Pardon my rant, but I’m growing increasingly frustrated with the accusations by some in society, that I only grow my beard because of the guys on the A&E show, Duck Dynasty. While I agree the talent has quite the magnificent display of facial hair, I’m offended that my accusers would have such a shallow world view as to assume my roots are only reality T.V. deep.
The beard has a rich and complex heritage that has flirted with gods, kings, and revolutionaries the world over. From the mighty gods of Norse mythology, to the Biblical books of Leviticus and Ezekiel, and from the beard taxes of King Henry VIII of England and Emperor Peter I of Russia, to the yellow journalism of William Randolph Hearst; the history of the beard is permeated with intrigue and propaganda, far overshadowing some duck hunters that will be in viewers minds for a few measly seasons.
Is it really any surprise that the world takes notice of beards throughout the whole of recorded history though? After all, if there is any constant in the world, it is that a man’s face insists on growing facial hair when left to its own devices. Perhaps then this is why entities such as the State have been an involved party in almost every historic event in which facial hair has been noted. Seems something that grows by its own rules is an annoyance to those who wish to control everything.
The State has tried to shave society for centuries (at least). In 1535, King Henry VIII of England, who himself had a beard, imposed a beard tax on his subjects who sported more than two weeks of growth. Curious what his aims were, as the tax was a graduated tax, affecting those of different socio-economic classes at differing rates. Then in 1705, Emperor Peter I of Russia, in an attempt to modernize the Russian citizenry, imposed a similar tax, requiring those who paid it to carry on them at all times, a beard token.
As the methods of communication evolved and expanded, it became cheaper and easier to reach the subjects of a given government directly, on an individual level. With this, it became practical to plea to a fear, either real or perceived. Enter Industrial Revolution era propaganda. The town crier, limited to shouting nothing more than what we would consider today to be headlines, was replaced with “EXTRA! EXTRA!” and a full page of written word that could be disseminated and digested by the individual. A medium in which context, character and narrative was created; a way to peak the senses and invoke emotions en masse was born.
The media became a powerful weapon in governments and corporations (another byproduct of the Industrial Revolution, an unholy merger of state and market) arsenal. Starting in the late nineteenth and into the twentieth century, one of those pleas to fear became the anarchist. The stereotypical image of the anarchist, was that of a bearded mustache twirler, inconspicuously preparing to toss a spherical bomb. In the era of William Randolph Hearst’s yellow journalism, the beard and mustache had become the quintessential trait of those who would cause harm to an innocent and unexpecting public.
The anarchist was the media’s turn of the century terrorist. A boogeyman to keep their readers on edge, and wanting for security. A security the respective government was eager to fill. Conveniently enough, while Hearst’s papers were scaring citizens with anarchist assassinations of politicians, such as President McKinley, and little more than a decade later, the Archduke of Austria, Franz Ferdinand, sales of King C. Gillette’s safety razor were breaking records, and the whiskered man was becoming an endangered species.
King C. Gillette, a self-proclaimed Utopian Socialist, who wanted to build a metropolis on Niagara Falls that people would be forced to live in, with the industrialists ruling over them (see Gillette’s The Human Drift, 1894), benefited immensely from the fallout of the Archduke’s anarchist assassination, as it led to his safety razor company landing the government contract for supplying the naked faces of the U.S. military in The Great War. Following the war, the need to continue wartime revenue sparked off an all-out advertising blitz by the safety razor company. Its message? Real men shave.
For several decades after, the safety razor industry in cooperation with the U.S. and British governments appeared to have won the war on whiskers. The western world embraced the naked face as a sign of civility and manliness, never mind the birth of the bare face revolution on mounds of wartime casualties, nor the fact that the beard itself is one of nature’s indicators that the individual is indeed a man. Fortunately however, it was a short lived victory. By the time the 60’s rolled around, bucking the establishment was groovy again. Hippies let their freak flag fly, and even began donning beards once more. And while during the 80’s and 90’s, a fleeting faith in the establishment led to a pretty square and obedient citizenry, an upcoming generation born in those same decades would become a bulk of the voluntaryists today.
History shows that the expression of the individual is a cry to separate oneself from the collective. And while there may be some who are letting their face grow long because of some semi-famous duck hunters, I believe the growing trend of facial hair is a public cry against an increasingly intrusive and oppressive regime. That is why I grow out my beard. I grow it because I own me, and I want the world to know it.
Dare to live free… Just don’t get caught!
C.S. Runberg is an aspiring freelance copy and content writer that can be found at www.christopherscott.me.