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From our archives


The Metaphysics of Moustache Hating
The moustache is a strange kind of facial haircut.

Greg and Jane Lodge

It is a mask that defines the wearer. An enigma, an anomaly, a French legacy that is invariably a facial focus point. To some like West Bengal’s Bhupati Das, the moustache is 4 foot long and requires oiling twice daily, the culmination of six years cultivation in an attempt to break the world moustache weight lifting record of 24kg.

To others like Cricketer Merv Hughes and porn star Dirk Diggler, it is a centrepiece, a focus shifter that makes it difficult for people to keep their eye on the ball(s).

But to many, the moustache grows in the 5 o’clock shadow of a nasty stigma, a general perception that it is a close relative of tyranny; despots and dictatorships. Moustache hating is the legacy of this perception.

The Metaphysics of moustache hating
80 years ago when Marcel Duchamp drew a moustache on a copy of the Mona Lisa, the moustache was perceived as ridiculous. Now it is an object of hatred. Why is this? Why is the moustache so hated?
Enter Adolf Hitler.
Hitler was responsible for a spate of moustache hating that has never really subsided. He was the forerunner of what is known as the modern marketing executive, committed to the discovery and manipulation of the fears and unconscious drives of the masses.
Or could he be the father of modern politics, able to sell a holocaust and an amoral war to a nation that had in the past produced much of the best of Europe’s philosophy and culture? Hitler’s moustache is so symbolic of evil that it is renowned among graffiti artists as the equivalent of devil’s horns in the defacement of public icons.

The second key despot in the moustache hating chronology is Josef Stalin.
Born Iosif Visarionovic Dzhugashvili, Stalin was toted by a small minority (himself) as a universal genius, source of limitless wisdom and benevolence. Despite this he goes largely unrenowned as an academic (or a philanthropist), and is better remembered as a mass murderer with a god complex.

But these are only two of a mass of murderous, moustached dictators who have put their choice of facial appendage through a public relations nightmare. A prime example is former Haitian dictator Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier, who in 1967 changed the Lord’s Prayer to read
" Our Doc, who art in the National Palace for life, hallowed by Thy name by present and future generations. Thy will be done in Port-au-Prince as it is in the provinces. Give us this day our new Haiti and forgive not the trespasses of those anti-patriots who daily spit upon our country..."

Other renowned tyrants to wear the moustache have included Augusto Pinochet (President of Chile), Jean Bedel Bokassa (Emperor of the Central African Empire), George Palpadopoulos (the Prime Minister of Turkey), Turgat Ozal (Prime Minister of Greece), Colonel Hugo Banzer (President of Bolivia), General Jorge Rafael Videla (President of Argentina), Vinicio Cerezo, (President of Guatemala), Alfredo Cristiani (President of El Salvador), Sir Hassanai Bolkiah (The Sultan of Brunei), General Sitiveni Rabuka (Commander of the armed forces of Fiji), Chiang Kai Shek (President of Taiwan), Ngo Dinh Diem (President of South Vietnam), Mohammed Zia Ul Haq (President of Pakistan) and Jean Claude ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier (President of Haiti).
Evidently, Totalitarianism and the moustache walk hand in hand along the path of history.
But never has the moustache been so hated, so symbolic of dictatorship as in the case of Iraq.

Saddam Nation

The Iraqi people lived in Sad-damnation.
Saddam has graffitied over their culture, repainting the whole nation in his image, superimposing centuries with the image of the moustache. To someone who knew Saddam only at a distance, the moustache was his defining feature. It is smack bang in the centre of his face. A big black bush that commands your attention, dictates your stare, goads you in its smugness. It seems entrenched in his psyche, in fact they seem so inseparable it is like they are joined at the lip.
If Saddam were a nation the moustache would be his dictator.
But Saddam was a nation and this is why everyone and everything associated with Iraqi totalitarianism has been branded like cattle, ownership defined by the image of the moustache.

On TV it was like the Iraqi people were trapped in a Hahn light commercial.
The moustache is still there but big Merv isn’t, only Saddam existed, everywhere. On every billboard, on every street corner, at the health club, he was inescapable. Wake up, you feel the bristles against your skin, Saddam is sleeping soundly on your shoulder.
But the mark of the moustache was more than just Saddam laden billboards or a tortured landscape, it was on the people themselves. In the lead up to the US attack footage abounded of Saddam and his Baathist party generals, sitting around large, official type tables, pouring over maps, perusing documents. And then there were the images of Baghdad, streets and markets, reporters seeking the perspective of ‘ordinary Iraqis’. The most striking thing about these images was the all-pervasive presence of the moustache.

Saddam had reinvented a whole nation in his image, and then started on the people. Body doubles were popping up all over town. But maybe moustache branding in Iraq went even further than we know.

Somehow Saddam managed to survive numerous CIA assassination attempts and rebel uprisings. But maybe it is all a ruse. The original Saddam is actually dead. Maybe, like the Ghost who walks, when one Saddam dies a new person secretly assumes the moustache mask. If Saddam doubles may only be distinguished by the size of the ears, hands and shape of the shoulders, does this mean they share an identical moustache? Was the plan be for an immortal dictator?

Conspiracy Theories aside, to a westerner, whose knowledge of Iraq comes from the television set, the proliferation of the moustache on the faces of Iraqi men looked suspiciously like Saddam’s doing. Like conformity to the state requires 2 million people with a cloned moustache. A Saddam Nation branded with his most distinguishing feature.

From Moustache Hating to Moustache war
Moustache hating reached fever pitch, manifesting itself in a moustache war as Operation Iraqi Freedom attempted to pluck the hairs one by one from the face of the Saddam Nation.
Does this signal the beginning of the end for dictators around the world? Is the moustache in serious stubble?
Not in the cosy world of the US government as they promote freedom with one hand and snatch it away with the other. Fashion sure is a fickle business. One minute they love the moustache, the next minute they hate it.

One of the main justifications for the war was Saddam’s gassing of the Kurdish town of Halabja in 1988. Funny how these things become so significant years later, unfortunately they weren’t so concerned at the time. Eleven months after the atrocity the US Secretary of State James Kelly flew to Baghdad to tell Saddam Hussein,
"You are a source of moderation in the region, and the United States wants to broaden her relationship with Iraq."

One minute Saddam is getting weapons and training from the CIA, the next Baghdad is looking like a 12 mile crater.
Uncle Sam may not wear a moustache himself but he is definitely making a good living as a barber, installing moustaches on the faces of others.

In 1986, US military support for the contra rebels in Nicaragua resulted in the death of tens of thousands of people, and saw them condemned by the world court for international terrorism. In Haiti, Chilli, Somalia, Yugoslavia and the Dominican Republic, millions of people have died at the hands of terrorists and dictators whom the US government has supported, trained, bankrolled and supplied with arms.

It’s the same old story, build them up and tear them down. So maybe it’s time we started focusing on the man rather than the moustache. After all, Dictators don’t have a monopoly on tyranny and lies.

© Greg and Jane Lodge April 19th 2003

The Benign Moustache? Ed.

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