Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Mo Bros & Angry Birds

Well, we’re one day shy of Movember, — that time of year formerly known as November — when Movember Brothers (Mo Bros) make money for male health issues by growing manly moustaches. (Yours truly has even set up a Mo Space here for this very purpose.)

As their official website describes, Movember went from “. . . 30 Mo Bros . . . in 2003 to 854,288 Mo Bros in 2011.” Quite an achievement considering it really started with two drinking buddies in Australia and spread to likeminded countries within a few short years.

From what I have discovered online, 2011 was their most successful year to date for fundraising which comes as no surprise given the momentum generated by their recent campaigns. Most Google searches for Movember produced results from 2011 . . . along with an abundance of commentary on who owns the most famous moustache . . . ever.

It is at this point that Freddie makes a repeated appearance in the official Movember effort. He was initially included in a series of famous ’stache owners alongside Joseph Stalin, Mr. Miyagi, Super Mario, Hulk Hogan, Salvador Dali, Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Einstein, and Che Guevara. 

All famous personalities, indeed, with equally famous moustaches. But for some reason, Freddie was elevated to unofficial poster boy status for moustache season as we see with this fun cartoon that sums up Movember:

I’m confused. When did Freddie go from being someone who represented the gay community through the outward expression of facial hair, to a symbol of manliness in its most basic sense . . . the ability to grow a mane of hair on the upper lip, an activity normally associated with the male of the human species? 

His adoption of a moustache is curious timing. If we look merely at the chronology of Queen albums, Freddie grew his ’stache some time between the photo shoot for The Game cover and the photo shoot for the liner notes to Flash Gordon, when we first see him sporting a moustache on a Queen album.

According to A moustache timeline found on the New Zealand History online website, “For some in the gay community coming out in the 1980s, moustaches were an iconic symbol of identity. Inspired by singer Freddy [sic] Mercury or bearded ‘Bears,’ gay men wore their facial hair with pride.”

Apart from the misspelling of Freddie’s name, I wonder if this statement is entirely accurate. If Freddie led the charge for homosexual men to identify themselves as gay through facial hair in the early ’80s, I think Glenn “Leatherman Biker” Hughes of The Village People deserves more credit than Freddie for inspiring a gay male identity. 

Freddie mimicked Hughes’ outfit way back in 1979 and Rob Halford of Judas Priest worn a similar S&M outfit before Freddie. (I know Halford accused Freddie at one point of stealing his look but I’m wondering if Halford was mimicking Hughes as well?) And then there is speculation that Freddie adopted Hughes’ moustache look more than a year later, but I’m guessing it had more to do with Freddie indulging in Germany’s gay underground while recording The Game in Munich, than following Hughes. Otherwise, why wouldn’t Freddie adopt the whole Hughes look instead of just the leather S&M attire? 

Perhaps Freddie wasn’t ready to make such a public announcement back in 1979? Or maybe the moustache — that symbol of gay masculinity — wasn’t truly in vogue until after 1980?

Whatever the case, Freddie’s moustache is now considered so epic that its power to persuade is undeniable. He’s remained in the public spotlight long enough that his stellar achievements as a musician and all-round rock god status are inextricably linked to his physical attributes such as his moustache, overbite, and vocal range. His moustache, in particular, is now imbued with a connotative quality that goes waaayyy beyond gay symbolism to that of sheer manliness. 

Even Jess below (a male given the tone of writing?) feels that Freddie’s homosexuality was separate from any sex appeal he held for the masses. Apparently, his moustache belongs on all best-of lists and not just Movember lists, as this online quote will attest to:

Obviously, this cover is not ‘scientific proof’ of Freddie’s effect on women, although I would be curious to hear what his ladyfriend here would say about working with Freddie for that shoot. 

Now that Freddie For a Day is gaining in popularity every year as a fundraiser for the Mercury Phoenix Trust (MPT), dressing up as Freddie is as easy as donning a fake moustache and a Magic Years concert jacket. 

Even Rovio, the makers of the mega-popular Angry Birds video game, got in on the action when they recently paid homage to Freddie by introducing an “Angry Freddie” character in Magic Years attire and crown. But they also added the epic moustache. This strikes me as proof positive that his ‘stache’ is perhaps the single most outward symbol of Freddie these days. 

In an effort to support the Freddie For a Day campaign, I purchased one of the Angry Birds shirts online for my four-year-old who has taken a liking to the Angry Birds characters, not the game so much. The FFAD online store is based in Finland but the fulfilment house is in California and when I received the shipment, I was annoyed that the invoice got Freddie’s name wrong. Bad optics people.

And what if Freddie were still around today to seeing his outward identity morphing from one stereotype to another. I’m sure he’d take it all in stride since he didn’t take himself or his moustache too seriously. He did shave it off in the late ’80s, right?
'A moustache timeline', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 30-Aug-2012

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

An escape from reality

Being Facebook friends with your students has entertainment value. Sometimes being privy to their weekend indulgences explains why they missed class the following Monday. Other times, you can see them use Facebook for what it was originally meant to allow post-secondary students to share ideas and exchange in meaningful dialogue.

Well, meaningful dialogue is open to interpretation sometimes, I guess.

Sometimes a status update will prompt a surprising discussion, which is what happened today when my (now former) student Alexis began quoting the opening line to Bohemian Rhapsody. Needless to say, I was floored but amused. And then Hayden chimes in with the second and third lines to the song, at which point I joined in and jokingly laid down the law. The thread then takes on a Queen-ish life of its own as you can see.

Okay, enough goofing off on Facebook everyone. Back to work.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Phreddie’s phrenology

It is just about Halloween and the third season of The Walking Dead has begun, so what better topic for discussion than Freddie’s skull.

If you’re a fan of the io9 website, “…a daily publication that covers science, science fiction, and the future,” then you’ve probably come across this series of skulls based on famous deceased artists, activitists, and politicians, all courtesy of Romanian artist, Istvan Laszlo.

Perhaps there were more in his series but here are the famous 20th century figures Laszlo chose for a public release:

•  Mahatma Gandhi
•  John Lennon
•  Freddie Mercury
•  Mother Teresa
•  Moa Tse Tung
•  Andy Warhol

In order to make these skulls retain any recognizable likeness to their owners, Laszlo had to intentionally blend physical characteristics of the individual (e.g., Freddie’s overbite) as well as any external adornments that that person was known for, such as eyeglasses or a piece of clothing. Certainly, without the nod to her unique Missionaries of Charity headscarf, Mother Teresa’s skull probably wouldn’t be read as being hers. Throw in some subtle references to hair, such as Mao’s receding hairline or the dark shadow above the upper jaw on Freddie and Gandhi, and voila, you’ve got an otherworldly portrait.

Without those defining external characteristics, a skull is just a skull as any episode of Bones or Dateline NBC will tell you. It’s really not recognizable until the skin and muscle tissue is methodically reconstructed  that the likelihood of their likeness is finally revealed.

Perhaps the most interesting side effect of the io9 article is in the comments section where people began labelling the drawings as racist, in particular the implied epicanthic eyefolds on Mao’s skull. While I agree that if Mao’s portrait was generically labelled as “Chinese” instead of “Mao,” there would be an element of racism to the portrait because mongoloid skulls do not have eye sockets shaped like this.

Introducing racism into the cranium discussion inevitably draws phrenology into the debate as there have been numerous attempts from across the ethnicity spectrum to have science validate a hierarchy in the races based on skull measurements and other phenotypical attributes.

Is there a scientific basis to race superiority? Jean Philippe Rushton, a recently deceased University of Western Ontario professor, made it his life’s work to prove that there was. To the frustration of his many critics, he was tenured at UWO and couldn’t be muzzled for his unpopular and dangerous views.

As happens with discussions about race and “the other,” a sampling of a few members of an identifiable group — as we have seen in this series of drawings — can be interpreted as a generalized perception or stereotype of that particular group. Was Laszlo’s portrait of Mao meant to represent all Chinese people? Of course not. Is it meant to represent a single, Chinese individual? Yes, but with artistic license to borrow and manipulate certain stereotypes assigned to his ethnicity.

One could wonder how Laszlo decided on which historical figures to include in this series. Where’s Einstein (as activist of sorts)? Martin Luther King? Whitney Houston? Hitler? Were the final selections based on his own personal list or was it simply which larger-than-life figures could offer the best source material (i.e., photographs) to work from?

Whatever the case, Freddie gets first billing on the io9 article which could be interpreted as the editors at io9 believing that his persona would be the most favourable in capturing readership. They could easily have mentioned John Lennon right out of the gates for that story, but they went with Freddie. I’d wager, though, that Mao’s skull is probably more immediately recognizable than Freddie’s but would giving Mao more airtime, to so speak, sit well with most readers?

What I find curious is that out of the six historical figures Laszlo portrayed in this series, three of them are associated with India. How would phrenology explain away the individual triumphs that these three have accomplished on such a grand scale?