The War on Beards

Bloggified by Jake on Wednesday, December 13, 2006

One of my old news directors, Jack Bowe, once asked, "Why would a man cultivate on his face that which grows wild on his ass?" This kind of prejudice against beards has been around for decades and was addressed in "Jimmy Olsen, the Bearded Boy" in Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #23.

Did I say "addressed?" I meant "perpetuated."

The story is about a group of men in the mid-50's who like having beards. Turn on TV Land and note how few respectable men have beards on "Leave it to Beaver" or "The Andy Griffith Show." Beards became the mark of hobos, prospectors, hillbillies, hermits, and mad scientists. Oh, and the occasional psychiatrist or European. The Beard Band was dedicated to reversing that perception... except they operated in secret.

Yes, they bottled up all their feelings and concerns, secluded themselves, and expected others to understand why they were upset and to fix everything, meaning they were just like all my ex-girlfriends... except for the whiskers... well, except Colleen after she turned 30.How secretive can a group be when not shaving is the only key needed to unlock the door? Are you telling me no other reporter in town has thought of growing a real beard and entering this top secret domain to get the much desired scoop of what goes on behind the closed doors of the Beard Band? Either Jimmy is the only one stupid enough to think this is at all newsworthy or... no, I'm pretty sure that's it.

Jimmy is so determined to get inside and listen to all the cool beard grooming tips being shared on the other side of that door that when a stranger comes up to him on the street and offers to sell him some red liquid in a hand-labeled bottle that reads "Beard Tonic," Jimmy chug-a-lugs without a second thought.

Sure enough, in a matter of minutes Jimmy looks like a redheaded James Garfield and works his way into the beard lair. As if having a club dedicated to not shaving wasn't enough evidence, Jimmy should have been tipped off that these guys weren't completely sane as soon as he walked in the door.You guys are a society dedicated to the dignity and nobility of the beard... and of the seven people in your hall of fame, three are fictional characters? Ever heard of Charles Darwin? You have Robert E. Lee, but the bearded Ulysses Grant, who defeated Lee and became president didn't make the cut? Who's going to explain to Jesus why Robinson Crusoe and Rip Van Winkle are on the wall and he isn't?

Up to the podium steps the beard tonic salesman and Jimmy realizes he's the victim of a clever ruse... except not that clever. The Beard Band got Jimmy to drink the tonic, which will continue to make his beard grow at a rate of several feet per day, so he people will see Superman's Pal with a beard, lending prestige to the cause of "bringing back the beard." They give him a list of public appearances they want him to make, in exchange for which he'll get an antidote.

So to recap, these guys figured the best way to convince grown men throughout Metropolis to grow beards is to have the kid who hangs out with Superman run around town looking like he's in ZZ Top. And somehow they haven't taken over the world yet.

Jimmy goes back to the Daily Planet and explains the situation, but Perry White doesn't believe in magical beard tonics and groups of bearded madmen who induct Santa Claus into their hall of fame--because Perry White is a reasonable human being who knows bullshit when he hears it. Unfortunately, while logic was on Perry's side, the writer was not. Perry and Clark both take a swig of the tonic and immediately Perry's whiskers start to grow. Superman, however, is invulnerable to chemicals, so Clark has to do some quick thinking.Jimmy has no choice but to go through with the Beard Band's publicity campaign, going to a play where he'll sit in a box seat and display his beard to the audience.The crowd's laughter angers the Beard Band's observer who is disappointed in Jimmy's inability to make a shin-length, wild growth of whiskers look dignified. Jimmy promises to do better the next day, but falls victim to an egg frying tragedy.Showing up dressed as Robinson Crusoe with a beard that's only about two inches long and singed on the ends prompts more laughter and further upset the Beard Band. Jimmy is reminded he'd better look dapper and impress everyone in his next appearance or he'll never get the antidote.Fuck me. I'm not even paying any attention to the fact Jimmy's beard has just been shot by an eight inch wide bullet with a razor blade tip. Stop and think for a moment about what kind of person is going to be persuaded to do anything, growing a beard or otherwise, by seeing Jimmy Olsen dressed as one of the seven dwarves. Do you want that person as a member of any group you're in? And what are the odds that person doesn't already have a beard? I'm fairly certain his doctors aren't going to let him have anything sharp.

The stupidity of this grand plan is even more apparent when you realize they keep sending Jimmy to make public appearances in costume. If your goal is to convince people that growing a beard is dignified, you should expect him to go about his daily business with a neatly trimmed beard. People seeing him dressed as a dwarf with a beard to his ankles are going to assume it's a fake beard, especially since he was clean shaven two days ago. For that matter, when his beard gets shot off, Jimmy's remaining whiskers are a good six to nine inches long, longer than anyone in the Beard Band, yet the group reacts as if he has shaved. So clearly they feel the "beard so long you trip over it" is a selling point.

On that note, Jimmy grows his beard long enough to drag on the ground for the premiere of a Rip Van Winkle movie, but on the way there trips over his own beard and falls into a pit of... sigh... quicksand.Finally, the Beard Band is fed up. They smash the antidote and initiate Operation Whiskers, a plot to dump the beard tonic into the city reservoir and make all men grow wild, out of control beards. Jimmy needs a distraction to get away and signal Superman for help, so he throws the bundle of whiskers he used to climb from the sand pit onto a Bunsen burner, but misses, sinking them into the boiling batch of beard tonic.

In a standard example of Silver Age science, the addition of Jimmy's beard to the chemical makeup of the tonic reverses its effects... because that's the way chemicals worked in 1957.Why does Superman smashing your equipment mean an end to the Beard Band? Don't shave for a week and you're back in business, just be a little less psychotic next time and less hellbent on forcing everyone to grow beards that will completely ensnare them within a day an a half, leaving them bound to a chair until either someone comes along with a pair of scissors or they starve to death.

0 sarcastic replies:

Subscribe to: Post Comments (Atom)