Wednesday, 11 March 2009

A close shave

I'm not much of a one for televisual stimulation, but every now and then my piggy eyes are drawn to the corner of the living room. What caught their attention today was an advertisement for a razor. Just a razor. Apparently it has more than one blade and this is meant to give a man the ultimate satisfaction. It made me ask something I have wondered about for a while. Why should we get excited by a close shave?

Is it one of those things people care about only because advertisers tell them they should? Look at the reality of the thing. Almost all men (and more women than care to admit it) grow facial hair. Some of us think we look marginally less absurd if we cut it off than we would if we let it remain in place. So we buy a device to assist us in that task.

It all used to be pretty simple. You'd have a cutthroat razor which you kept honed to perfection on a leather strop. They lasted for decades. The only drawback was that in the hands of the very drunk or the very stupid they could live up to their name, but no one cared; if you killed yourself while trying to scrape unwanted hair from your face it was probably inferred that your life was hardly worth living anyway.

One day a magician in Las Vegas, or was it a sword maker in Sheffield, invented little blades and a metal holder to screw them into. The blades could be replaced when so blunt that you shed more than a pint of blood in front of the bathroom mirror in the morning. Buying a packet of blades and replacing them when necessary was a pretty simple affair. Unscrew handle, take out old blade, insert new blade, tighten handle, try to remember to dispose of old blade in something other than the baby's breakfast bowl. Far too much effort for some, so single units were invented containing a small blade (consisting of very little other than an edge) set into a rigid plastic holder. These would last about three days before going blunt or rusty, so people bought them by the gross.

While all this blade swapping was going on, a bright spark had the idea of making an electrically powered machine for cutting hair from the face. Some preferred the electric gadget, others kept to the more traditional ways; fair enough.

I think it was some time in the 1980s that advertising concentrated on the closeness of the shave, as if this matters to 98% of those who don't wish to sport a beard. Of course there are some people who grow hair at a highly impressive rate and for whom a particularly close shave delays the moment at which it appears they haven't bothered at all. But the rest of us can get by perfectly well without a second or third blade to cut a tiny slither that was missed by the first. Yet still the message persists ... are you satisfied with the closeness of your shave? The question itself prods and nudges the unwary into thinking that a close shave confers benefits without which their lives cannot be properly fulfilled.

It really is a most extraordinary con-trick.

I'm an electric gizmo chap. A pack of cheap Bic disposables lurks somewhere in the bowels of the house in case I forget to recharge the Philishave, although this hasn't happened yet. And how close is my shave? Well, you see, that's just the point. I have no idea. I run the machine over my flabby jowls and end up with a face that looks shaved to me. Could I find a device that cuts off a little bit more? Possibly, but why should I want to? What does it matter? What benefit will result if I do and what detriment do I now suffer because I don't? The answer of course is that it makes no difference to anything.

I am a pasty-faced fat bloke. No one takes a second look at my face as I waddle down the street. Yet according to the advertisement I witnessed this evening I could be a leading international sportsman and an instant sex symbol if only a further fraction of a millimetre of facial hair were sliced away every morning. It's the sort of notion that makes you wonder whether the world has gone completely mad.


Anonymous said...

I disagree. Whilst finding the advertising distressingly hyperbolic, I nevertheless find the latest shaving innovations more of a boon than not. My teenage experiments with Bic disposable and Braun electrics were highly unsatisfactory. I love a nice close shave with the best a man can get. But, no, I too fail to be transformed into a leading sportsman.

Anonymous said...

I tried one of those electric shavers once, many years ago. The memory still haunts me to this day.

Everything seemed to be going along fine till it neared moustache area when the bugger got hold of my lip. It wouldn't let go. It held on like a loopy dog to a slipper till I managed to switched it off.

Terrifying business for a callow youth. It's been the disposable twin-blade for me ever since.

I like the feeling of being very cleanly shaven. I suppose it's a personal thing. But you're right, it doesn't actually mean anything.

Mind you, my sallow chops are full of hair at the moment - the theme for my stag do this weekend is Victorian villain (crooked stovepipe, big coat, nobbly stick and Bill Sykes sideburns, my lad.

Bullseye! Bullseye!


Anonymous said...

i completely agree, TFB. i was in the Highlands when I was startled (an understatement) by the hideous concussion of a low-flying jet, a Tornado as it seemed, and in my panic, unbidden, the famous Gillette Mach 3 advertisement flashed instantaneously across my mind’s eye. And my single screamed word, flung at the sky and lost in the afterburnt tumult, was WHY????
Was the question driven into my brain by the horrible shock-wave as, stricken with fright, I clung to a Munroe? maybe, but in any case, half-sliding and half-falling I stumbled and reeled recklessly downwards, the climb abandoned. Beause the realisation had struck with full force - i had voluntarily removed my facial hair, nature’s own protection, perfected over millions of years of natural selection. Worse, I had then bought (bought!) THREE replacements, ie sun-cream, insect repellent, and a midge-net contraption. But why? There was only one answer which stood up to logical scrutiny. The inescapable fact was, i was a vain idiot with more money than sense, easily fooled, no better than a silly girl addicted to sun-beds.
However, some years later the true path was revealed to me by the art and science of Australia, that huge unforgiving wilderness. Civilised by common sense, beer, and a convict gene pool, she is the last redoubt in modern Western society of the beard.


TheFatBigot said...

Thank you all for your contributions. It's especially nice to have you back Mr Bob.

Not sure I approve of the theme for your condemned man's weekend. No doubt Nancy, as she must now be known, will insist on you being turned out properly for the big day.

Incidentally, did you know the original lyrics for Nancy's big solo in "Oliver!" were ... "As long as he needs me, I know where I must be ... until we get married then he'll bloody well do as I say or I'll take him for every penny he has and he'll get no treat after Match of the Day". Sadly, they didn't fit the music.

Bob's Head Revisited said...

Thanks, FB. This site keeps getting better and better.

As for my impending nuptials, perhaps I should bear in mind Fagin's words:

“All the trials and tribulations!
Better settle down and get myself a wife.
And a wife would cook and sew for me,
And come for me, and go for me,
The fingers, she will wag at me.
The money she will take me.
A misery, she'll make from me...

...I think I'd better thing it out again!”

Oh gawd!