Elad Ben Elul

Anthropology, Digital Life & Food

Movember and other thoughts about moustaches

Seems like the Movember campaign is gaining great viral recognition this year with memes, discussions and merchandise all over the world wide web. The idea is simple: people grow a moustache throughout November to raise awareness about men’s health and particularly prostate cancer. As written on their website:

Mo Bros effectively become walking, talking billboards for the 30 days of November and through their actions and words raise awareness by prompting private and public conversation around the often ignored issue of men’s health.

I also decided to grow a moustache this November but for me it is not the first time and the reasons go beyond the noble ones behind this great campaign. In recent years, hipster culture brought moustaches (alongside rough neighbourhoods and cheap alcohol) to the front line of coolness and fashion. Being a 50s and 60s DJ in Tel-Aviv and London, the alternative/vintage moustache suited my gigs perfectly. And so, whilst staying in the “cool” areas, the retro facial hair went down very well, but when going home or encountering a wider crowd things were different.

“You look like Saddam Hussein!”, “You like like Borat”, “Shave it off- your so much prettier without it” – seemed like outside the “trendy” bubble, the moustache is strongly associated with primitive, low-class, un-clean and even dangerous spheres (perhaps the exact reason why hipsters love it so much). In its Israeli context, the moustache has a direct link to Arab and Mizrahi culture as well. It is not unlikely that the reason I was stopped twice in the airport or strongly prompted to shave by family members was the association with Arabness, hence with the enemy.

Looking through old photos of my family, from when they just immigrated from Morocco and before the Zionist ideology and political climate made them feel ashamed of their food, fashion, music and language, I see moustaches as a vital signifier of identity and culture. Some say it was introduced by British and French military generals in colonial North Africa and others that it was always part of Muslim-Jewish culture but either way it was essential that any Arab film star, musician, singer or politician will have one. My moustache then is a tribute to my family at a time when dual identities seemed to work a bit more harmoniously together.

Moroccan-Jewish in the 1950s. My Great Uncle is on the left.

Finally, Moustaches were worn by some of my greatest heroes- the Austrian writer, Stephan Zweig, the royal historian of OZ- or writer of The Wizard of OZ, Frank Baum, the hilarious trash film-maker John Waters and of course the amazing (yet slightly anti Semitic) Walt Disney.  (of course on the other hand there’s always Hitler but that’s another topic). Either way, whether its originally a Freudian complex of hiding parts of your face, or just another hipster trick where the old and the poor becomes “in”, a moustache is not a functional or useful feature but clearly a decorative statement that has its benefits but also its price. As harmless as it might seem, the moustache reflected political issues as well as the construction of “taste” and “fashion” as something that not everyone can afford taking a part of.

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3 comments on “Movember and other thoughts about moustaches

  1. Joe Brown
    November 14, 2012

    Thank you for your post, Elad. Love the way such history of Moroccan Jews, and more widely mizrachi Jews, can be told by such a minor item like a moustache. For me, that is the essence of the “tip of the iceberg”. And have u watched the family guy episode where Peter decides to grow a moustache?

    • eladu86
      November 14, 2012

      Glad you like it 🙂 yes I have but I should watch it again this month…

  2. thealbumpeople
    December 5, 2012

    Reblogged this on .

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