The Whisker Rebellion

The ongoing and seemingly endless argument about a border wall and its resulting partial government shutdown seemed the most absurd story of the day, but then we caught our first glimpse of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz wearing his newly-grown beard.
Apparently we were late notice, as the beard looks fairly far along, and the terms “Ted Cruz” and “beard” yielded more than 5 million “hits” when we typed it on the Bing search engine. So far the beard seems to be getting decidedly mixed reviews, as beards usually do. Some find it rather dashing, others consider it ridiculous, and quite a few paid the backhanded compliment that at least it covers up a certain portion of Cruz’s face.
Cruz does have an unlovely visage, which bears an unfortunate resemblance to Al Lewis’ “Grandpa Munster” character on the old “Munsters” sit-com, and that has no doubt been an impediment to his political ambitions. It can’t explain his runner-up finish in the Republican primaries to President Donald Trump, who is by no means a matinee idol, but it probably had something to do with his relatively narrow win against the crazily leftist but youthfully handsome Democrat Beto O’Rourke last November. Our guess is that the close call prompted Cruz to grow the beard, as these days beards are thought to convey a hip and up-to-date style.
Presidents Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses Grant, James Garfield and Benjamin Harrison all wore beards, while Presidents Chester Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft all sported mustaches, and President Martin Van Buren had some formidable sideburns, but back then facial hair was meant to convey the wisdom of age and an Old Testament sort of seriousness. Since Woodrow Wilson every president has been clean shaven, as until recently beards were largely associated with bums and beatniks, and except for Kansas Gov. Bob Bennett back in the mid-70s we can’t recall any politicians with any sort of notable whiskers. Former Vice President Al Gore famously grew a beard, and might still have it for all we know, as he hasn’t been in the news for a while, but that was after he’d lost the electoral vote to President Bush and around the same time he got divorced.
Beards are back in fashion, though, and might yet reappear on a presidential portrait. They no longer convey the wisdom of old age and a certain sort of Old Testament seriousness, but those qualities are by now hopelessly out of fashion, and we can well imagine modern voters preferring something more hip and up-to-date. Even so, we think the Cruz beard is a mistake.
To our admittedly heterosexual tastes few men look better with facial hair, and Cruz is not the exception. In his case a beard won’t fool anyone into thinking that he’s anything but a bookish and ideological square, and we still think he’d do better with that image. He can’t maintain the tough guy image he once sought to portray after so much obsequiousness to the victor who dubbed him “Lyin’ Ted” and ridiculed his wife’s looks and insinuated that this father was in on the assassination of President John Kennedy, and he’ll never be anybody’s idea of hip and up-to-date, and he’s unlikely to ever be president, so he might as well be the authentically clean-cut conservative that we hope still lurks behind that shiny new beard.

— Bud Norman

A New Year’s Resolution: No MTV

Way back when the Music Television network first started coming through the cables we watched 24 straight hours of its fare, drinking coffee and keeping notes along the way for a rather snarky feature story in the local newspaper, and since then we’ve rarely tuned in. MTV does occasionally come up in our daily news reading, though, mostly recently when it offered its New Years “resolutions for white guys.”
Being white guys ourselves, we couldn’t help wondering what the network was suggesting. We hoped MTV was urging its youthful white male audience to shave those ugly beards and stop getting tattoos and start taking an occasional glance up from those newfangled telephones they’re always looking at, but of course it was just the usual white guilt-mongering and man-shaming.
The video begins with a head-and-shoulders shot of a clean-cut and pasty young white guy addressing his “fellow white guys,” with the usual quick cut to the same shot of a chubby Latino-looking fellow noting that it’s about to be a new year, with another quick cut to the head and shoulders of a non-threatening young black man who explains that “here’s a few things we think you can do a little better in 2017.”
Another quick cut the to head-and-shoulders of an attractive young woman of fashionably indeterminate ethnicity, who advises that first of we should “try to recognize that America was never ‘great'” — with the disdainful internal quotation marks emphasized by that two-fingered gesture the kids use — “for anyone who wasn’t a white guy.” After another quick cut to a bookish-looking young black woman saying “Can’t we just all agree that Black Lives Matter isn’t the opposite of all lives matter?” That clean-cut and pasty young white is quick cut to again to say that “Blue Lives Matter isn’t a thing,” and there’s an even quicker cut to that non-threatening young black again who laughs at the very idea, noting that “cops aren’t born with blue skin, right?”
With the cuts coming in dizzying quickness, a white guy with one of those ugly beards urges white men to stop bragging about being “Wook,” or at least we think that’s how it’s spelled, and the aforementioned chubby Latino says to stop saying “Wook” altogether. A bookish-looking young white woman says to “learn what ‘mansplaining’ is,” or at least we think that’s how it’s spelled, and to stop doing it. Then there’s that clean-cut and pasty white guy telling us to believe any woman who alleges she has been assaulted by an Ivy League athlete. There’s something about someone named Beyonce and a dig at Fox News, some inside joke about Kanye West that we take to be a dig against his friendship with president-elect Donald Trump, the bearded white guy’s advice to not mention one’s black friends, and the non-threatening young black man’s brief rant that having black friends doesn’t mean you’re not racist.
They throw in a brief admission toward the end that not all white guys are bad, we think it was the bookish looking young white woman who said so, but it’s all in the same cheerfully hectoring tone. Pretty much every word of it is astonishingly stupid, too.
Countless non-white-guys have found America great enough to sacrifice their lives for it, and at the moment it’s probably better for that attractive young woman of fashionably indeterminate ethnicity than it is for those coal-mining white guys who voted for Trump. We agree that Black Lives Matter isn’t the opposite of all lives matter, and don’t know anyone who doesn’t, but that doesn’t mean the Black Lives Matter movement isn’t going to wind up costing a whole lot of young black lives. No, cops aren’t born blue, but that doesn’t mean their lives don’t also matter, even if that isn’t “a thing.”
We’ll go along with the ban on saying “Wook,” whatever that is, but so far as we can tell “mansplaining” is when a man explains something to a woman, and we often find ourselves in dealings with women when we have to explain things to them. Usually we’re explaining our tardiness and temporary penury, but at other times such things as quantitative easing or the infield fly rule, and try as we might we can’t avoid it. That bookish-looking young white woman should also know that we more often find ourselves having women explain things to us, oftentimes with a certain vehemence that we rarely muster, but we suppose she would consider that properly assertive feminine behavior. We’d ask one of our black friends how they deal with the inevitable need for the occasional explanation of something or another to a woman, as “mansplaining” is apparently a behavior unique to white guys, but we’re also told it would be racist of us to acknowledge that we have black friends.
We’re not sure why that clean-cut and pasty white guy singled out Ivy League athletes as sexual predators, rather than the Southeastern Conference or the Big XII or some and blacker and more big-time association, but we suspect it’s because he thought it would sound less racist, which strikes us as a rather racist assumption. There are black athletes in the Ivy League, of course, and even those white guys on the non-Ivy but still pretty highfalutin Duke University lacrosse team turned out to be innocent. We’ll consider these occasional college rape allegations on a case by case basis, thank you, and be glad that it’s ultimately left to the judicial system.
We’ll also happily refrain from any mention of Beyonce or Kanye West, unless it allows us to take a dig at Trump from an old-fashioned Republican perspective, and try to be at least less obnoxious a white guy than the old white guys running MTV and the young white guys they keep sending out through the cables. Although we can’t stop being white guys altogether, not without expensive surgery and a whole lot of explaning to some of the women we know, it’s the best we can do.

— Bud Norman

The Super Bowl and Trending

Being red-blooded American men, and ever mindful of the civic obligations that entails, we tuned into the Super Bowl on Sunday. Although we lost interest in football way back when the autumn afternoons were still warm, and had no particular affinity for either of the contestants, the Super Bowl retains a certain sociological interest. Super Bowl Sunday is the high secular holiday of American culture, with the ads exemplifying the exorbitance of our capitalist economy and the half-time show representing the official imprimatur of our popular culture and the game itself a ritual test of what’s left of American masculinity, and there’s so much hyperbole and water cooler conversation about it that it’s hard to avert one’s gaze.
All in all, the spectacle had that familiar fall-of-Rome feel of bread and circuses that we’ve come to expect from the Roman numeral-ed Super Bowls.
The advertisements, which seemed to occupy the vast majority of the game’s air time, were all opulent and grandiose and conspicuously expensive. There was one rather cheesy ad for a foot fungus ointment that featured a cartoon foot with a football helmet on the big toe, and some of the obligatory local spots were the usual pedestrian fare, but the rest of it wowed with such big-budget production values that one might gullibly conclude the companies being represented bring a similarly high level of professionalism to whatever goods or services they are peddling. Some of the offerings were ironic and risqué, including one for the Fiat car company that showed an aging Italian man being beckoned to bed by a stereotypically seductive Italian woman but accidentally dropping his erectile dysfunction medicine and watching it wind up through a series of improbable and computer-generated events in the gas tank of a typically undersized Fiat that then suddenly swells into a mid-sized vehicle, all without the expected disclaimer that dropping erectile dysfunction medicine into the gas tank of a car is not recommended by the manufacturer, and much of them featured a brawny primitive warriors wielding pickaxes or hirsute hipsters in t-shirts defying some archaic societal convention or another. Others were unabashedly sentimental, such as the tear-jerking spot that showed the Budweiser clydesdales rescuing a lost dog from a ravenous wolf, and seemed to celebrate the traditional values that the old-timers used to associate with football. At least three companies associated themselves with fatherhood, showing several ruggedly handsome men bonding with their in a masculine yet nurturing way through the help of the advertising companies, which seemed in keeping with the game until the announcers noted in the second half that one of the players’ girlfriends was expecting a child any moment. Our favorite advertisement was for some insurance company that had the cast costumed and posed and set in the resemblance of Edward Hopper’s painting “Nighthawks” while singing The Five Stairsteps’ soul hit “Ooh-Child,” but that’s because we regard Hopper’s “Nighthawks” and The Five Stairsteps’ “Ooh-Child” as two of the greatest masterpieces of 20th Century American culture, and we wonder how many youngsters in the target audience would recognize either allusion, and in any case we can’t recall the name of the insurance company.
The half-time entertainment was in a similarly decadent vein. Headlining the affair was Katy Perry, apparently a popular entertainer among the younger set, who made her entrance atop a gargantuan robot lion amid a football field-sized cast of extras in luminous plastic balls. The ensuing performance seemed a strange mix of Busby Berkley’s old Hollywood musicals from the ’30s and ’40s and those pro-Kim Jong-Il rallies they threw in North Korea back in the ’00s, but with more up-to-date stagecraft. Perry is a rather comely lass, with a non-anorexic and non-bulimic voluptuousness that recalls Ann Miller in her prime, and we rather enjoyed a segment that had her and some similarly wholesome back-up singers cavorting on a stylized Californian beach in Annette Funicello-era bikinis, but that is pretty much the extent of her appeal. The segment then gave way to Lenny Kravitz, whose hard-rockin’-for-a-black-guy act has been around for the requisite couple of decades to get on a Super Bowl show, and then some hip-hop types we’ve never heard of in the same sort of macho pickaxe-weilding gear from the advertisements, and by that point we were heading off to do chores. Of course everyone involved was quite good-looking, just as in the advertisements, and it made us wonder what’s become of all the musically gifted but unlovely people who are undoubtedly still out there.
We can fondly recall the wondrous talents of Roy Orbison, Dinah Washington, Eric Burden, Koko Taylor, and countless other ugly singers and musicians that could have blown even such a sex bomb as Katy Perry off a Super Bowl stage, and would like to see such democratic tastes once again prevail in the culture. We noticed that a large number of the Super Bowl ads were for the broadcasting networks’ prime time offerings, which mostly seem to be about good-looking people standing next one another in very serious poses, and if only in the interest of verisimilitude we’d like to start seeing some plain folks in those offerings as well.
The game itself, if only a small part of the offering, proved entertaining enough. The New England Patriots racked up lots of yards but few points, the Seattle Seahawks some stayed even without moving the ball, and a suddenly flurry of offensive in the last minutes of the first half produced a tie. The lead see-sawed through the second half until the annoyingly good-looking quarterback Tom Brady put the Patriots ahead, last year’s hero Russell Wilson seemed to have the game back within reach after an improbable pass completion to a prone receiver on the five yard line, and then a bone-headed call by a usually shrewd coach didn’t give the ball the steam engine running back who had been a sure bet for three cards but instead called for a pass wound up in a game-winning interception by some guy we’ve never heard of. That led to a pointless brawl instigated by losing Seahawks, exactly the sort of mindless machismo that football-bashers love to point out, but it was a compelling sports even nonetheless.
We also noticed a lot of beards, in the advertisements and the half-time show and the game, and we are eager for the next trend.

— Bud Norman