Sunday, February 21, 2010

Grim is the New Grin

In a sharp breach in subject matter, I find it necessary to interrupt my “Close to Home” Series to confess that I am making plans to leave the country. (And yes, if two posts count as a series, then we’re smack in the middle of a Series. The sequel is in the works and promises to be a thought provoking read. Stay tuned.)

In the course of freshening up my passport for some upcoming out-of-the-country action, I became privy to some information urgent enough to warrant a Running With Letters Public Service Announcement.

Readers, it seems that we’ve been misinformed. Pumped full of well-intentioned bad advice from everyone from Mom to William Shakespeare. If your growing up experience was anything like mine, you are doubtless under the impression that sporting a smile will not only net you more friends, it will make you more attractive, too. Why, even the community center where I used to work out was into the Smile Scene, posting awareness posters touting the benefits of “building community” on the premises with our flashy grins. Perhaps The Bard even convinced you that a smile can suck the power right out of crime when he penned in Othello Act I, Scene III, “The robbed that smiles, steals something from the thief."

Wanting to put forth a universal welcome throughout my travels, I sat down for my passport photos with a friendly smile. After all, as Unknown told us, everyone smiles in the same language.

“Don’t smile,” the photographer said.


“You can’t smile for passport photos.”

Unnerved, I nonetheless summoned a serious expression that I just couldn’t hold before bursting into silly gales of laughter—which, I am glad to report, remains compliant with universal expectation that it is contagious.

Although my photographer seemed much happier now that she was laughing, it was still her duty to inform me that smiling is not all we've cracked it up to be. Readers, the Department of Homeland Security has concluded that smiling actually promotes terrorism. In a possible incomplete read of that prolific wordsmith Unknown, our top officials have concluded that “A smile is a powerful weapon,” evidently missing the end of the quote which concludes: “ you can even break ice with it."

It seems that while we’ve been wantonly grinning, beaming, and otherwise flashing our pearly whites around our respective towns, we have been inadvertently bolstering hidden factions of foul sentiment. And here I was, on the verge of presenting a pro-malevolent visage to the world at large.

With my reputation as an upstanding citizen on the line, I quickly reigned in my mirth. Allowing for a large margin for error, I adopted a stern countenance that I envisioned leveling off to a neutral flatline.

However, the photographer saw her opportunity and lost no time. Thanks to her quick pounce on the shutter, I get to present this highly pro-social public image:

I’m holding on to these mug-I mean, head shots. In our current political climate, I’m expecting a PBS response in the form of a 2010 makeover for the Guy Smiley gig on Sesame Street. After all, our next generation needs to be lot savvier than we have been, walking around with dopey grins when a close resemblance to the enemy remains our best defense.


Julie Schuler said...

I didn't know that you couldn't smile- well, I never had a passport. Is it because airport screeners might subconsciously be lulled into a false sense of security by your smile? Or do they just want you to look as close to miserable as you can, because that's probably how you'll feel waiting at the airport?

5thsister said...

We're not allowed to smile for our driver's license photos because that detracts from our "true" face when confronted with all those facial imaging cameras around the state looking for terrorists and criminals from a mugshot database. Honest!

5thsister said...

Oh...if it helps any, I got a chuckle out of your "stern" look.

Pines Lake Redhead said...

I wouldn't mess with you. :)

Jen said...

I could have told you about the passport.. its been that way for over 3 years (I renewed mine after we got married in 06). When they switched to the new driver's licenses in VA they made the change too.. so it'll be a similar experience next time you renew your license. And it is for facial recognition software purposes.. crazy and I loved your story about it.

Gropius said...

Sometimes when people smile, one is left to think, "Hmmm, what's so funny? Am I part of some inside joke?" Perhaps terrorists have a very shallow ego, one that's on the brink. I guess that smile can put them right over the edge. Nevertheless, telling someone "You can't smile" is a sure way to get the opposite reaction. My father called it the "Solomn Occasion" game.

Holly said...

You look tough. I did not realize you couldn't smile.

Together We Save said...

Wow - you can't smile... I did not know that.

Kathleen said...

Laughing (and smiling)!! I wonder if you're permitted to smile for an actual mug shot?


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