People-watching isn’t supposed to be so troubling.
I tried to go to the State Fair last Saturday but the rainy weather redirected me to a place where I never expected to spend the last weekend of August: the Mall of America. Thousands of others must have had the same idea, and the foot traffic at the climate-controlled confines was more reminiscent of peak holiday shopping season than of a summer afternoon.
My patience was eroding as I tried to rationalize the mall as a legitimate alternative to the State Fair, claustrophobically jostling my way through the corridor, when one curiosity stood still in the streaming mass. I tried not to stare, but I couldn’t look away, as the patch of hair above the man’s lip beckoned my focus. The strand of whiskers was no wider than the nose that sat above it. A bit of surrounding stubble did nothing to camouflage the growth.
There was no doubt about it: This was a real, genuine Hitler mustache. Yes, the facial hair style that was supposed to have died 80 years ago, due to its association with evil, was back.
This kind of spectacle sends the mind reeling with all sorts of speculation, and I did not talk to the mustache’s owner, out of a combination of revulsion and aversion to confrontation. So I don’t know his motivations; maybe he just thinks it looks good. But the reality remains – that it seems more likely than it would have in years past that someone sporting such a look could be an actual white supremacist.
There are certainly other explanations for someone, in 2017, to sport what is also known as the “toothbrush mustache.” A person with an intellectual disability might not understand the implications of the style. Some form of mental illness is another possibility. And I’m not making light of those potential explanations. Or, maybe, the inflammatory facial hair was part of a social experiment that I am now a part of.
In the recent past, I probably would have leaned toward one of the above explanations instead of the possibility that the mustache wearer could be an actual admirer of Adolf Hitler. It’s not that my outlook was ever sanguine enough to believe such people don’t exist. It just would have been hard to imagine a white supremacist being so brash as to proudly wear the look among the mainstream masses.
In the past, I probably would have archived the appearance of a Hitler mustache as merely a memorable sight during a long day of people-watching. But sadly, we live in a time when we can’t laugh at this form of ridiculous facial hair.
In fact, it’s been theorized that Hitler’s rise to power was aided by his mustache, that since it reminded people of Charlie Chaplin’s bumbling slapstick presence, observers from afar failed to take the genocidal megalomaniac seriously until it was too late.
Remember when we made fun of the white-nationalist Charlottesville marchers for wielding tiki torches that they stole from their mom’s patio? They certainly were deserving of the barrage of ridicule that provided catharsis for so many horrified observers, but at the same time, making fun of them is not enough. Learning from the original Nazis, we must be careful about dismissing the modern American version.
My sighting of the Hitler mustache – and I am now careful not to casually shorten it to “Hitler ‘stache” – could have been nothing; it could have been the result of an oblivious grooming regimen.
It’s sad though: Whatever the strange facial hair meant, the luxury to laugh at it is gone.
Follow Andrew Wig on Twitter @RISunCurrent.