[credits rolling, theme music fades and a conversation between a couple begins]
I'm sorry I'm late.
I had some important police business to attend to, you know.
- Everything's all right?
Yes, absolutely fine.
Allow me to let you in the car.
- It's beautiful.
- It's rather neat, isn't it?
I call it the Silver Hornet.
It's a little overdue for service, unfortunately.
Perhaps it's better to leave that there.
It's a beautiful night. Why don't we walk?
What an excellent idea.
- L'm sorry about that.
- It's quite all right.
You look ravishing tonight.
- Yes, I know that.
- You know that?
I knew that you knew that.
You did? L knew you knew I knew that.
What made you decide to become a detective?
It's not something one decides every day of the week, you know. But in my case, it began when my great aunt was kidnapped... and held for ransom
by an unlicensed Armenian phrenologist.
An Armenian phrenologist?
Yes, you know. A man who reads the "bimps" on the head.
- The "bimps"?
[conversation fades, music returns]
- from the credit section of The Revenge of the Pink Panther
Phrenology was rooted in the idea that the mind had a limited number of components that were regional in the brain and that the importance of each of these was determined by its size and shape. Somehow this was reflected in the shape of the skull. The phrenologist would feel the shape and bumps on a person's head and make judgement statements on the person's personality, mental capacity, and even their potential moral worth. It was a quick filter for information conveyed by a type of non-verbal communication and, like so many poorly thought-out filters, it was pseudoscience.
It was hugely popular until becoming discredited around the mid 1800s. Part of the public discrediting came in the form satire. Nasology (by George Jabet under the pseudonym Eden Warwick in 1848) claimed to judge character based on the size and shape of the human nose. The first printing of the book in England made its point, but a second printing years later somehow caught on in the US and was popular in some quarters as it appeared to justify racism. Thankfully modern America is sophisticated enough to not fall for the satire of The Onion and The Daily Show.
We have rich communications, often unconscious, with others outside of our speech. Non-verbal communication includes everything from body language, eye contact, physical distance, and much more. Fashion and clothing are a signal that communicate class, personal taste, mood, and more. Sometimes we make choices about the signals we send. Sometimes there are miscommunications based on social non-verbal visual filtering.
As part of learning about apparel I've become interested in these communications. The industry is beginning to undergo radical change and understanding filters as drivers of design is centrally important. Of course this goes beyond what we chose to wear. We make similar judgements about a person based on their body shape and appearance. Bodies are less malleable, but have a fashion of their own and that has driven dieting, physical fitness and body modification.
Dieting for weight loss was popularized William Banting with his publication of the Letter on Corpulence, Addressed to the Public. Perhaps the fact he was an undertaker by trade tells us something his diet consisted of large amounts of meat, some wine, smoking (!), and very few carbohydrates. It became wildly popular in America establishing a model for the fad diets that followed up to the present. Dieting was recommended and advertised in men's publications becoming a component of the Muscular Christianity movement that was beginning to gain steam around the same time.
Muscular Christianity linked physical health and piety to perceived character. Self control through rigorous physical exercise supposedly conveyed purity. Christian men were to be ruggedly masculine and the image of the ideal Western male shifted beginning with the elites. Buff had become a desired state for the young, wealthy and white and casual clothing was developed to show it off.
Dieting and exercise were a path for the emerging middle class. They came from a lower class and were excluded from power - partly became they were considered vulgar and uneducated. Dieting and sport demonstrated they had self-control and worth. Being overweight was linked to weakness, greed and corruption. There was a worry that men had become too weak - too feminine. The YMCA was a product of the movement along with games like basketball and volleyball which were invented as gym based physical activities. This helped ignite an interest in sports like baseball and football in the US making them activities first at elite Eastern colleges and then at more aspirational institutions. At the peak of the movement the Olympic Games of the modern era were established.
Women were initially excluded from this new drive to be physically fit. A proper woman, at least in the US and England, wasn't to do physical labor. The desired body type had become - well - plump. Women's magazines told them losing weight would cause premature aging and a being unattractive for men. Lillian Russell represented the wealthy white feminine ideal of a fertile plumpness.
Change came from the women's rights movement. It was believed that if women could control their bodies in the same way that men did they can show they are rational beings of high self worth deserving of equal rights. Women began to diet and exercise as a means of liberation.
These new visual signals were meant for the white middle and upper class only. Those from the working class who didn't have the time and means to exercise were viewed as lazy and without worth as they can't control their bodies - and perhaps they should not be granted equal rights.
Youth fitness slowly emerged as an issue. During WWI it was noticed that some American draftees were rejected for being overweight. The numbers weren't huge, but it became an issue and lead to a study of the physical fitness of several thousand American and European children a few decades later. The Americans fared poorly triggering alarms about future security. President Eisenhower, something of a fitness junkie himself, established what later became the President's Counsel on Physical Fitness as a cold war effort. American children had to become fit, but they had to do it by choice as a counter to the film reals of Soviet children doing required mass calisthenics. That presented a problem. It was easy for the Godless communists to motivate a generation, how do you do it in America?
The solution was quintessentially American. Hire the guys who gave us Smokey the Bear, our great influencers - the admen of Madison Avenue. Physical fitness was pitched as being cool. Gym classes received more attention and producing athletes as ideals became more important. In Junior High I remember calisthenics to an old 45 record - the practice survived until the 70s.
It is useful to achieve some level of physical fitness, it is important not to judge. We have powerful social learned visual filters that often lead to character judgements based on someone's race, appearance, height, weight and physical shape. We may laugh at phrenology, but sometimes we use something equivalent. And there are other filters - some day perhaps I'll write about the phrenology of Google and Facebook...
I've mostly been grilling veggies and various types of produce. Since so little work was done I tried someone else's recipe. A fun and delicious idea noted by David Lebovitz - vegetarian 'Faux Gras'. It is great on a hearty bread.