Shut Up

Friday, July 21, 2006

A Really, Really Short Cultural History of Smiling

In the midst of writing this post, I discovered that there actually is a book titled, A Brief History of the Smile, which I'm looking forward to reading at some smiley point in the future. But what got me thinking about the subject was when I noticed Erica Sherman's blog about Jews for Jesus (whom she describes as "twitty ruffians"). Her encounter with Jews for Jesus is depicted thusly:

So, imagine how awkward it was for me last night wearing my standard army green and yellow Israel Defense Forces t-shirt and having to walk past the Jews for Jesus missionaries passing out leaflets outside of my train station.

"No thank you," I emotionlessly exclaimed, hastily walking past the rather hip-looking young lady in the J4J t-shirt trying to offer me some literature.
She noticed my shirt. Damn.

Fidgeting in my pockets for my MetroCard to gain entry past the turnstyle, quickly, I turned around, mildly riled, and found her looking at me, smiling, and then I just got creeped out and ran through the turnstyle.

Ach, killing me with kindness. These people make me sick ...

What's up with that? Creeped out from a smile? It would have been better if the person had scowled at her?

The author of The Coochie Papers blogs that:

I've decided that the Jews for Jesus are a step too far. Go back West, you filth, and leave me be. It's hot and humid and my undershirt is soaked, and I have no time for you and your eager smile and enormous backpack.

Another subtext here that the smile in question is suspicious, creepy, or just over the top.

Smiling is an interesting facial phenomenon. There are many kinds of smiles (think smiley faces, Jack Nicholson's Joker in Batman, the Cheshire Cat). It also has an interesting and probably checkered history. (I've never known exactly what "checkered" means in "checkered history" but it does make the subject sound more fascinating than it would otherwise be.) In old photos like this one, people didn't smile because it was hard to hold a smile for the long exposure time that was needed. When technology allowed for faster photography, smiling became the vogue, a kind of social convention, something to do when your picture is taken. Just like "What's up?" is a conventional greeting whether or not you actually want to know what is up.

I have the impression, just based on personal observation, that in the past few decades smiling has more and more gone out of favor. Some people believe that when your picture is taken, you should just look how you feel at the time. When people greet other people, it seems to me that it's often done more smile-lessly than in the past. Once upon a time, a smile suggested friendliness. Today for many people it tends to suggest insincerity or worse. So-called "authenticity" has replaced social convention. To some, that's all for the better. A lot of social conventions, though, are like oil that greases a wheel or like smoothing out the ice so you can skate. I'm not sure I'd want to be greeted with "Bad morning" by someone who was actually having one.

Or so I think. At any rate, returning to the blogs that started this post, avoiding considering spiritual things because someone is smiling strikes me as an indication of how little social niceties are greasing the wheels of communication these days.

I hope these smiles will make you smile:


  • At 12:51 PM, Anonymous Moshe ben Avraham said…

    I think I understand why they are creeped out by the smiles. I have been around Christians long wnough to recoginize their different smiles. They have the regular cheery smile and then they have the condenscending smile. The smile that says your going to hell and don't know it yet or the smile that says your going to discover Jesus if we have to torture you. My surmise is that the smiles they are referring to is the condenscending one.

  • At 2:43 PM, Blogger Rich said…

    Maybe you should get out more and meet other Christians besides Torquemada.

  • At 12:36 PM, Anonymous Moshe ben Avraham said…

    I have met other Christians. I have many Christain friends and one of them spew out the crap Jews for Jesus do. In fact they support my Jewishness and don't believe I am going to hell. I consider that progress.

  • At 6:21 AM, Blogger Rich said…

    The thing is, we do support your Jewishness. God made you to be Jewish and no one can take that away from you. God also made me to be Jewish and no one is going to take that away from me either. God made a covenant with our people that he intends to keep. But what if his covenant involves Jesus the Messiah?

    Hell and heaven - yes, we have eternal destinies, our choices are very very significant. But being Jewish doesn't automatically give us a place at the table any more than being Gentile automatically excludes someone. What if Jesus is of key significance to our eternal lives?

    You seem to equate anyone who says we all need to believe in Jesus with hatemongers. Why would you do that? When Moses said, God gave us a law we need to follow, was that promulgating hatred? Does promoting a point of view mean you hate people who disagree?

  • At 12:35 PM, Anonymous Moshe ben Avraham said…

    I notice in your message you said "what if" Jesus is a part of some covenant with HaShem. My response to you is: What if HaShem believes that Jesus is a false Messaih and ha smislead billions of people? INterestingly enough most Messsianic Jews never say that what if. They all say that this is true and there is no excpetion to what they believe. Jesus is the Messaih whether you like it or not. I am curious in why you diverged from that stance. Correction on previous post. None of my friends try to convert me, not one.

  • At 7:40 PM, Blogger Rich said…

    People have to go where the evidence leads. If Jesus is a false Messiah, not only should I stop believing in him, but so should all non-Jews. If he is the Messiah, then all should believe in him, Jewish or not.

    Your views are in fact so biased against Jesus that you certainly don't appear to be open to the possibility that Jesus could be the Messiah. I don't find myself responding to mainstream Judaism in the negative, frankly hostile, way you do to faith in Jesus. So on that count alone, I think we don't have an equal bias on the question.

  • At 1:17 PM, Anonymous Moshe ben Avraham said…

    I will admit I am hostile to Jesus and I suspect he isn't such a good guy as well. That's what my spirit tells me. I have learned to listen to it; it has saved my life on various occasions. I am also closed minded when it comes to Mohammhed. What do you think? Should I consider Mohammhed a prophet of G-d? Maybe I have enough doubt in my faith to look at Islam as the only true religion. Of course you know I have no doubt, but if I can find a good Muslim website I would try and post comments there as well. I like these discussions.

    I do not think my comments are that hostile. I am trying to be polite. I did say nasty things to one person because they are ignorant and were speaking rascism. However,I feel that I have not been overly harsh with you or robinson (excluding some earlier posts).

    Interestingly enough I grew up in a secular home and was told only to believe in HaShem. I didn't even know I was Jewish until a year ago. I remember once someone asked me what religion I was. My response: Catholic. Quite literally I didn't even know there was another religion. I thought it was a stupid question at the time. I have grown up in mostly Christain communities and not once did I believe in Jesus; hence why I have such an easy time resisting Christian beliefs.

  • At 7:02 AM, Blogger Bob said…

    I agree with Rich on this one. I'm no Catholic. I'm raised Jewish. I too believe in Jesus as Messiah. It's not hatemongering or overuse of the smile; it's the Truth about Jesus which won me.


  • At 11:50 AM, Anonymous Moshe ben Avraham said…

    The truth about Jesus. Fine, whatever. Just make sure when you tell Jews about it you don't try to decieve them, by saying you are a completed Jew or by mixing Christian practice with orthodox practices.

  • At 7:56 AM, Blogger Rich said…

    Moshe, You think people are stupid or something? You think people can't figure out for themselves if Jesus is the Messiah? Do you know the Orthodox called the Reform "deceptive" in the beginning? Like people can be fooled into believing something they don't really want to believe.

    To hear about all the "deception," you would think the human race is made up of idiots.

  • At 3:31 PM, Blogger homy711 said…

    to Moshe: you said you were Catholic? you know they believe in Jesus, don't you? Dude..... you need to study! Especially the Scriptures!


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