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Category: Musings (page 1 of 6)

New Zealand As Depicted In Fiction

How is your country generally depicted in fiction, by writers outside your country? New Zealand in fiction, not surprisingly, is the stock country for ‘a place really, really far away.’

Will grayson New Zealand

Now, I am not generally given over to excitement, but Neutral Milk Hotel sort of changed my life. They released this absolutely fantastic album called In the Aeroplane Over the Sea in 1998 and haven’t been heard from since, purportedly because their lead singer lives in a cave in New Zealand.

– from Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

In the English light-hearted drama Last Tango In Halifax, a relative who came from New Zealand to England had made a REALLY big effort to be at a wedding celebration, and therefore his very presence was amazing.

In Louise Rennison’s Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging (or Perfect Snogging, depending on which side of the Atlantic you’re on), the main character’s father is sent away to New Zealand to work, which is a plot device to keep him really far away.

Angus-Thongs-and-Perfect-Snogging-2008-Hollywood-Movie-Watch-Online

New Zealand sometimes even gets a mention in American fiction. Even in Breaking Bad! In this case, New Zealand is the stock country that ‘no one knows anything about’ and is the perfect place for Americans to go if they want a new start. Forget that in order for an American to enter New Zealand with intent to live you actually need a visa. (Works both ways!)

Jane Margolis: Do you know what this is? [refers to a bag full of money]
Jesse Pinkman: It’s a whole lot of cheddar.
Jane Margolis: This is freedom. This is saying, “I can go anywhere I want. I can be anybody.” What do you want to be? Where do you want to go? South America? Europe? Australia?
Jesse Pinkman: Is New Zealand part of Australia?
Jane Margolis: New Zealand is New Zealand.
Jesse Pinkman: Right on. New Zealand. That’s where they made “Lord of the Rings”. I say we just move there, yo. I mean, you can do your art. Right? Like, you can paint the local castles and shit. And I can be a bush pilot.

– from Breaking Bad, penultimate episode of season 2

Sometimes, though, ‘distance’ equals ‘stupidity’ or ‘naivety’. Which makes me wonder what Americans think New Zealand teens do with their time. Because New Zealanders are watching the same shows, listening to the same music, wearing the same fashions, more or less. I’m pretty sure Kiwis know more about American culture than the other way around.

Wit from Riverdale actress. Riverdale is an American TV show.

That’s because America has a long history of exporting its culture, while admitting very little in.

What is New Zealand really like?

Here’s an article from a European whose version of New Zealand — from books introduced by his Kiwi girlfriend– turned out to be quite different from the New Zealand he met when he eventually visited the country.

The Easy Acquisition Of Pets In Children’s Stories

A child who reads heavily may well be under the impression that the acquisition of pets requires about as much thought as a well-chosen piece of jewellery.

Yesterday I rewatched Bridge To Terabithia — a perennial favourite at our house. I can’t remember if this also happens in the book version, but at the end of the movie Leslie’s father says he was going to gift Leslie’s dog to Jesse but couldn’t quite part with it.

bridge to terabithia pets

Today I read Madeline in London, in which the girls visit Pepito at his new home and decide to give him the gift of a retired horse.

Madeline pets horse

“But in London there’s a place to get a retired horse to keep as a pet.”

Children’s literature is full of stories about boys who save up enough money to buy a dog. The real cost of dog ownership — the food, the registration, the annual vaccinations, the worming and flea treatments — are never factored into the cost.

where-the-red-fern-grows pets

There’s a reason for this, of course.

Children’s books are not set in the real world. They exist on a continuum between utopia and real — and if it’s set in a realistic world (or, lately, a hyper-realistic one) it’s probably YA. As for middle grade novels and chapter books, these are largely privileged worlds in which there is always enough to eat, always a place to come home to and populated by adults who basically care for children.

These are also worlds in which any child who really wants an animal companion can have one. They will roam free and look after one another.

As long as the child saves enough money to buy the pet in the first place, subsequent costs are magically met, even in the poorest households.

I point out the obvious because a disappointing number of adults buy pets without factoring in the enormous cost of pets. My mother, who worked at the SPCA for some years, was constantly dealing with members of the public who approached the charity for help paying medical bills for sick pets, because they hadn’t planned ahead. These adults are still living in a kidlit utopia.

Perhaps we need a few more narratives about the realities of pet ownership.

One of the most honest kids’ books I’ve seen about wanting a pet real bad is by Mo Willems.

the-pigeon-wants-a-puppy

While the unthinking acquisition of pets are generally considered great in stories for children, when it happens in a story for adults we get an uneasy feeling. In the 2014 film Wildlike, an uncle suggests to his niece that they buy a dog together. This foreshadows abuse.

Good Girls In Children’s Literature

There was a little girl
Who had a little curl
Right in the middle of her forehead.
And when she was good
She was very good indeed
But when she was bad
She was horrid!

— a poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Contrary to popular belief, the above is not a Mother Goose rhyme but a poem. However, I remember its inclusion — slightly modified — in a book of nursery rhymes from my own childhood.

My version isn't quite this old!

My version isn’t quite this old!

When I recently ordered the box set of Judy Moody by Megan McDonald for my daughter I was reminded of that rather awful poem, and I wouldn’t mind betting the series illustrator has been inspired by Longfellow, because the curl on the forehead is an enduring feature of Judy Moody’s character design.

Judy Moody

‘Good girls must be very, very good or else they are horrid, whereas boys behaving badly are seen to be merely displaying masculine traits’, writes Carolyn Daniel in Voracious Children: Who eats whom in children’s literature. While acknowledging that things have changed since the Victorian era, ‘giving way to a generally more therapeutic style, much contemporary fiction still reinforces traditional stereotypical gender roles.’

There is another nursery rhyme from the early 1800s that epitomises our view of what boys and girls are made of — with the sexism running both ways:

What are little boys made of?
Snips and snails, and puppy dogs tails
That’s what little boys are made of !”
What are little girls made of?
“Sugar and spice and all things nice
That’s what little girls are made of!

At first glance this poem seems to have been written in a way that favors girls and makes girls’ lives easier. Instead, this poem is terrible for girls (as well as for non-‘boyish’ boys), because as Daniel describes:

There is a sociocultural leniency toward the bad behavior of boys. Boys are, after all, made of slugs and snails and puppy-dogs’ tails, and they are culturally expected to be naughty, to get dirty, to wriggle and not be able to sit still, to not make rude noises, to fight and swear. And for this they are judged to be “just being a boy” or “a real boy”, one who will grow into a real man. Concomitantly girls must be good. And, in order to become good girls they must be carefully controlled and constantly monitored.

For consideration

  • What if Peta Rabbit were a girl and her brothers Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail were the good little bunnies who stayed at home?
  • Is there a female version of Winnie-the-pooh, who is obsessed over excessive and sweet food in a humorous way rather than as a slight on her character?
  • Would John Moody work as a concept? Is there a male equivalent in children’s literature? There are plenty of mischievous boys, but what about ‘moody’ ones, allegorically named as such, because their emotions are such an important part of their character? (Johnny Cranky, Sam the Surly etc.?)
  • Is stereotypical bad behaviour in girl characters e.g. preening and asking for things she shouldn’t have and talking rudely to (and about) others, perceived as worse than stereotypically boy behaviour e.g. standing up for oneself by using physical violence and threats?

 

Dystopian YA Fiction and Levels of Pessimism In Australian Youth

According to a new report, Australian kids are feeling pessimistic about their own futures, and this goes against all evidence. Australian kids should be feeling pretty good about the future, according to one expert.

Key points from the radio interview:

  • Youth unemployment has been higher in the past, and is reflecting that it takes time to find their way into the job market, as unemployment goes down as job seekers get older. This is reflected in other countries. Southern European unemployment rates for youth (especially Southern Italy and Spain) is much more bleak.
  • Why are young Australian people pessimistic? It is thought that young Australians have unrealistic expectations about what to expect from a first job. In Brazil, China and countries like that have youth with lower expectations and are therefore more optimistic.
  • Older people need to tell young people what their own paths to success have been.
  • The media also has a part to play. We’ve seen processing plants closing down, but we don’t see the steady flow of new job opportunities coming through the news. The small trickle more than offsets the big closures. (Audiences are after bad news, and the media cater to that.)
  • The number of law graduates each year far exceeds the number of places available. Law is ‘the new arts degree’. It’s true that law graduates are still useful in the workplace even if they are not practising law, but are young law students given a realistic idea about what percentage of graduates will find jobs as lawyers? Law graduates are not expensive to produce for universities. It’s book learning so they are cheap to train. Universities are following a good economic pattern, but at what cost for the 18 year olds enrolling in these degrees, which are quite expensive for them? (Or perhaps law students are more expensive to train than we assume.)
  • IT students are equally pessimistic as law students. Private providers are competing with the universities in IT, moving into computer science, which is quite distinct from being able to program. The ability to successfully adapt different technologies in work environments, they are the crucial skills. Just being able to code in a particular language isn’t much use. Australia is good at having the bright idea and being able to adapt the bright idea in a business context.
  • Where is the pessimism coming from? The negativity from politicians doesn’t help. Universities haven’t been very good at making their graduates work-ready.
  • We need to change the nature of internships and cadetships, which currently accept large numbers of graduates but at the end of that period only one in sixty (for example in finance) will be offered a job at the end of it. This turns the whole thing into a bit of a waste of time for the other 59. Internships need to go hand-in-hand with study. Companies need to work more closely with degree programs to prepare students for the workforce.

Where else might youth pessimism be coming from? Is it limited to ‘pessimism about work’ or pessimism about the environment, politics and society in general? Could youth pessimism also be to do with the stories that are popular for young people? Today’s young people have grown up in the Third Golden Age of Children’s Literature, and this is an age rife with dystopias. There have been so many dystopias in fiction that if you listen to what agents and publishers are looking for in the kidlit-o-sphere you’ll hear a lot of publishing professionals say they are sick to death of them and are looking for something completely different.

Here in Australia, parallel importing and the Hollywood trend of adapting best-selling YA books to film has changed the Australian reading landscape over the past 15 years to point where the top-selling books are mainly from America.

Insofar as best-selling books corresponds to library lending rates (which are very easy to find), here are Australia’s library lending stats for YA last year:

The most borrowed young adult fiction titles were:

1.       Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins (American/science fiction adventure)

2.       Divergent series by Veronica Roth (American/science fiction adventure)

3.       The Fault in our Stars by John Green (American/romance)

4.       The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak (Australian/Holocaust)

5.       Looking for Alaska by John Green (American/romance)

6.       Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan (American/fantasy adventure)

7.       The Maze Runner by James Dashner (American/science fiction)

8.       Every Breath by Ellie Marney (Australian/thriller)

9.       An Abundance of Katherines by John Green (American/romance)

10.   Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare (American/fantasy adventure)

Ms McKerracher said: ‘Teen borrowers from Australian libraries were looking for a blend of escapism and realism. Gritty romances, fantasy and adventure were the main themes, with all but two of the list coming from American writers.’

Australia’s Favourite Library Books

Notice how many of those plots are either dystopian, wartime, or ‘sick-lit’.

Obviously it’s what young readers want, but why are they wanting it? To what extent do we read what’s popular, because choosing entertainment is exhausting, and because we want to read something in common with our friends? To what extent does immersing oneself in a succession of dystopian stories impact our psyches? Or maybe dystopian fiction can only be enjoyed by readers who are actually feel pretty safe and secure and optimistic?

I think these are questions worth asking.

 

What is ‘The Fridge Test’?

“You know. You’ve just come home from a movie, you had a great time, you go to the refrigerator to get a beer, you open the door, and you say, ‘Wait a minute …’” If a film has got the audience until they open the fridge, maintains [director Jonathan] Demme, then that’s all that matters.

So Rose Could Have Saved Jack In Titanic — So What, It Still Passes The Fridge Test, The Guardian

The article also explains that the refrigerator test is a modification on Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘icebox question’.

I suppose as cooling and refrigeration grows more advanced, subsequent generations will find their own terminology to describe the same thing.

Here’s what IKEA thinks fridges might be replaced with by 2025. Maybe a return to ‘ice boxes’?

Ikea concept kitchen 2025

The Principle of Intentionality

blue-curtains-9

In film, as in picture books, as in novels, everything has meaning and nothing just happens.

There’s a meme that does the rounds and you may have seen it, too. Memes often have an element of truth to them but this one is just plain wrong. If the author just wanted curtains, the author would not have specified ‘blue’.

Blue curtains English teacher meme

She didn’t know what she didn’t know until she did know.

She didn't know

 

Pair with this article on Intentional Ignorance from 99U.

Mirrors and Reflections 00: A History Of Other Selves

THE OTHER SELF

Stay positive

from 1111 Comics

The imaginary other is often seen in pop culture as a sign of craziness. But could an imaginary other self be really quite common? What if we include thought patterns such as:

  1. Imagining what you would like to say rather than what you really said
  2. Imagining yourself elsewhere to avoid an unpleasant or non-stimulating situation
  3. Imagining that you are different in the hope that one day you will be different, also known as ‘visualisation technique’ by certain self-help gurus

 

THE MEDIEVAL MIRROR CRAZE

In the twelfth century you’ve got what I call a ‘medieval mirror craze’ where they get obsessed by everything to do with the science and symbolism of mirrors. And this too contributes to a whole range of self-portraits in the twelfth century and afterwards.

– A Cultural History Of The Self-Portrait, Books and Arts Daily podcast, interview with James Hall: The Portrait, a cultural history

Medieval thoughts about mirrors and their danger continued long after the medieval era ended. My paternal grandmother, born in the early 1900s, covered mirrors with tablecloths and towels whenever a lightning storm struck. She  believed lightning reflected in a mirror could kill them all.

These superstitions about mirrors and their magic come in handy for writers of camp mysteries.

ROMANTICISM AND HIDEOUS OTHERS

Romanticism gave us the notion, rampant throughout the nineteenth century and still with us in the twenty-first, of the dual nature of humanity, that in each of us, no matter how well made or socially groomed, a monstrous Other exists. The concept explains the fondness for doubles and self-contained Others in Victorian fiction: The Prince and the Pauper (1882), The Master of Ballantrae, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Significantly, these last two also involve hideous Others, the portrait of Dorian that reveals his corruption and decay while he himself remains beautiful, and the monstrous Mr Hyde, into whom the good doctor turns when he drinks the fateful elixir. What they share with Shelley’s monster is the implication that within each of us, no matter how civilized, lurk elements that we’d really prefer not to acknowledge–the exact opposite of The Hunchback of Notre Dame or “Beauty And The Beast,” where a hideous outer form hides the beauty of the inner person.

How To Read Literature Like A Professor, Thomas C. Foster

Robert Louis Stevenson, in The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886) posed some interesting questions about the ‘divided self’.

THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS

The following are notes from Stuff To Blow Your Mind podcast Episode Through The Looking Glass:

  • In the history of reflections in myth and story we have The Myth of Narcissus — a beautiful boy can’t stop gazing at himself in a mirror. He chooses to die in a pond rather than detach himself from his own image.
  • Mirrors are a distorted reality. They are truth and illusion wound into one. Deep down we know that the image in the mirror is slightly uncanny — it’s us, but back to front.
  • 13 Terrifying Fictional Mirrors (The Lasser glass, the Deiver glass, the fish in the mirror from Jorge Luis Borges’ The Book of Imaginary Beings, Alice’s looking glass, Prison of the Anti-God, the magic mirror from Snow White, The Mirror of Erised from Harry Potter, The Mirrors of Solomon Kane from the pulp tales of Robert E. Howard, the poem Enchanted Mirrors by Clark Ashton Smith, the mirrors of Thoth Amon in Conan the Destroyer, The Alien Reflection from Doctor Who, the mirror from the old Bloody Mary tale, and all the off-shoots, the mirror of Alex Holm from H.P. Lovecraft and Henry S. Whitehead’s 1932 short story ‘The Trap’.
  • Mirrors as we know today came into being in the late middle ages but they weren’t so great at making glass back then. It wasn’t until the Renaissance that modern mirrors really hit the scene. Mirrors were basically for looking at ourselves.
  • Around the 1660s scientists started realising mirrors could be used for telescopes.
  • Mirrors can be used in therapy, too. In phantom limb syndrome and post-stroke paralysis mirrors can be used to help relieve the feeling of phantom limbs and, worse, actual pain. In some treatments, patients move ‘both’ limbs simultaneously and watch themselves in the mirror. This helps with the pain though there aren’t many studies on this. Brains don’t know how to process information when there is a conflict between what it sees and what it feels.
  • You can always tell a two-way mirror by turning the light off. Once the light is off you can see who is on the other side, because two-way mirrors don’t have a coat of paint on the back of them. (Why is this not used more often in TV shows?)

mad men two way mirror

  • People in a room with a mirror are less likely to judge others based on social stereotypes. When people are made to be self-aware they’re more likely to stop and think about what they’re doing.
  • In stories mirrors are often used to show the truth that cannot be seen otherwise.
  • The Venus Effect describes that thing you get on trains where you’re looking into the reflection on the glass and actually you’re looking at someone else, or you realise someone is looking at you. It comes from a famous painting. There are a number of paintings in which the character in the painting is actually looking at the viewer. Norman Rockwell is another one, and he gets it right.
    Venus With A Mirror by Titian

    Venus With A Mirror by Titian

    Norman Rockwell self portrait

  •  In movies The Venus Effect is used a lot, and images often don’t match up with optical reality — to avoid having camera staff etc. in the picture. Yet we hardly ever notice. We don’t have a good grasp on ocular reality and gloss over their uncanny nature.
  • Most people can’t answer correctly the size of someone’s own face in the mirror. We tend to think our face in the mirror is the same size of our faces. Faces in the mirror are always exactly half the size of the real face, because the mirror is exactly halfway between the person and the reflected image.
  • Mirror agnosia is a condition in which patients lose a sense of reflection, usually after a stroke or brain injury. Patients can’t figure out their bodies in time and space. (We need this skill when driving, parking, backing etc.)
  • Other patients have no trouble recognising other people but can’t recognise their own faces in the mirror.
  • Tim’s Vermeer (2013) is a documentary directed by the magician Teller about a painter who could depict such photorealistic paintings before cameras existed. The answer is that he used mirrors.

 

 

 

RELATED

Anamorphic sculptures reveal their secret shapes in the mirror from io9. These sculptures have a creepiness about them which derives, I think, from this fear that what we see in the mirror does not actually reflect reality. To extend the fear, what if nothing is as it seems?

 

Gilgamesh and The Wizard of Oz

The Epic of Gilgamesh

As modern humans we are all familiar with the Quest story. The nature of the quest story is explained succinctly by Michael Foley in his pop-psychology book The Age of Absurdity:

There is a rich and unbroken tradition of quest literature running from The Epic of Gilgamesh in 1000 BCE to The Wizard of Oz in the twentieth century. The scholar of myth, Joseph Campbell, has shown how the quest saga has been important in every period and culture and always has the same basic structure, though local details may vary. Each saga begins with a hero receiving a call to adventure which makes him abandon his familiar, safe environment to venture into the dangerous unknown. There, he undergoes a series of tests and trials, negotiates many difficulties and slays many monsters. As a reward he wins a magical prize — a Golden Fleece, a princess, holy water, a sacred flame or an elixir of eternal life. Finally he brings the prize back from the kingdom of dread to redeem his community.

Likewise, the Quest Story has been very popular in children’s fiction.

Wizard of Oz

This narrative hasn’t always been the dominant one; the Quest Story started with The Epic of Gilgamesh. Before that, stories tended to star female characters, because they were about the birth of the world, and in order for things to come into existence, our ancestors believed that a female being was necessary. If you’ve never read The Epic of Gilgamesh, here’s Foley’s summary:

The hero, Gilgamesh, a Mesopotamian king, becomes disenchanted with his kingdom and life and departs on a quest, which involves dealing with ferocious lions, scorpion men and a beautiful goddess who attempts to detain him with surprisingly modern temptations: ‘Day and night be frolicsome and gay; let thy clothes be handsome, thy head shampooed, thy body bathed.’ Nevertheless, the hero persists in his quest and, diving to the bottom of a deep sea, plucks the plant of immortality. But the ending has a nasty twist that would have to be changed in any movie version: when Gilgamesh lies down to rest a serpent steals the plant, eats it and attains eternal youth. In mythology the snake is always the villain.

mesopotamia map

 

Storytellers such as John Truby argues a case for a departure from these old stories, as have others before him. (See Marjery Hourihan: The Centrality of The Adventure Story) But can we ever really get away from this narrative? Foley says we’re all living the narrative. By ‘abstract seeker’ he’s talking about people who say they ‘want to travel’, but if you were to ask them to where, and for what purpose? they would be hard-pressed to say why — instead, the modern imperative is to be constantly on the move.

Campbell argues that these narratives symbolize an essentially inward journey–the hero breaks free from the conventional thinking of his time, ventures out into the dark of speculative thought, finds the creative power to change himself and wishes to share this with others. The prize won after much uncertainty and danger is knowledge. “The hero is the one who comes to know.” So the narrative has four stages: departure, trial, prize, return; these are the same as the goals of the abstract seeker: detachment, difficulty, understanding, transformation.

The Narrative of the Modern 'Abstract Seeker'

The Narrative of the Modern ‘Abstract Seeker’

 

 

 

Smile, baby! You’re on the cover of a picture book.

[L]ike the smiling image of the girl on the title page of Mr. Rabbit, pictures often imply through signifying gestures that the victims of our gaze are willing victims. We all know that we should “smile for the camera”–show a facial gesture that signifies pleasure to those who will eventually see the picture, and who will view it with a relentless attention that would cause us to stop smiling and feel abused if we experienced it in reality. The covers of many picture books ape such photographs and show their main character in a sort of introductory portrait that implies an acquiescence in the right of viewers to observe and to enjoy what they see. There are also, of course, many picture books whose covers show their protagonists simply getting on with the business at hand, whatever that business may be. But interestingly, those who smile and invite the gaze of viewers are most often female, the others usually male.

– Perry Nodelman, Words About Pictures

Smiling Girls

As Nodelman points out, it’s easy to find illustrations of smiling girls in passive, portrait position. When both a boy and girl are depicted, it’s the girl who is more likely to be aware of the imaginary camera. Note that even The Little Match Girl smiles. Anyone who has read that story knows that the reader should perhaps be forewarned; this story is no smiling matter!

CinderellaThe Up And Down BookBaby's ChristmasWildLittle LuluGood Bye TonsilsThe Little Match GirlRed Riding Hood LadybirdLittle Red Riding HoodAlice In WonderlandThe Christmas ABCFun To Cook BookPepper Plays NurseLucy and Tom's ChristmasPhoebe and the Hot Water Bottles

Some Smiling Boys

The boy on the swing is aware of the camera but he is at least doing something (showing off). The boy in front of Baby’s House is proud and prancing about. The red-haired boy looking coyly at the camera is in more typically feminine pose. It’s no accident that he is doing something more typically feminine.

The Up And Down BookBaby's HouseThe New Baby

Smiling Group Portraits

It’s hard to get everyone in a group smiling at the same time, especially when doing something else at the same time, but not if that portrait happens to be an illustration:

The JetsonsLittle VersesHansel and Gretel

 

Smiling Creatures from Dr Seuss

Dr Seuss was a fan of the portrait-style smile on a front cover. This makes sense, because the inner stories were presented much like a pantomime, with ridiculous goings-on which seem designed to delight a young audience.

If I Ran The ZooGreen Eggs And HamCat In The HatFox In Socks

 

Other Smiling Creatures

If you’re hunting for smiling-at-the-camera male characters gracing the fronts of picture books, it’s a bit easier to find males smiling who are not human.

Frosty The SnowmanThe Monster At The End Of This BookPuss In BootsSomething ElseWordsChatterly Squirrel

Hell, I’m Not Smiling

Though these are obviously posed, portrait-type illustrations, in which the painted child is in front of an imaginary camera, these children are not actually smiling. Indeed, the twins look exceptionally creepy to a modern audience, though it wasn’t so long ago that nobody smiled for cameras; portrait-sitting was a solemn and expensive event.

My KittenMy PuppyMy Teddy BearThe TwinsWe Like Kindergarten

smile

The Absence Of Smiling On The Cover Of Russian Picture books

Here’s something that has always puzzled me, growing up in the US as a child of Russian parents. Whenever I or my friends were having our photos taken, we were told to say “cheese” and smile. But if my parents also happened to be in the photo, they were stone-faced. So were my Russian relatives, in their vacation photos. My parents’ high-school graduation pictures show them frolicking about in bellbottoms with their young classmates, looking absolutely crestfallen.

So writes Olga Khazan at The Atlantic, in response to a new paper on intercultural smiling, further explaining that:

Russians’ fondness for the gentle scowl seems even more unusual to expats than its actual, climatic cold. And the cultural difference cuts both ways: Newcomers to America often remark on the novelty of being smiled at by strangers.

In Russian cultures, smiling is not a sign of friendliness; it is a sign of a ‘tricky fool’.

I can see a feminist benefit to that — according to Khazan, at least women in Russian cultures aren’t instructed to smile by random men on the street! American women, on the other hand, were required to look calm and reassuring even in time of war.

Russian propaganda poster

Russian propaganda poster

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