April 15, 2005

A man and his mustache.

You remember Robin Givhan. She's the Washington Post writer who wrote that article about Condoleeza Rice's high-heeled boots, the one that we all blogged about. Well, she's back with another article that everyone's blogging about. The hot topic today is John Bolton's hair, that which is on top of his head, and that which is, differently colored, under his nose.
The fulsome silhouette of the mustache makes for a particularly dreary distraction and seems to pull his whole face downward. It makes Bolton, who is only 56, look hoary and dour. For a man who has shown little evidence of a capacity to charm -- an ability that can come in handy for an ambassador -- the mustache makes him appear unwelcoming. For all of the testimony about his spiteful dealings with both colleagues and underlings, and his denials of such behavior, he managed to look mean.
Well, that goes along with my longtime opinion of mustaches: they make men look mean. Charlie Chaplin might be the only exception. Please men! Let us see your philtrum! Nothing makes a man more adorable than a well-shaped philtrum. And nothing uglifies like a mustache!

UPDATE: Thanks to Glenn Reynolds for doing one of those links that people are forced to click on. For some reason that made me Google "philtrum" -- I guess people must Google their "favorite body parts" -- and the incredibly weird thing is that it took me here. Look at that URL! Isn't it a small world -- philtrum-wise?

42 comments:

lindsey said...

Aw. I've never thought Teddy Roosevelt looked mean. Stalin could have pigtails and look mean because he's Stalin. Now that would be a sight.

I wonder who inspired Bolton to wear that thing. It's such uncommon facial hair. It reminds me of the facial hair some 70s rocker may have had. In an odd sense, it makes him stand out more and I think he probably does want to look mean given the stories told about him hurting people's delicate rose petal feewings.

Is Bolton married? And, if not, I could see that as the crux of his image problems.

"It was looped tightly under the button-down collar of his pale-blue shirt -- a shirt that encircled his neck in a menacing way."

How does a shirt encircle a neck with menace? Maybe if the collar is a steel trap but this is just silly. I wonder if Bolton was well-dressed and sharp-looking, whether they would label him a smooth shark instead?

PatCA said...

To paraphrase Norma Desmond: they are big; it's the papers that got small!

vnjagvet said...

The subject WAPO article is one of the most non-substantive, sophomoric criticism of a public servant I have seen since I began reading that paper over 50 years ago.

If it had been written with the hint of a satirical tone, it would be a classic article. Alas, I cannot detect such a tone, hence the judgment expressed above.

The Editors of the Wapo (and Ms. Givhan) should be very afraid of the likes of Althouse, Instapundit, the boys at Powerhouse, Andrew Sullivan, Roger Simon, Captain Ed, Kaus, and Lileks.

Meade said...

Or perhaps Bolton only needs a friendlier smile: http://images.usatoday.com/life/_photos/2004/2004-01/23-captain_kangaroo-inside.jpg

lindsey said...

I hope Bolton shows up dressed as a pimp daddy at his next meeting with the Fashionistas.

Rick Lee said...

If you look at the list of articles by the author, it explains a lot. They are all the same. Apparently Ms Givhan is a fashion writer who often comments on the appearance of those in the news.

Steel Turman said...

Dali, Yosemite Sam and Groucho ... perhaps there's a tickle involved.

I shave.

Ann Althouse said...

Rick: I know Givhan's a fashion writer/culture critic type. That is one of my favorite corners of newspaper writing.

Steel: I think those three ARE mean. The mustache is part of a humorous effect. But humorous/mean. When I was a kid, our family watched "You Bet Your Life," and Groucho actually scared me. I couldn't understand why an openly mean man was popular.

Rick Lee said...

I've been thinking about this all morning and I just can't think of a mustache as making a guy look mean. In the 70s I wanted a mustache so badly... but I couldn't really grow one. Years later, they just look old fashioned to me now. When I see a guy with a big droopy 'stache, almost invariably I wonder what made the guy get stuck in the past... like a guy with a pony tail or... this.

Ann Althouse said...

Rick, I'm glad I made you fritter away the morning musing about mustaches. I'd say, the upper lip is a part of the face that reveals vulnerability and emotion -- keep a stiff upper lip! -- so cloaking it in hair makes the person seem stern, cold, resolved. Why do fascist dictators go for the mustache?

But a lot of guys have mustaches because the mustache was in style the last time they paid attention to style -- when they were teenagers. The same explanation covers why so many academics and politicians have, essentially, Beatle haircuts.

Ann Althouse said...

And following up on that last comment of mine: Lindsey cited Teddy Roosevelt in the first comment on this post. She doesn't think he looks mean. But wasn't TR someone who had to find ways to create a tough guy image to overcome his natural, softer manner?

Dean said...

All these comments about mustaches but no one mentions beards! I've grown a goatee since my attached photo. I thought it would make me look more distinguished and mature! Now I find the mustache makes me look mean! What about in conjunction with the beard? I ponder the effects in my recent contacts with people.

I have pondered returning to being clean-shaven because of my naturally curly hair (trimming the mustache and beard almost daily to rid them of randomly curled hair is more time than I want to spend on it! Perhaps, now I have more motivation.).

Ann Althouse said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ann Althouse said...

(Corrected version of deleted comment.)

A beard doesn't make you look mean, and I think the effect depends on how it's cut. An untrimmed beard calls to mind a homeless person or Karl Marx. A trimmed goatee is more of a devil look -- or an artist. A well-trimmed full beard can seem intellectual. The beard without a mustache look should have gone to the grave along with Abraham Lincoln. Lord knows what such foolishness will make people think. I'm picturing a folksinger.

neo-neocon said...

I was going to disagree with you about the mean mustache thing. I was going to link to some photos--compare and contrast--of two guys I think look pretty decent with their mustaches, and less good without them: Alex Trebek and Dwight Evans.

But, you know what? When I actually looked at the photos--it turns out you were right! Neither looks extraordinarily mean either with or without, but they do in fact look meaner with their staches as compared to without. Hmmm. I stand corrected.

Take a look: Trebek with, Trebek without.

Dewey (Dwight Evans) with, Dewey without.

lindsey said...

It's interesting how, in this conversation, "mean" sometimes seems to mean "highly masculine to the point of possible threatening". Reminds me of how the Taliban grow out their beards. Do men compete for masculinity using facial hair?

Grover Cleveland had a moustache like TR's as well. Taft who came right after TR did too. I still don't think he looks mean. I've always thought he looked cuddly, but that's probably my own affection for him. His eyes always look too soft to be mean. I wonder how many presidents had these weird moustaches. Was it just really popular back then?

Archie said...

I always thought Star Trek TNG's Commander Riker looked more commanding after he grew a beard...

Synova said...

I like facial hair on men. My husband is under strict orders to never shave his mustache. He did that once and kissing him felt like kissing some naked thing and it was really freaky.

Honestly... I think that commercials implying to guys that sexy women love a face that's as smooth as a baby butt are mostly just trying to sell razors.

Ann Althouse said...

"Kissing some naked thing" -- is that so terrible?

erp said...

Givhan said Bolton's haircut was rude and his moustache was mean. I'm not sure, but didn't she also say his eyebrows were menacing? No word on his sideburns.

I think Bolton found his look and is sticking to it even though his shirt has a stranglehold on him and his tie twitches and turns involuntarily. Is it possible she's projecting her own secret desires on to innocent haberdashery?

Quilly_Mammoth said...

Mr. Bolton's decidedly un-diplomatic dress, from his shoes to his hair, has become his own uniform. It sets him apart. And I think it is deliberate. He _isn't_ your mother's ambassador. That's why this Cox & Forkum" is so brilliant.

He has created a public personna that so many comment about. All of the comments from tight neck of his shirt to the color of his tie seem to whine "He's not a very nice fellow"!

GOOD!

It's about time a guy who thinks like the average American, who dresses like the average American, represents the average American to the world. Like he wears a Blue Suit one size too small...only when someone's kids get hitched.

Cold beer, hot wings
Wranglers, Skoal ring
Get just what you see
Gun rack, ball cap
Don't take no crap
Ain't a pretty boy-toy
I'll rock you steady
Rough and ready, baby



Yup.

Frank Wilson said...

Mustaches make men look mean? Clark Gable? Ronald Colman? Errol Flynn?

MathMom said...

When I think of mustaches, I think of Tom Selleck. Now, you can't tell me that this looks mean, and this looks nice, can you?

BTW, I knew a man who wore a mustache, to cover his harelip. Do you think Ms. Givhan would feel any embarrassment or shame if she found out that was the reason Bolton hides his philtrum?

Donna B. said...

With mustaches (and beards) neatness counts. I'm not sure how attractive or friendly Bolton would look with perfectly stylish hair, or if it matters all that much.

MathMom said...

Ms. Givhens would have the same complaints about Dr. Red Duke but would do very well in his hands if she needed a trauma surgeon ... and his 'stache don't match his hair, either.

Electronic Bubba said...

i rekin i luk rite hamsom with my berd!

Synova said...

""Kissing some naked thing" -- is that so terrible?"

Only when you're used to kissing a fuzzy thing. ;-)

mcg said...

I used to have hair below my shoulders. I cut it off 5 years ago, but felt I ought to grow a little on the face to make up for the loss. Now, mean is most certainly not the look I was going for. And I don't think I did.

OK, I cheated. Nobody can look mean with that accessory :)

mcg said...

You know, I always thought Prime Minister John Major was a goofy looking fellow, but until I read this post I did not have the precise words to explain why. It's his gigantic philtrum!

Dirk said...

I thought that was called the "Air Intake". You know, for drinking beer out of a bottle...

Dirk

Mark Daniels said...

In spite of being part of the over-50 crowd, the growth of my facial hair is as spotty as that of an adolescent. When I have grown mustaches (with beards) in years past, it has left my philtrum exposed. So, would that give me a friendly mustache?

Meade said...

Careful, mcg, that as soon as that beautiful child grows up and your hair begins to thin, you don't begin looking like V.I.

thibaud said...

A shame Bolton doesn't read the NYTimes's styles page. Otherwise he could take a few lessons in looking nice, not mean, from Robin Finn's favorite "metrosexual" Columbia Arab Studies professor, Joseph Massad.

lindsey said...

"I think Bolton found his look and is sticking to it even though his shirt has a stranglehold on him and his tie twitches and turns involuntarily. Is it possible she's projecting her own secret desires on to innocent haberdashery?"

Are you suggesting Ms. Givhan wishes to be ravished by Mr. Bolton? Or would like to ravish Mr. Bolton?

mcg said...

lmeade, heaven forbid! I will indeed reconsider at such time as my daughter no longer covers for my flaws.

Matt said...

"The beard without a mustache look should have gone to the grave along with Abraham Lincoln."

I work with a guy who has a beard without a mustache. I hardly give it any thought now but, when I notice it, it always occurs to me that he looks Amish.

Elise said...

I think I may have experienced less difficulties in trusting Michael Schiavo had he been moustacheless...

Grim said...

Speaking as a man married seven years to a woman who has never seen my philtrum (and never wants to, to judge from her comments when I've mentioned shaving), I'd have to say that you're only half right.

On the one hand, a moustache can suggest that you are mean. Chesterton said, "If military moustaches did not suggest a sword..." which means, of course, that they do suggest a sword.

But the broader context of his remarks should be considered, as it is relevant to this matter. "If military moustaches did not suggest a sword or tusks a tail, then the object would be vast because it would be immeasurable. But the moment you can imagine a guardsman you can imagine a small guardsman. The moment you really see an elephant you can call it 'Tiny.'"

This is the other half of the puzzle. You can be frightened by a moustache or a sword, or you can find them comforting. It depends on whether the object belongs to a barbarian or a guardsman: whether it is a weapon that might harm you, or a weapon that protects you.

One of my son's first phrases was "mean daddy!" And it was true, as far as it went -- he would exclaim it while being tickled or sprayed with a garden hose. But he meant it with both love and joy.

I think my wife feels the same way. They are glad of the moustache, and the spirit that goes with it, because it is on their side.

Grim said...

On reflection, I see I failed to include an important piece of the Chesterton quote: "When one is fond of anything one addresses it by diminutives, even if it is an elephant or a life-guardsman."

Bohemian Like You said...

Hmmmm...What would make me look like 70's gay porn star *and* lower my IQ 15 points?

I know, a mustache!

You are so right.

bohemianlikeyou

Miriam said...

oh, an ode to the moustache:

what can make a man look instantly

low class
insecure
obscured
unattractive
poorly educated or
highly educated but foppish (dandy)

You got it - a moustache

ranks up there with potbellies in attractiveness for me.

beards are okay - as are goatees, soul patches (yeah i know they are 5 minutes ago - actually 10... - Im just talking aesthetics, not fashion)...anything else but moustaches.

MS said...

Not all mustaches are authoritarian. Einstein had a humanitarian mustache. I think I'll grow one myself.