Tuesday, 7 October 2014

THE BIG SHAVE

There will be blood.
Note: this essay is in part inspired by the singularly powerful and disturbing 1967 Martin Scorsese student short, The Big Shave  (posted below).
When a man shaves his face, he engages an activity that is dully prosaic, yet at the same time fraught with endless possible permutations of pain and agony.
The blade of the razor that he uses can in fact be likened to the double-edged sword of shopworn metaphor, as it truly cuts both ways: meant to remove those grubby, unwelcome whiskers and to restore a fresh, smooth surface to the face, that same “sword” can also sink beneath the skin and draw blood.
Even if a man uses the most exquisite, expensive, and well-designed razor imaginable, he is still likely to suffer nicks and scratches occasionally. But when a man—such as, let us say, your humble interlocutoris most emphatically not a man of means, he can’t really afford to splurge on what amount to luxury items. (Wishing to be clean-shaven is after all a preference, not a necessity.) In such cases, such a man will typically opt for store-brand “disposable” razorsthe sort that come in 20- or 30-packsfor a stupendously low price at your local grocery store.

A cheap thrill: the disposable razor.

When these super-blunt cheapie babies are used, deep gashes in the neck and jaw are of course common. One must press harder—due to the blade’s very bluntness—but one must also be exceedingly conscientious with one’s sweeps and strokes around the vicinity of the nose, earlobe, and Adam’s apple, for fear of doing some really fierce, ferocious damage to bone and cartilage. And as for the lips… one can say they shall surely never kiss with such a gush of overflowing passion as they will bleed when one of those store-bought, stupendously cheap, super-blunt razor briefly touches them following an errant up-swipe on the top of one’s chin.
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For men, putting blade to skin is not just a task; it is a ritual. In addition to being an occasion when one carefully treads between concerted attempts at self-repair and abundant indulgences in epidermal laceration, cheap-razor shaving is also an event which mandates self-examination, in every sense of the word.  
First of all, shaving involves looking into a mirror, at oneself. Such a circumstance forces a degree of introspection, whether it be wished for or not. At such moments, a man recognizes things about his features that he’s always known were there, and he usually spots a few heretofore unheralded details… sometimes disconcerting ones (such as the sudden abundance of gray hair on his temples, or the mysterious persistence of adolescent acne, given that he’s now in his 40s), and occasionally pleasant ones (such as… well, I don’t really know; this usually doesn’t happen to me). Whatever the case, he is forced for a few minutes to face himself, literally and otherwise.
He is also compelled to ask himself the question: Do you like what you see?

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If you do, fine. Good for you. Aren’t you wonderful. You must be a really good-looking, successful guy. Dig you and your left-handed mirror-world twin sharing a glib, knowing smile before you finish your manly ritual, wash up, and go forth to enjoy yet another day in your fantastically awesome life.
But if, on the other hand, you don’t like what you see in the mirror—if the truth discomfits you, rather than bringing you joy, then it’s hard not to be aware that you now brandish an instrument which could easily be used as a weapon of torture. So on this occasion, you scrutinize carefully the mirror-man who now regards you with such keen, scathing contempt in his eyes. You hold him in your steely gaze for a long moment. Simultaneous scorn, shame, and a thrilling sense of fright fill you as he squints threateningly, and hisses something inaudible through his teeth.
You ask him to speak up.
Pussy!” he shouts, spitting out the word with staccato rapidity. His jaw is now set in venomous derision, and his eyes have widened fearsomely, like a schoolyard bully.
Is he talkin’ to you? You ask him.
“Yeah. I’m talkin’ to you, faggot. Who the hell else would I be talkin’ to? And yeah, you are a pussy.”
Nonplussed, you turn away for a moment, remove your shirt, then, in an even tone, ask the bare-chested man behind the glass kindly to explain himself. He snickers mirthlessly at your request, and you snicker back, because you know what he’s about to say before he even opens his mouth to answer.
“You’re a regular jackass,” he finally pronounces. “And you know this. You claim not to give a shit what anyone else thinks. Hell, you even have the stated goal of determinedly avoiding the temptation to change who you are, all for the sake of retaining your precious dignity and integrity. But we both know that you really covet the things you don’t have: acceptance, popularity, acclaim. You really think those things even in the cards for you, mate? Don’t flatter yourself!
“For starters, just take a close look at this face of yours (and mine). Go ahead… lean close, so you can really get a gander at your ugly mug, in all of its glory and glamour. Do you not see yourself? Is that really the face of a man in danger of ‘selling out’? Let’s face it: you’re not much to look at. Sellouts are usually handsome… And even if selling out were a possibility for you, what kind of chump are you, by your own lights, to spend your time pining for success, anyhow? A real man views the quest for excellence as its own reward. So what’s with your constant, ‘I shall tell you all’ routine? Just what are you trying to prove, worm? And why do you want everybody to acknowledge it Don’t you see how pathetic that is?”
As you absorb the lash of this torrent of abuse, his face contorts for a moment in concert with your thoughts, displaying something like grief before shifting back into its earlier mode of malicious mockery.
What, you don’t like what I’m saying?” he needles. “You know it’s true. And aren’t you supposed to be into truth? Well, it’s up to you, buddy. You don’t like the truth, so why don’t you change the truth to something different? Why don’t you dig up some dirt, clear up some dead wood, do some uprooting? It’s high time…  You don’t like me? Well, I don’t like you, either. Still, we can be of service to one another… Let’s give each other makeovers, shall we? Since we’re already ugly, let’s take it a step further: let’s become as ugly as possible! Better yet, let's become inhumanly hideous!
You consider his offer for a moment, then nod. Your companion nods back solemnly.
You both raise your blades as one, like doppleganger duelists, you with your right hand and he with his left.
Then as if with one single accord, you each make the first of what will prove to be many identical cuts: the opening  round in a bloody, gory skirmish that will soon blossom into an all-out war, one which will alter you both, body and soul, forever.      

Andy Nowicki, co-editor of Alternative Right, is the author of eight books, including Under the NihilThe Columbine PilgrimConsidering Suicide, and Beauty and the Least. He occasionally updates his blog when the spirit moves him to do so.

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