“I see the beard and cloak, but I don’t yet see a philosopher” – Aulus Gellius

One of my New Years resolutions was to blog at least once a week. Although it is was Wednesday and my productivity diminishes exponentially after Thursday, I was convinced that I could achieve this resolution (this week), because I had already started to write a post several days ago. However, I promptly realized that my post was lost in a recent desktop detox (your body is not the only thing that needs a cleanse in the New Year). That said, a recent conversation inspired me to right a blog post on beards.

*UPDATE: I did not finish this post until a week later. I’m slightly embarrassed.

“Do you think he’s hot?”…”No”…”Why not?”…”I don’t like beards”…”Why not?”…”I feel like most people with beards [like that] are just trying to mimic Leo[nardo DiCaprio] in ‘Body of Lies’ and seem like CIA operatives.”

A few observations about the above conversation. 1) I admit, that I have a tendency to overgeneralize and perhaps hyperbolize.  I have dated people with beards and generally, do not discriminate on the basis of facial hair. However, if you ask me if I like beards, don’t be surprised if I vehemently respond in the negative. 2) I often use the phrase “I feel like” to indicate what I think, rather than what I feel. This could spark an intriguing epistemological discussion; however, I’ll table that for now. 3) I appreciate Leonardo DiCaprio’s talent (although he’s no Robert Downey Jr), but I am more physically attracted to him sans beard.

ANYHOW. This brief and frivolous chat prompted me to consider and investigate why men choose to grow beards (or a permutations, such as the goatee, the mustache, the soul patch, side burns, and other facial hair variants).

Beards arrive for (most) men at puberty, thereby marking their progression from childhood to adolescence. As Allan Peterkin reminds us “prehistoric man, from the Neanderthal onward, naturally and unceremoniously sprouted beards at puberty.” However, shaving is a slightly more recent phenomenon. Archaeologists posit that men began shaving as early as 100,000 BCE, although razors were not developed until 30,000 BCE.

Records on papyrus and in tombs indicate that Ancient Egyptians believed that a clean shave was an indication of class (they perceived body hair as bestial). Consequently, they used pieces of copper or bronze to remove their whiskers. Nevertheless, Egyptian kings and queens often wore pastiches – lavish fake beards made of gold and silver. Moreover, some Egyptian kings grew long, usually square-shaped beards which were braided, painted with gold, and perfumed. The beard, a symbol of manly dignity, symbolized the Pharaoh’s “natural” superiority over his subjects.

Similarly, the Assyrians wore beard that were dyed with henna or pitch and powdered with gold-dust. The beards of the upper class required additional coiffing – their beards were arranged in three tiers of hanging curls. In contrast, Assyrian soldiers were ordered to trim their facial hair to demonstrate their deference to their leader.

The beard was also popular amongst the Ancient Greeks, who regarded it as a sign of wisdom. According to Laertius (a biographer of ancient Greek philosophers), the Greek intellectuals distinguished themselves from the vulgar by growing long beards – a practice introduced by Antisthenes, a pupil of Socrates. This practice ended in 323 BCE, Alexander the Great commanded the Macedonians to be shaven, lest their enemies grab their beards in close combat.

Likewise, the Romans philosophers wore long beards and hair according to Pliny. Scipio Africanus, a Roman general, was the first to introduce the mode of shaving each day and the first fourteen Roman emperors were shaven. The first shaving was a solemn ritual among the Romans, performed when the toga virilis was assumed and the first growth of facial hair was often consecrated to some god as part of fertility and fecundity rites.

In Victorian Britain, full beards spread from the social margins inhabited by radical politicians (e.g. socialists or Chartists) into the mainstream as millions of British men decided to let their beads grow. In 1852, the editors of Tait’s Edinburgh Magazine announced that they were “champions of the long beard” and Henry Morley and William Henry Wills contributed to an article in Charles Dickens’s Household Words titled “Why Shave?.” These Brits believed that beards were an expression of elemental masculinity; through his beard, a man could assert both his health and vitality and his independence, hardiness, and authority.

The beard makes several appearances in religious history as well. In the Old Testament, shaving and hair-cutting has also been linked to betrayal or humiliation. For instance, Hanun shaved David’s envoys to humiliate them and Delilah sheared Samson to eliminate his powers. Jesus Christ and his apostles wore the scholarly hair of their contemporaries. However, the beard of Jesus Christ, was deracinated before his crucifixion.

The beard is regarded by some Muslims as a badge of the dignity of manhood. According the the Koran, the Muslim prophet Mohammed instructed his followers to cut their  mustaches and allow their beards to grow to distinguish themselves from the polytheists. Accordingly, the Shafi’is and the Hanabalis stipulate that removing the beard is forbidden while the Malikies prohibit shaving if it leads to disfigurement. Prior to Ramadan, Islamic leaders called for men to grow their beads to demonstrate Egypt’s adherence to Muhammad’s commands. Growing of a beard is said to be Fitrah, one of the customs observed by every prophet.

At the Anandpur festival in 1699, Guru Gobind Singh requested that his followers, true disciples of Sikhism, wear five symbols, including “kesh” – uncut long hair and beard. To the Sikhs, this demonstrates that natural appearance of sainthood and provides a sign of Sikh communal identity. It is profoundly humiliating for a Sikh man to have the hair on his face removed or disfigured. Sikh men have successfully challenged workplace interdiction on the beard on religious grounds.

The beard has also been associated with revolutionary periods. In the nineteenth century, Francis II of Naples forbade beards because they allegedly conjured the revolutionary principles of Giuseppe Garibaldi. At the end of the twentieth century, men in Tajikistan wore a beard to express their political support for the Islamic opposition. Castro, Marx, and Lenin decided to wear beards. Marx and Engels wore beards to express their opposition to the clean-shaven bourgeoisie. “The Beard Theorem” dictates that the size of one’s beard is directly correlated with the radicalism of an individual’s socialist views.

Without razor blades or straight razors in the wilderness of the Sierras, the Cuban revolutionaries had to let their beards and hair grow. However, beards became a symbol of Cuban Revolution when reporters called the guerilla fighters “los barbudos” – the bearded ones. To infiltrate their ranks, a mole would have to have a six-month’s beard growth.

Today, beards can be very rapidly spotted in hipster-heavy neighborhoods on the faces of indie rock fans and vegans. The authors of the Hipster Handbook claim that a full beard expresses the hipster’s concern with the profundity of life (he cannot be distracting with meaningless shaving rituals). Alternatively, a “chin shrub” indicates that the hipster is enigmatic and mysterious. In both cases, the beard should appear ironic. Interestingly, the Hasidic Jews who inhabit hipster havens like Williamsburg also refrain from cutting their beards.

And lest we forget, several of the Occupy movement protesters have embraced the revolutionary tradition of Marx and Castro by wearing full beards.

Which is not to say that conservatives and even neo-cons cannot sport beards. Individuals may choose to wear a beard for purely superficial reasons too. According to Rodney Cutler, men may grow a beard to accentuate or diminish certain features. A thick mustache  or a long, full beard can minimize the appearance of a large philtrum (i.e. midline groove in the upper lip that runs from the top of the lip to the nose) A short, scruffy beard can improve the appearance of men with skinny faces (by filling their lean visages with hair) while a square beard can enhance the looks of men with fat faces (by hiding their double chins). A goatee can also elongate a round face.

At the end of this post, I have to address a metaphysical issue – primarily, to convince myself that blogging is an intellectual pursuit (if I wore a cloak and beard, would I be a philosopher?). So my less-than-transcendent argument is that beards highlight an interesting aspect of decision-making.

Hair grows upon the chin and cheeks of most pubescent and adult men. Since 5a-dihydrotestosterone is responsible for the follicles characteristic of men, including the beard, men cannot choose not to grow facial hair (without hormonal intervention). Consequently, it is fallacious to state that a man decides to grow a beard. To be more accurate, we should specify that a man decides not to shave.

Most decisions have been modeled by economists and mathematicians as a finite set of well-defined, mutually exclusive alternatives (e.g. courses of action) for an actor (or set of actors) and a corresponding payoff matrix. At first glance, one could specify that an actor chooses to shave his beard (A) or he chooses not to shave his beard (~A). However, in most “real world” situations, a finite set of alternatives does not exist. When a man arises, he may choose to shave his beard (A) {by implication, he also chooses not to shave his beard [~(~A)]}, brush his teeth (B), eat breakfast (C), or shower (D), etc.

When a finite number of possible alternatives exist, a decision can be easily modeled as the maximization of a value (utility) function.  However, when an infinite set of alternatives exists, an actor must generate a restricted number of explicit alternatives based on his objectives, goals, priorities, and constraints. Understanding our objectives, goals, priorities, and constraints is difficult, but critical to our success. Whether or not we can perform this assessment in a rational manner, remains unclear. At least to those who are still trying to comprehend multi-objecting programming and goal programming (I am certainly among their ranks).

So to conclude this post, I will plagiarize my original ending:

1) Grow a beard or…

2) Do something better

The “experts” on beards:

How to Grow a Beard (Rodney Cutler for Esquire)

The Modern Man’s Guide to Beards (from GQ)

Of Beards and Marxism (David Weigel for Slate) 

How Not to Grow a Beard Month (Michael Harrison for Wired) 

Beards for women (not bearded women):

Clockwise from top left: Punk Logic Hipster T-Shirt (From the MoreEverything Etsy Shop, $15);  Megababe Mustacio Tank (Wildfox; on ShopBop, $59); Movember Shoes (Toms, $58); Behind Every Clever Girl is a Guy with a beard and Glasses T-shirt (From the Eggagogo Etsy Shop, $20)

I attempted to finish this blog after a “girls night on the town.” I am including the text of my initial effort as a warning to readers: do not drink and blog.

Alternative ending: When you elect to engage in action, you simultaneously elect not to engage in an infinite number of activities. So, you’re shaving you’re beard rather than learning banjo so you can play back up for Alabama? or study Afrikaans or a click-based language or become an expert in curling? Any decision that we believe that we make consciously is actually the sum of all the decisions that we do not make subconsciously. Which we cannot even calculate. Because how can we imagine engaging in an activity that doesn’t even exist. And can we even imagine not engaging in anything? Non-existence confounds and frightens us while existence seems like a concrete activity rather than a random activity.So for now, I’m going to make an uninformed decision to be ignorant. It’s bliss – and if I don’t do so, I’m not going to finish this. And everyone wants to meet their new years resolution so:

1) Grow a beard or…

2) Do something better


“I am not a dark person and I don’t consider myself dark.” – Tim Burton

Due to my pathetic inability to post at least one every two weeks, I’ve decided to include some short form elements on my blog. At least three times a week, I will try (<—operative word) to post links to others’ art, designs, articles, music, etc. that inspires me.

So today, I’ll honor the October spirit by sharing with you Tim Burton’s September 2009 Editorial for Harper Bazaar – a good source of inspiration for those still assembling or making Halloween costumes. A few photographs from the editorial are featured below; interspersed with  les soupçon of Burton

“My life is my life because of Tim. Definitely.” – Johnny Depp

“Any fable or fairytale has some sort of reality in it. That’s why I think I love the form of fantasy or fairytale, is that you’re able to kind of put things in there and let people sort of, discover their own emotion, discover their own sort of feelings about things. Or make their own lessons from it.” – Tim Burton

“You were in a 4g inverted dive with a MiG28?” – Top Gun

So thus far, I’ve pondered the strategic objectives of the editors at Vogue China, mulled over the significance of masks in pop culture, and studied the formal techniques of a graffiti artist. In considering art, fashion, and artifacts, I’ve paid credence to Mr. Jacobs and Mr. Starck and initiated my exploration of aestheticism.  And so now, I shall turn my attention to militarism by examining the ultimate symbol of jingoism and hawkishness – the fighter jet.

However, unlike Wolfman of Top Gun fame, watching planes get shot down does not give me a hard-on, so rather than focus on air-to-air combat or aircraft armament (B.O.B.) , I will address fighter aircraft design and proposals for the production of the “More Electric Aircraft.”

Before discussing the “More Electric Aircraft” (more ominously referred to as the F-X), it is important to briefly consider the evolution of the fighter jet. NB. For the purpose of this discussion, I will liberally omit several important technological developments, focusing primarily on those that interest me most. It’s my blog and I can’t write what I want to (write…I hate split infinitives). Significantly, one should note that the airplane (invented in 1903 by the Wright brothers) was not initially employed in actual hostilities. On the contrary, it was considered more of a sportsman’s toy (think Howard Hughes).

Nine years after the airplane’s invention, in 1912, when the Royal Flying Corps was formed, the British military began outfitting aircrafts with machine-guns and light bombs. This changed EVERYTHING – literally. The re-invention of the aircraft as an aggressive instrument was a spectacular revolution. The first dedicated fighter was the Fokker EI, a monoplane (with a single pair of wings) fitted with a synchronized machine-gun firing through the propeller arc.

While the aircraft was used primarily as a “scout” for aerial reconnaissance in the early stages of World War I, by the outbreak of World War II, aerial combat and dogfighting became more common. Pilots began to develop a growing repertoire of aerobatic maneuvers to evade enemy fire. The invention of the turbojet engine, which (unlike rocket engines) relied on the atmosphere rather than its fuel supply for oxygen, was maximally efficient at high speeds and altitudes. In 1941, the Gloster Meteor MK-I was designed around a pair of Frank Whitte/Rolls Rouce W.2B Welland turbojets and mounted with four 20mm Hispano cannons to perform high altitude interceptions.

At the onset of World War II, the United States, Britain, and Germany had advanced radar designs. Although decimeter waves were used at the beginning of the war to direct fire against ships and aircraft, microwaves improved the accuracy of automatic tracking sets intended for directing anti-aircraft guns. By 1938, radar was the lynchpin of the British integrated air defense system – radar stations could detect incoming German attacks as early as possible so that Royal Air Force (RAF) fighter squadrons could be directed along an interception route. Radar enabled the RAF to generate a higher level of situational awareness by generating a constant flow of accurate information about enemy movements. Several eminent historians, including J. Montgomery Hyde, contend that radar “won” the Battle of Britain.

The outbreak of conflict in Korea in the 1950 and worsening of Cold War hostilities in the 1950s precipitated the expansion of the U.S. Air Force’s requirements for advanced supersonic fighters. (Another parenthetical remark – if you haven’t observed a correlation between the onset of conflict and advancements in military technology, I recommend visiting Lumosity and trying out some cognitive exercises).  An aircraft is said to be supersonic if the speed of the aircraft is greater than the speed of sound (~750 mph).  Between mid-1951 and early 1953, the USAF authorized development of a total of six new supersonic fighters, which later became known as the “Century Series” fighters. The world’s first operational supersonic fighter, the North American Super Sabre, entered service in 1954. These planes could, potentially, fly at supersonic speeds to intercept an invading bomber formation before it came into range with its nuclear payload.

As Soviet surface-to-air missiles became increasingly deadly, the USAF became increasingly interested in the development of a stealth aircraft. Although experiments with visual stealth technology commenced with a 1943 U.S. Navy project code-named Yehudi (to help Navy patrol aircraft sink German U-boats), Lockheed Martin was not awarded the contract to build the “Have Blue,” the world’s first stealth aircraft until 1976.  During the Gulf War, Lockheed Martin’s F-117A Nighthawk stealth fighter flew behind enemy lines, hitting targets in Baghdad with impressive accuracy. And in the 1999 Balkans War, the B-2 bomber (a descendant of the F-117A) precisely struck over a dozen targets per mission, returning without a scratch.

It’s a looker, eh?…

The Air Force is now investingly heavily in F-22 and F-35 stealth fighters, manufactured by Lockheed Martin. The F-22 has been described as the “world’s most capable air-to-air comat aircraft” (although it also has an attack capability). It boasts stealth features, supercruise, thrust-vectoring for high maneuverability, and integrated avionics that integrate information from on-board and off-board sensors. Procurement of the F-22s began in fiscal year 1999. 187 have been produced since 1999, with each costing over $300 million to build. However, the F-22 force was grounded after a fatal crash, possibly due to its onboard oxygen-generation system. The USAF is now gradually putting the F-22s back in service.

The F-35 is also a stealthy, supersonic, strike fighter (although the F-22 is a bit more stealthy and capable in air-to-air combat). Since the F-35 is cheaper to produce, it is considered a more affordable complement to the F-22 (at $112 million per aircraft, the F-35 is an obvious pick for the thrifty) . The F-35 test fleet was grounded due to problems with an internal electrical generator; however, the F-35B successfully executed a vertical landing on the deck of the USS Wasp (LHD1), an amphibious assault ship on October 3rd!

Recently, rival stealth fighter designs have appeared in Russia, China, and Japan. In August 2011, Russia demonstrated the Sukhoi T-50, their first supersonic stealth fighter.  The T-50 features all-weather capability, ability to use a take-off strip of 300 to 400 meters, capacity for supersonic flight through repeated in-flight refueling, and the ability to attack air and ground targets simultaneously. The first clear pictures of Beijing’s prototype stealth fighter jet were published on several unofficial Chinese and foreign defense-related websites in December 2010. The Chinese J-20 prototype could compete with the F-22 and according to experts, is decisively superior to the F-35. Japan’s Shinshin fighter, a high-moeuvrability stealth aircraft, is the product of the Advanced Technology Demonstrator (ATD-X) program to develop an indigenous fighter. Although the Shinshin is still a trial product, the Japanese plan to fly a fully-functioning demonstrator by 2014.

While the USAF continues to spend more and more on the F-22 and F-35 stealth fighters, they are also proceeding with the development of the next generation of advanced fighter warcrafts – the “More Electric Aircraft” to sustainability enthusiasts or the “F-X” to the more bellicose (and those who prefer abbreviations…often one and the same) . The F-X program is less focused on radar evasion and more broadly focused on energy efficiency, which could facilitate increasing the fighter’s payload to accommodate new weapons and other capabilities.

Although the F-X program remains unfunded, the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is executing research under USAF Chief Scientist Mark Sullivan’s direction.  The AFRL is currently working on an aircraft electrical infrastructure loosely modeled on commercial hybrid car designs. Their archetype incorporates hybrid-style electric systems to circumvent the need for the bulky hydraulic system installed in current airplanes. The system is built around internal capacitators, which store power drawn from the main engine. Basically, the system would use energy from the engine that otherwise gets absorbed in fuel tanks or released back into the atmosphere (making the fighter an easier target for infrared and heat-detecting sensors). Using smart computerized management, the capacitators could release power to selected sensors, weapons, and mechanical systems as required. Moreover, the system would use purely electric actuators which should be faster-reacting, more efficient, and more reliable – allowing a higher sortie rate.

This system could help the USAF reduce its fuel consumption by approximately 2.5 billion gallons/year. In addition, the F-X could include laser and microwave weapons and more powerful sensors (R&D folks are already dreaming about the ability to launch ‘electronic attacks’ by jamming or inserting software viruses into enemy radar systems).

The AFRL is also pursuing a new type of jet engine. To power the F-X’s electrical systems, the AFRL is investigating a combined cycle engine designed to be equally efficient for low-speed cruising and high speed springs. The development of this engine would result in performance and efficiency improvements.

But now it’s time for another quote from a Tom Cruise flick (albeit delivered by Cuba Gooding Jr. ): “Show me the money.” Unfortunately, one must spend green to go green (although it is frequently possible to recoup the initial investment in energy savings over the fighter’s lifetime). The AFRL will need to spend about $300 million to develop the electrical systems and combined-cycle engine and insiders predict that this sum will only increase as the initiatives take off (pun intended). That said, researchers assure the miserly that the power system and engines promise savings in the billions of dollars with improved war fighting capability.

Pardon my cynicism but wars will not go away – our ozone layer will. Others might argues that our cash might disappear too. Unfortunately, military conflicts have historically driven military innovation. In an age of persistent warfare, the need for invention may seem less urgent while the need for austerity seems quite pressing. To prudently address this issue, the military should consider a crowd-sourcing (or co-creation) platform to mobilize citizens to design and construct a “more electric aircraft.” In February 2011, DARPA announced the “Experimental Crowd-Derived Combat-Support Vehicle Design Challenge” (or more simply, XC2V), facilitated by Local Motors, to develop a body design for a military vehicle that could support Combat Reconnaissance and Combat Deliver & Evacuation missions. All submissions were reviewed and all participants received feedback from Local Motors’ community of more than 12,000 designers and enthusiasts. Victor Garcia’s FLYPMode design was ultimately selected and built (by Local Motors and Dassault Systems with additional input from their online community) into an operational prototype…WITHIN SIX MONTHS! This example provides proof of the potential of crowd-sourcing to develop military vehicle designs. Undoubtedly, a similar system can be utilized to create more efficient and effective fighter jets.

I cannot predict when or if the F-X will be rolled out. However, I can tell you that next time I see the Blue Angels fly, I will try to identify the jets.

Quelqueschoses:

Resources on the history of aircraft design:

A few super cool innovative jet concepts:
Marc Newson Ltd’s Kelvin Concept Jet (Commissioned by the Fondation Cartier)
William Brown’s Stratoliner (commissioned by Lockheed Martin)
Timon Sager’s “One” Private Jet (commissioned by AvA)
And finally…Kyuseop Lee’s Deos – Futuristic Flying Police Vehicle
Aviator-inspired fashion:

“I make pictures and someone comes in and calls it art” – Willem de Kooning

Let me begin this post by explaining that my religious views are most adequately summarized by the secular prophet, Chuck Klosterman. I espouse a partial belief in everything; “I’m prone to believe that just about any religious ideology is potentially accurate, regardless of how ridiculous it might seem (or be).” Consequently, this post is not about religious dogma; it is not about the Qu’ran, the Hadith, the Old Testament, or “The Letter Killeth” of Jim Jones. However, like these texts, I do wish to examine the dichotomy of creation and destruction, coverage and exposure, art and science.

With that grandiose opening, let me introduce the primary antagonist of this post: Princess Hijab. Princess Hijab is an anonymous Paris-based guerilla (graffitti?) artist who uses a jumbo marker pen or dripping black paint to “hijab-ize” billboards featuring scantily clad or provocatively poised models. She began her “niqab intervention” campaign in 2006, almost two years after the French Senate approved a law banning Muslim head scarves and other “ostensible” religious apparel (e.g. large Christian crosses, Jewish skullcaps, and Sikh turbans). More recently, in September 2010, the French Senate passed a bill banning the niquab and the burqa (face covering veils). In light of these events, some have interpreted Princess Hijab’s art as a conservative religious reaction to the burqa ban and to the depraved exhibition of nakedness and sexuality. Others regard her as an feminist provocateur, crusading against the exploitation of women and agitating them to take ownership of their bodies.

However, Princess Hijab maintains that she is not defending or championing the cause of any group. The Princess has told reporters that she began her experimentation with veils while making spandex outfits that enveloped bodies – “more art than fashion,” she says. To (try to) understand her intentions, one must consider her artistic background and examine the roots of graffiti in abstract expressionism.

The artist Susan Stewart described graffiti as the “romantic heir to abstraction expressionism.” Abstract Expressionism is an avante-garde artistic movement that flourished in New York in the 1940s. Its roster included artists who repudiated accepted conventions in techniques and subject matter  The “New York School” sought to communicate important truths of human experience and psyche through simple, abstract forms or symbols rather than purely literal depictions. They asserted that the symbols they painted had no explicit meaning but derived from the artist’s unconscious. Nonetheless, these symbols were communicative because they could speak to the same faculty in the viewer.

Art critics purport that specific patterns of recognition that enable perception and cognition underlie the variety of compositional formats used by the Abstract Expressionists. Because of our physical experience of existing and acting in a universe (e.g. perceiving the environment, moving our bodies, and exerting and experiencing force), we form fundamental conceptual structures which we use to organize thought across a range of more abstract domains. For example, the containment schema structures our experience of putting objects into and taking them out of a bounded area. These patterns are metaphorically extended to structure nonphysical, nonvisual experiences. For example, we get lost in a book, we fall in love, we leave out some details.

Additionally, abstract expressionism is often characterized by the manner in which the pictorial space is created. Abstract expressionists emphasized the open, more immediate surface and used paint in a manner that allowed the surface to breathe. They did not attempt to disguise the canvas as an easel painting by using insulating finishes. Instead, they used enamel paint to reflect light across the surface of the canvas or soaked thinned paint into the unprimed canvas. Elmer Bischoff explained these practices by describing the canvas as the “area of search.” Whereas artists who used representational forms considered the canvas as an illusionist window onto the world, the abstract expressionists handled it as an autonomous, self-referential object.

Like abstract expressionism, the visual vocabulary of graffiti art does not include objects or events but rather forms and features that .communicate by evoking physical associations. In fact, graffiti artists have clarified the tradition of using words in graffiti by stating that that they interpret the alphabet as a set of letters which provide abstract structures like musical notes. They seek to obliterate the meaning of the word, using it as a reference point from which they can begin to improvise.


You may wonder why I have been rambling about abstract and nonrepresentational art. You may point out the Princess Hijab reproduces one object, the hijab – an explicit subject matter. However, I would contend that Princess Hijab is not rendering the hijab as an object, but rather as an abstract symbol that can stimulate certain reactions in a more powerful way than conventional modes of expression. Princess Hijab uses the hijab to compel viewers to consider the act and experience of covering.

Warning…sh&t’s about to get dense…

In his book, Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things, George Lakoff argued that individuals automatically categorize people, animals, and physical objects. He purported that we structure our knowledge of the world in terms of idealized cognitive models (ICMs), which include image schemas. Image schemas “emerge as meaninful structures for us chiefly at the level of our bodily movements through space, our manipulation of objects, and our perceptual interactions.” Reasoning patterns based on image schemata (imagistic reasoning patterns) are mapped onto reasoning patterns based on abstract reasoning (abstract reasoning patterns) via conceptual metaphors.  Burgman and Lakoff describe three variations of the “over” schema that can indicate a spatial relationship between a trajector (figure) and landmark (ground). These include the above-across schema, the above schema, and the cover schema. When the cover schema is salient, the trajector is an object whose two-dimensional extent covers the landmark (extends to the edges or beyond the landmark). Usually, the trajector is construed as being vertically above, and in contact with, the landmark (e.g. “the table cloth is over the table”).

Like the abstract expressionists, graffiti artists rely on the cognitive schema, such as the “over” schema to communicate with their audience. When the viewer perceives graffiti, the “over” schema is activated. The viewer conceives the graffiti as the trajector and the public surface as the landmark. The viewer will understand that the grafitti is covering the wall. Based on his/her knowledge and experience, he may interpret the graffiti as beautiful art hiding the austerity of the urban environment or as ugly vandalism defacing the loveliness of the urban environment. Cognitive schema structure our thinking, but do not define our thoughts. Abstract reasoning depends on an individual’s knowledge base.

Princess Hijab’s oeuvre also activates the “over” schema; however, in a more complex manner. The viewer perceives the graffiti as a trajector and the billboard as the landmark; however he/she also perceives the hijab as the trajector and the body (more specifically, the flesh) as the landmark. Once the “over” schema is activated and the viewer begins to engage in abstract reasoning, he/she may wonder if it is the graffiti which covers the flesh or the hijab which covers the billboard. It is the complex reaction that PH’s art incites which makes it so powerful and ultimately makes HER so powerful. By manipulating our perception, she can manipulate our cognition. We are forced to acknowledge that the advertisement is not the models it represents nor is PH’s sketch/paint the hijab it represents. Reality becomes illusory.

So with that, I leave you with one more question to stir some more abstract thought. If I am “covering” Princess Hijab’s story in this blog post, have I affected your reasoning?

Quelqueschoses:

Hijab fashion:

Samah Ali

Rabia Z.

Arabesque

Graffiti-inspired fashion:

Clockwise from top left: Ndeur custom shoes; Marni printed cotton skirt, Cacharel cream and blue print dress, Marc by Marc Jacobs printed computer commuter

“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” – Oscar Wilde

While perusing the internet for news about the escapades about the hooligans who constitute Anonymous and LulzSec (whose behavior is perhaps a “tad” more neighborlly than the FARC), I stumbled upon this image of El Jefe of Anonymous, who uses the handle, Sabu.

While other hackers have debated whether or not this is the “real” Sabu, an imposter, or a meme representing Sabu, my concern is not his identity, but rather his mask. In donning the the mask of the antihero, he honors the legacy of other masked deviants including, most obviously the  Guy Fawkes- masked anarchist V of the comic book/film V for Vendetta. This illustrious posse also includes Rorschach (aka Walter Joseph Kovacs”) of the DC Comics miniseries, Watchmen, members of the Rain City Superhero Movement (real-life superheros…not kidding).and the protagonists of the teen comedy/heist film, Sugar and Spice.




Yet the mask is not just the staple of comic book (or comic book inspired) vigilantes who must accommodate their crime-fighting (and sometimes lewd behavior) with their more banal existence. Masquerade balls  have been popular amongst the jet set (and their predecessors) for centuries. The British designer, Charles Frederick Worth (aka the father of haute couture) designed masquerade ball dresses and masks to the ladies of Empress Eugenie’s court. Recently, Yves Saint Laurent (the brand, not the deceased) hosted a masquerade ball to celebrate the launch of its women’s fragrance, Parisienne in October 2009.

While the etymology of the word “mask” is ambiguous, it most likely comes from the Arabic word, maskhara, which translates as “to falsify” or “transform” into an animal or monster. Evidence indicates that humans have danced in masquerades for at least 30,000 years. The earliest depictions of masks and masquerade appear in prehistoric drawings on rocks, cliffs, and cave surfaces. Paleolithic hunters and shamans used masked and costumes as decoys and performed masquerades before and after a hunt to assure the spirits’ blessings. Sociologists suggest masking allowed Paleolithic people to express and mediate their relationship with nature. By concealing his identity and  assuming a zoomorphic form, the mask wearer could reunify his self and his environment and reconnect with nature.More recently, masks have been used in film to beget characters who are macabre but sympathetic; characters who have been seduced and corrupted by the forces of evil but whom we ultimately pity. Often these characters remove their mask at the conclusion of the film to reveal a deformed or sickly face and the goodness that was contained behind the mask. For instance, perhaps the most well known masked “villain” is depicted in George Lucas’s epic Star Wars series. Darth Vader seems to be the apotheosis of evil and destruction as he glides throughout the Death Star. However, when Luke Shywalker removes his helmet and reveals Darth as a human being, we end up pitying him. 
Ultimately, masks are powerful since they enable both heroes and villains to control how they are perceived. The mask acts as a shield that protects the identity of the wearer. However, masks do not, in fact, enable the wearer to permanently transform themselves. The individual behind the mask, remains unchanged; his/her values, standards, and priorities are retained. Still, as long as the mask allows us to temporarily reinvent ourselves, it will continue to excite, frighten, seduce, and intrigue us.
And as usual, a few pieces of visual candy…
Quelquechoses:
Masks for your next costume party (or villainous/heroic adventure…):

 

“The ultimate in disposing one’s troops is to be without ascertainable shape. Then the most penetrating spies cannot pry in nor can the wise lay plans against you” – Sun Tzu

There are military strategists who could run concentric circles around me while reciting Clauswitz and fashionistas who would scold me for my bitten nails while flicking through pages of WWD with their well-manicured talons. However, fewer war theorists understand that a kitten heel is more agonizing to wear than a stiletto and fewer clackers realize that MIDLIFE is not only an age defined by crisis but also an acronym for the elements of power. As such, I feel that I may be able to escape the stinging criticism of the inhabitants of the blogosphere by applying Sun Tzu to interpret the April 2010 Vogue China editorial featuring Du Juan. Be advised, I am not attempting to lionize my creativity and do realize that the Art of War has been used to develop marketing and managerial strategies and there is an overabundance of books on his treatise…oh well. Additionally, my interpretation will not be comprehensive, so to speak. The B in BA entitles you to write bullshit for duration of your existence as a reward for enduring preposterous college writing classes like “Fiction for Statisticians.” Now, before I lay out my argument, let me improve your situational awareness by presenting some facts:

  • The Chinese edition of Vogue was launched in September 2005 as the result of a copyright cooperation agreement between Vogue magazine and the Chinese state-owned magazine publisher, China Pictorial. This agreement was approved by the General Administration for Press and Publication, which has the legal authority to screen, censor, and ban any print, electronic, or Internet publication in China.
  • Nevertheless, Vogue China remains under the aegis of Conde Nast International, an American corporation.
  • Ostensibly, the magazine’s strategy is to intensify China’s appetite for high-end fashion (since less than 2% of China’s population buys luxury brands) without blatantly encouraging conspicuous consumption. NB. One of their tactics is to increase ad sales. I’m pretty sure I will never be able to articulately clarify the difference between tactics, operations, and strategy, so I won’t try here.
  • The military-themed shoot, styled by Fashion Editor, Ling Wu and photographed by Quentin Shih, was titled “A Fashion Revolution” and featured items from Louis Vuitton, Gucci, and Hermes.

And a few of the photographs:

Now that I have provided some context (and hopefully you have not been distracted by my affinity for parenthetical remarks and complex sentences in general), let me cursorily review the philosophy of Sun Tzu.

Do you remember those motivational posters that were plastered throughout your high school cafeteria and guidance counselor’s office? Many featured images of a diverse group of children with a single inspirational token, like “IMAGINE” or “ACHIEVE.” Most military academies and even some command centers are similarly overlain with posters featuring Sun Tzu mantras, like “KNOW THY ENEMY.” Sun Tzu was a Chinese military general who served the state of Wu in the 6th century. He is regarded by many as the author of the earliest known treatise on war and military science, The Art of War, a systematic guide to strategy and tactics.

Sun Tzi encouraged military commanders to engage in deception to gain a strategic advantage, stating boldly that “all warfare is based on deception.” By deceiving and psychologically manipulating the enemy, one can influence his actions. Deception, according to Tzu, can be construed as a force multiplier that increases the power of the successful manipulator.

To return to the Vogue editorial, and understand why deception is necessary, I need to dabble a bit in some nasty art theory. Charles Sanders Peirce, an American pragmatist, categorized signs as an icon, index, and/or symbol. A photograph is an icon, because it signifies an object by being similar to it. It may include indexes, which are physically, causally, or symptomatically connected to the signified. For instance, smoke is an index of fire, since it is caused by fire. Additionally, it may contain socially constructed abstract symbols.

The photographs of Du Yuan are not the actual international Chinese supermodel and ballerina, Du Yuan, but merely an index of that woman. A reproducible, two-dimensional image that can be contained within the magazine. On the pages of Vogue China, Du Yuan has been transformed into an object. She’s been objectified. Just your friends who snap photos of you, which they  post to Facebook objectify you. No offense. This is not a condemnation of photography – I am only asserting that it is a technology that turns an instant of experience or perception into a physical artifact.


To disguise how Du Juan has been transformed by an American corporation to sell costly couture from designers with names like Luis Vuitton, Gucci, and Hermes, the fashion editor and photographer must utilize a strategy of deception. This strategy is executed through the inclusion of symbols. For example, the red flags evince the red star insignia and self-made red armband of the Red Guard. More generally, the military attire (and short haircut) is reminiscent of the military style popularized by Mao when he appeared before the Red Guards dressed in military uniform. During the Cultural Revolution, girls were encouraged to contribute to the “glorious” political cause by donning the uniforms worn by their fathers, mothers, and other members of the anti-Japanese resistance forces.  In addition, the staging of these photographs and image quality resemble the propaganda posters of this epoch.

These signs are deceiving; they convince the reader that by buying these garments and dressing similarly, they are defending and glorifying their revolutionary history. Radical chic. As Sun Tzu noted, “one who is skilled at keeping the enemy on the move maintains deceitful appearances.” Well, editorial teams who are skilled at persuading their readers to move to the Burberry flagship also must create deceitful appearances.

Anyhow,  now that I’ve spewed all of this  nonsense about military theory, semiotics, and Chinese history, I want you to allow yourself to be deceived. Forget everything I said. Try to cognitive isolate the beauty of these icons from the symbols and even indices they contain (at this point I should apologize for the saccharine nature of my reflections). Very often we are unable to cognitive isolate beauty from its context. So try it now. Consider it a more advanced Stroop test. It’s kind of cool.


Quelquechoses:

– Some military-style garments (some at sinfully discounted prices)

Clockwise from top left: Grimsby Jacket, Rag & Bone ($495); Pleat Front Skirt, Etro ($212 – from $424); Cotton and Silk Blend Shirt, See by Chloe ($130 – from $325); Fade Patch Trouser, Dries Van Noten ($354 – from $706)

– Some references on military theory

  1. Thucydides on Strategy: Grand Strategies in the Peloponnesian War and Their Relevance Today
  2. A Discussion on Theory, MDMP, and Design in the Post OIF Army
  3. On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society
  4. A Complicated Distinction: The Philosophical Evolution Of Thinking about War and Peace

 

 

 

The world is not dialectical – it is sworn to extremes, not to equilibrium, sworn to radical antagonism, not to reconciliation or synthesis. – Baudrillard


After selecting a name for my blog approximately two months ago, I’ve decided I ought to add some content. Thus, with this post, I commence my blogging experience. Before discussing the topics about which I will muse, let me briefly introduce the cast of characters whose rhyming names allowed me, imho, to have a wittily titled blog:

Phillippe Starck: Called “l’enfant terrible” of design, Starck (who insists that he is “not post-moderne”) is best known for his lightweight, minimalist furniture with crisp lines and graphic shapes – furniture, that is frequently associated with post-modern design. As an interior designer, he first attracted attention with two Parisian boites (la main Bleu and Les Bains-Douches) and has subsequently been commissioned to design spaces like The Roytalton in New York City, The Delano in Miami Beach, and a lounge in Dallas (aptly called the “Starck Club,” which he designed entirely via fax and phone)  The products he has created ranged from Alessi kitchen gadgets to the Excalibur toilet brush. Yet Starck , according to John Stefanidis is “full of contradiction, which often come from having an impressive cultural repertoire.  Although he has promoted morality, honesty, and objectivity in the design process and announced his dedication to democratizing design, his lifestyle his less well…stark. His boasts include: “I am a rock star;” “I drink only champagne;” and “I live in an aeroplane.” He has been quoted stating that he spent plenty of time in the nightclubs he designed, “stoned, drunk, nearly [dead].” Although he no longer engages in acid (“very, very good when you’re young”), marijuana, or cocaine, he continues to work like a junkie despite declaring “Design is dead…I was a producer of materiality and I am ashamed of this fact.” 

Marc Jacobs: From this motley crew, Jacobs is probably the man who needs no introduction (pardon the clichés). In my opinion, Marc Jacobs is the Andy Warhol of the noughties (Jacobs confirmed my opinion when he posed as the art icon for massive-format photographs displayed in his Los Angeles store) . Like Warhol, he was the center of a talented and at times, infamous, creative circle which includes Sofia Coppola, Juergen Teller, Courtney Love, and Winona Ryder (who, was hired to represent his spring collection after she stole a Marc Jacob top from Saks).  He alleges that he has an affinity for “fallen angels…not dark, like an evil spirit, but a melancholy, broken soul.” His style has been erratically explained as “grunge-inspired yet highly feminized,” “Spielburgian, and a “[reflection] of the disjointedness and randomness of the contemporary culture of celebrity worship.” Basically, Marc Jacobs is cool.

The FARC: One might anticipate that the first 2 letters of this acronym stand for fine arts (decorative arts, fashion,…). However, Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forced of Columbia) is clearly neither a guild nor an artists collective. It was founded in the mid-1960s as an armed formation to defend the peasantry from encroachment/crackdown by the national government and landlords (although others allege that it was inspired by Fidel Castro’s communist revolution). While ostensibly, its goals remains political and economic (e.g. expansion of the welfare state, increasing national control over domestic markets, energy and communication), most experts concur that is now more focused on maintaining control over territory and the drug market. The FARC’s leader, Manuel Marulanda, died of a heart attack in a hideous in the mountains of central Columbia, but the guerillas continue to engage Columbian counteirnsurgency troops. According to the Uribe administration, more than 450 police and military officers were killed and over 2,000 were wounded in guerrilla attacks  in 2010.

Aestheticism and terrorism; this blog will explore the dialectical tension between these interacting forces. My intent is not to explore the aestheticization of violence, as numerous sociologists who are much more qualified than me have done, but rather to ramble about the instances where the human desire for beauty and violence both manifest and to consider other’s explanations and inquiries into the origins of these desires. And with that, I will finally conclude my first blog post with a few teaser images.