As a freshman in college, I grew a goatee. A nod to my newfound freedoms, it was also a sop to the beards of the Hippy movement. I felt more with-it, more confident.
These days, lots of young guys grow beards. It seems to have started about 10 years ago, when our film and TV heroes began sporting three-day stubbles onscreen. Apparently their characters were too cool to conform to the grooming demands of the corporate world. In time, a lot of guys were flying this particular flag of freedom at work and getting away with it.
Around the same time, I noticed older guys with goatees and mustaches. At first I wondered if it was an attempt at youthful hipness, sadly foiled by white hairs. But soon I noticed a pattern: white, middle-aged, overweight, graying goatee and mustache, and … cranky.
It kept recurring, this pattern, and I began to see it as a syndrome: the Alienated Older White Guy with Facial Hair. Almost without fail, a guy who met the description would be quick to anger, and without warning could turn testy, abrupt, impatient.
Middle-aged white American males have, in many ways, been sidelined by their own society — their values scorned, their “privilege” stripped away, their influence marginalized. It’s a society they helped build and maintain, a culture that has begun to repay them with catty disrespect.
True, many of us older white men have long enjoyed the perks of social leadership, in the process sometimes casually disrespecting our fellow Americans, female or of color, who held less vaulted positions. In some ways we’re now being forced to submit to the same contempt we once doled out.
Whether, in this situation, “two wrongs make a right”, I don’t know. But I do notice a certain grumpiness about it among my cohort — especially the ones with big guts and goatees. Perhaps chin whiskers are a kind of protest. It’s as if they’re spoiling for a fight but don’t know where to swing their fists, so instead they calm their frustrations with comfort food … and produce aggressive, battleship-gray clumps of hair on the prows of their faces as symbolic battering rams.
If hair were angry, it’d be a gray goatee. These days, there’s a lot of angry hair out there.