Thursday, December 10, 2009

'Stache stigma

This looks like a job for the Schick Quattro. Or Cinco.

As I was doing research for one of my books a few days ago, J and I got into a discussion about the stigma specifically associated with Adolf Hitler over other sinister leaders in history (Joseph Stalin, anyone?).

Most of my research right now is centered around Germany and Poland during WWII, a handful of high-ranking commanders in the Third Reich and details of concentration camps in that region. And I'd been happy with my description of a certain real-life commander in my story until I came across an obscure, grainy picture of him last week that looked nothing like my description. Since it's fiction I'm keeping my description regardless (the actual picture looks more like my childhood orthodontist Dr. Fehrman, who, with his neon-green-framed reading glasses -- this was 1992, people -- and southern drawl, was not scary-looking in the slightest). But it got us to thinking ...

J: "Would Hitler look evil if he wasn't so well known?"
Me: "If he wasn't Hitler? No, he'd just be another German guy with a bad '30s haircut."
J: "Maybe it would even be acceptable to have that mustache today. But not anymore. It's funny that the 'Hitler mustache' has such a stigma, but other mustaches do not. Like with Stalin -- no one picks on guys with thick 'staches, calling them 'Stalin 'staches.' Stalin's 'stache is like the 'stache to end all 'staches. So thick and luxurious. Puts Burt Reynolds to shame. But that little square patch? It's totally unacceptable."

(After a long pause)

J: "I wonder what it is about Hitler that anything remotely connected to him is now taboo while other just as reprehensible people in history have not had that effect?"
Me: "Because people recognize his face more? If you showed a picture of Stalin to someone our age today they most likely won't even know who he is. Everyone knows what Hitler looks like, but I doubt people would recognize a Stalin or Lenin."
J: "What about Saddam though?"
Me: "Saddam is recent, within our time. He's not historical yet."
J: "Right but he was also pretty horrible and no one harps on 'Saddam 'staches.' It is weird . . . Hitler is so untouchable. Most would argue that Stalin was actually worse then Hitler. Stalin systematically killed millions of his own people."
Me: "True. I mean, wasn't he doing just as horrible things if not worse like making lampshades out of people's skin? And those were his OWN people."
J: "They estimate that his regime killed 3-60 million Russians. Some were social minorities who lived in Russia."
Me: "Ah, gypsies. I read that Hitler gassed gypsies too. Why all the gypsy hate?"
J: "All that damn belly dancing. Gives rise to extremist hatred."
Me: "Like that that 'woman fight' in From Russia With Love?"
J: "Effing finger cymbals make my blood boil."
Me: "HAHAHAHHAHA. (Pause.) I think more than anything though you're right about Hitler's 'stache. If someone even accidentally cut theirs in the reminiscent shape of it all of a sudden "You look like Hitler." And if you don't shave it stat, then you must be a Hitler lover."
J: "Exactly. What if I just happen to look good with a square patch on my upper lip? I would be shafted. Or what if you have a deformity on your philtrum and only a square patch can cover it?"
Me: "Point taken."

J's mustachioed tangents aside, the overarching question here still stands: Why is that with Hitler/anything remotely resembling him there is this crushing taboo (aside from the obvious reasons), but with others just as evil if not more so (like Stalin, Lenin, Saddam) the same stigma isn't as intense?


Louise said...

I would guess it's because of all the Hitler footage we've seen in school. Do you remember seeing footage of Stalin giving a speech in front a crowd? Me neither. But I can hear Hitler's sharp voice and see his stern face even as I type this.
Ok, I just did a quick search and found a youtube video of a Stalin speech. It isn't anywhere near as impactful as a Hitler speech. It's just a regular guy speech.

Hitler was an intense, eccentric, obsessive FREAK. I think that's why we love to hate him so much.

Mandy said...

Wow, I'm honestly impressed at your conversations with J. You start off with such interesting, meaningful dialect and then it takes an unexpected, wonderful silly twist. With Kirk and me, it's always just pure nonsense. We need smarter friends like you and J around. :-) Good stuff girl.

The Daily Connoisseur said...

Your book sounds fascinating and not what I'd expect from you! Can't wait to hear more...

Anonymous said...

Check this out:

charkstudios said...

Do you ever notice that too much facial hair makes a guy look how old is that guy in the picture with the curled upward munchkin stache...25 yrs old? See what I mean? I bet he would be GQ material without it!

Crystal said...

Louise: That's a good point -- Hitler gave rousing, venomous speeches that were near-hysterical at times, frightening all throughout. I don't think any leader -- good or bad -- can compare to his highly eccentric nature.

Mandy: We always have conversations like this that quickly dissipate into the ridiculous. :P Glad you liked!

Daily C: Thanks! I want to hear what your book is about too.

Anon: HILARIOUS. Thanks for sending along the link.

Chark: I'm laughing out loud - I know exactly what you mean!

Tania Asnes said...

Interesting question.

I'm not sure why Lenin is included on your list? He is a revered figure in Russian history...

The simple answer about Stalin is that he remained a national hero long after he died. Because his purges were internal and often conducted in a hush-hush manner (report your neighbor, etc), they were perhaps less visible than Hitler's big, loud attempt at world domination.

I should also point out that, if Germany were as big as Russia, Hitler might have killed a larger number of Germans. Of course mass murderers are comparable in some way, but the comparative numbers there are also a matter of size: Russia alone is enormous, never mind the Soviet satellites. And then there's the other fact: over 20 million Soviet people died fighting or resisting Hitler.

Crystal said...

Lenin is definitely not on the same level as Stalin, but he is usually lumped in with "the bad guys" group. He did do some very questionable stuff during the Bolshevik Revolution (aka "Red October"), also he was responsible, as well as Stalin, for what is called "Red Terror" where after an attempt on Lenin's life, the party began systematically exterminating the opposition. So while he may not be as bad as Stalin or Hitler, he was by no means a "good guy."

Nevertheless his choice in facial hair does not have the stigma of Hitler's stache. I.e. One can have a pointy stache w/ a goatee and no one is going to call them a commie; however, if one had that little square patch they would most definitely be compared to a fascist.

But really, this post was just a comparison of whisker-styling, not an evaluation of how "bad" each person was. :D

Tania Asnes said...

Sorry Crystal: I didn't mean to get overly specific about history! I'm just speaking from a Russian viewpoint. Russians tend to resent Lenin only for the fact that he instituted communism, which didn't turn out so well for many of them. :)

What other hairstyles are that distinctive? Well, the Jackie O bob...

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