Friday, October 29, 2004

On the Persecution of Beards

If Miyazaki Hayao can be rich and famous and wear a beard in Japan, why can’t I be poor and obscure and wear a beard in Japan without feeling like an uncouth barbarian? When the first graders in one of my elementary schools wrote essays about their first encounter with me in the classroom they all, without exception, commented on my beard. “Luke-sensei had a beard, and I was very surprised.” “Luke-sensei has a beard. My grandfather has a beard. Luke-sensei reminded me of my grandfather.” My supervisor’s comments on my beard have evolved over time from: “When did you start growing this?” to “What did your fiancée say about it?” to finally, last week: “Hmmm. Luke, you’d be a handsome man if only you’d shave off your whiskers.” The second year students in the junior high school are continually begging me to shave. What is “beard,” that we should take such notice of it? Allow me to present in full Pears Cyclopedia’s “The History of Beards."

A beard is one of the distinctive signs of manhood, and was regarded as a sacred possession by ancient races.
The Jews were proud of their beards and wore them through the days of their Egyptian bondage, though the Egyptians shaved.
The Greeks and Romans of the ancient days mostly shaved, and the term barbarous (beard-wearing) was applied for a long period to people who were considered out of the pale of polite society. Still, beards were largely worn even then, and came to be associated with wisdom.
Alexander the Great prohibited beards among the soldiery, and soldiers in all countries have since been generally beardless.
Beards have been taxed occasionally, as in Russia by Peter the Great, and at an earlier date in England.
In modern times beards have been worn or unworn as a monarch or male leader has, for no particular reason, set the example.
Shaving of the beard continues to be practised in all ranks of life in this country [England], though the moustache, once despised by the English, has now been in vogue for many years.
Bearded women occur occasionally, and have sometimes been exhibited.

But beards are not a footnote of Eurocentric history. Let this represent

J-beard ancient, and this

. . . J-beard (more-or-less) modern. Rulers of the land, all of them.

Even the emperor Meiji had a beard. So why am I unclean for having a beard, such as it is?

This is a special poster from my participation last Christmas in a Canadian Army experiment on winter warfare facial hair (I lie)