Several alert Marksmen and Wonder Women have sent me the link to this article about the rise of the beard:
These days, the hirsute pursuit has evolved into a full-blown, full-grown trend. According to the marketing research company The NPD Group, sales of electric shavers and men’s facial trimmers have dipped 12 percent just in the last year while beard-related activities are, well, bristling. […]
Why the sudden growth spurt? The blustery weather — and brutal job market — are certainly part of it. But Paul Roof, assistant professor of sociology at Charleston Southern University in South Carolina, says there are other issues at play.
“For some it’s a trend, but for others it’s a way of life and simply self-expression,” he says. “At the heart of the revival, I think, is the ‘reclaiming of masculinity.’ Beards are a direct backlash against metrosexuality and the feminization of modern man. But beards are also the only accessory route that men have — the only way men can change their looks.”
Let me repeat that: “The blustery weather — and brutal job market — are certainly part of it.”
Are they trying to claim that people out-of-work no longer have to worry about looking respectable, so PPPFFTTT! Out pops a beard?
Or is it saying that beards are popular, at least in part, because people can’t afford razors?
I know this is not a central point of the article, which is mainly about the growing prevalence of chin-down in the culture, but that’s just the problem — it’s taken as a foregone conclusion that the economy has something to do with it, probably because OMG THE SKY IS FALLING ALL WE CAN THINK ABOUT IS THE ECONOMY.
I take a different view. I believe the problematic economy and the rise in beards are completely opposite phenomena.
The economy’s in the pooper because too many people got too greedy for imaginary money. It’s an ignoble period in our history, brought on by dishonest and unscrupulous dealings — perhaps unavoidably, as it all stemmed from base human nature.
But the best beards are noble — for truly remarkable cultivation, they require boldness, persistence, and a willful indifference to the status quo. Hipsters and bikers alike may grow beards as a form of subtle rebellion; engineers may let their faces sprout through uncaring (for conventional standards of grooming as well as for simple effort); weirdos at comic-conventions may simply want to hide weak chins. Beards are grown today for all these reasons and many others.
Yet one element links them all — they are grown in defiance of Big Razor’s omnipresent control of the mainstream media. The empire built by filthy-rich huckster King Gillette appeals constantly to our masculine instincts with commercials full of swooping fighter-jets and square-jawed, clean-shaven heroes. Virtually no romantic protagonist in the media wears a beard today, from loving husbands who buy their wives gaudy diamonds and Lexuses to aspirational Axe Body Spray and Miller Lite dude-bro meatheads.
We must look now to the example of Joseph Palmer, of Fitchburg, Massachusetts. Palmer has the distinction of being one of the only men in recent history, at least in the West, to be imprisoned for the crime of wearing a beard. The story comes down to us in the 1915 book Bronson Alcott’s Fruitlands, an account of an agrarian Utopian community of the same name.
You may read the whole account here — as it’s quite long I won’t reproduce it in its entirety, but it’s a fascinating read. However, here’s a summary as published in the 1965 book Fashions in Hair, by Richard Corson:
In 1830, at the age of forty-two, a quiet unobtrusive, God-fearing man named Joseph Palmer moved to Fitchburg, Massachusetts. Normally, such an event would have caused no great stir in the community, the newcomer would have settled down and been accepted, and life would have gone on as before. Only one thing prevented matters working out that way—Joseph Palmer wore a beard. And in 1830 beards were not worn in Fitchburg. Had he been merely passing through or stopping off for a few days, he would undoubtedly have been merely an object of curiosity and perhaps some thoughtless finger-pointing. But he had come to stay, to settle among these people, to become one of them; and this was intolerable. The unthinkable had happened—Fitchburg was harbouring a non-conformist.
Derision changed to outrage and outrage to anger. Palmer’s windows were repeatedly broken, and somehow the culprits were never found. Women crossed the street to avoid him, and their sons threw stones at him. Even the Reverend George Trask admonished him; and eventually, all else failing, the Church refused him communion.
Shortly afterward, Palmer was set upon in the street by four men, who threw him down, injuring his back, and attempted to shave him. Palmer managed to drive off the assailants with his pocket knife and was thereupon arrested, beard and all, for unprovoked assault. When he refused to pay the fine, he was imprisoned for a year in Worcester.
But this was not the end of his story. In prison he nourished his beard and wrote letters, which he managed, with the help of his son, to smuggle out. The letters protested that he had really been imprisoned not for assault, but for wearing a beard. They were published in various newspapers, the case was widely discussed, public opinion shifted to his side, and Joseph Palmer and his beard became a cause célèbre. After a time, he became such an embarrassment to the local constabulary that they suggested he forget the whole thing and go home. He refused as a matter of principle, saying that if they wanted him out, they’d have to carry him out. And that is what they finally had to do.
Before he died in 1875, Joseph Palmer had the satisfaction of seeing practically the entire male population bearded, including the local clergy.
Another excellent summary of the story, by Jon Dyer, includes the following picture of Palmer’s tombstone:
“Persecuted for wearing the beard.”
It’s not a stretch to look at Palmer’s adversaries — reactionary brutes intent on upholding conformist, truly arbitrary cultural standards who set upon a pacifist and locked him behind bars — and see reflected in their narrow minds today’s bumbling Wall Street greed-mongers.
It is not because of the misery those shallow wretches have wrought that we grow our beards; rather it is in defiance of their loud, glossy, waxy-cheeked corporate media (ironically, the components of which are created for pay by no doubt largely-hirsute creative types) that we proudly say:
“I am man! I grow hair! And you do not get to tell me I cannot.”