. A moment later, he turned back and ambled over toward me.
“Now, look, young feller,” he began, in a friendly-conspiratorial tone of voice, “I made myself a promise a long time ago never to get involved in another man’s beardly business. You can see I’ve been around a good long while, and I tell you what, you never get over the pain of seeing a man you’ve encouraged spend years growing out his beard the way the good Lord intended, only to cut it all off because of a job or some damned woman.”
He spat to punctuate his disgust before fixing me with one steely eye from under the brim of his hat. Taking the measure of me, I thought. I kept quiet and stoically bore his scrutiny, letting my beard do the talking for me. Was that the slightest crack in his stony façade, a tiny upturn in the corner of his mouth?
It was. He grinned an almost-imperceptible grin and shook his finger at me in a mock-admonishing way. “You, though…damn it all if I ain’t a sentimental old fool, but the careful, dedicated way you wield that brush tells me you ain’t gonna go that route.”
“No, sir,” I agreed. “My woman, she loves my beard the more it grows out.”
He sighed, his breath the sound of so many hair clippings fluttering, unmourned, to the floor. “Be that as it may, son, in this world, there’s many a cold winter wind blows through a man’s life with no woman there to share it with. You treat that beard like the brother it is, because it’ll be there for you when that wind’s a-whistlin’ somethin’ fierce, no questions asked.”
Pausing to make sure his words had sunk in, he reached deep into a jacket pocket and fished something out. He held out his hand, and as I took it, he clasped his other one tight around the back and held it for a moment.
“I’m trusting you’ll use it wisely, son. Don’t let me down.”
“I won’t. I promise.”
I unclenched my hand and looked down.
When I looked up to thank him, he was already gone.
The overall sleek shine, the way the potion enhances the blond hairs to glow like a golden fire, and the lively notes of pine, cedar and mint that aromatically dance around my face now are the only things that convince me I didn’t imagine the whole thing.
Some parts of this story are truer than others.
This may not be the story bewhiskered moderns would like to hear. It’s easy to imagine the 19th-beard and barbershop revival as an homage to a quaint, innocent fashion trend. But today’s revival presents a chance to redeem the legacy of facial hair with a more complete understanding of the men who shaped it—a better grasp of what to keep and what to cut.
As delightfully ridiculous as an article attempting to politicize facial hair is, this concluding paragraph originally (when I first read it a week ago) had a couple extra lines in it which made it even more so:
“But however troubling this history may be, it does not render today’s beards irredeemable. What we need is an honest conversation about beards and the men who shaped them—a better grasp of what to keep and what to cut.”
Apparently, proclaiming the good news to bewhiskered modern heathens, that they can be reborn in the cleansing power of honest conversation, free from original, 19th-century racist sin, proved upon a moment’s reflection to be a ludicrous step too far even for this author, and so this section was quietly clipped and swept away like trimmings on a hairdresser’s floor. At any rate, before that happened, one anonymous commenter gave it the only response it needed:
“Dude, did you know that in the 19th century some men stopped shaving for racist reasons?”
“No, I didn’t, and anyway I did not stop shaving for racists reasons.”
Honest conversation ACCOMPLISHED
Yeah, really. I thought I just liked the way it looked as opposed to the alternative. Besides, everbody knows that the real reason for having a beard is to openly proclaim that we revel in filthy lusts like stinking goats.
“Facial hair for the past century has been thought to reflect a suspicious streak of individuality and defiance,” says Christopher Oldstone-Moore, a history lecturer at Ohio’s Wright State University.
…”There’s a long history in our civilisation of anxiety about facial hair, and hair in general, as being unhygienic: hairs will fall into the chocolate and soil the food,” says Oldstone-Moore.
Even in the case of firemen, the waters are muddy. “The mask argument is in part a tool to be used for a larger argument, which is it’s just not uniform, it’s not respectable, it’s not proper, for disciplined professional men to have facial hair. That’s the bottom line.”
Currently reading Mark Forsyth’s The Horologicon, where I happened upon this passage:
Slavery has been abolished but shavery survives. This latter is rather a shame, as it lessens the need for all of the technical beard words, of which there are many. They all involve the Greek root pogo, which is pronounced in exactly the same way as the stick (although the two are etymologically unrelated). So there’s pogonology (the study of beards), pogonate (having a beard), pogoniasis (a beard on a lady), and pogonotomy (shaving). As we live in an essentially misopogonistic society of beard-haters, most men must start the day by taking a razor from the pogonion or tip of the chin up to the philtrum, which is the name for the little groove between your nose and your upper lip. Then you have to work carefully to avoid a neckbeard, which the Victorians called a Newgate fringe. Newgate was the name of a London prison where people were hanged. So a Newgate fringe was meant to resemble the rope that was slipped around the felon’s neck before he took the plunge into eternity.
Two lessons here, then. One, Forsyth is an immensely entertaining writer, and I have greatly enjoyed his books. Two, the next time you see someone using “neckbeard” as a synonym for a virginal, basement-dwelling loser, you may confidently accuse them of classism before instructing them to check their shaveowner’s privilege.
I’m enjoying this site very much.
By my count, these three articles present a combined total of over 4,300 words examining the supposed deep significance behind the supposed trend of guys wearing beards. I could have done it in seven: because I like the way it looks.