Andrew Marr bans dodgy facial hair

Andrew Marr seems so obviously nice and clever that it seems odd to find some of what he says very irritating. Last Sunday, for instance, he announced on his BBC1 Sunday show that he thought that there ought to be a crackdown on dodgy facial hair…. Where would would this end?

Andrew Marr decided that Terry Jones, the Florida pastor with a grievance against the Koran, and his opponents (presumably Muslims) had an equal problem with dodgy facial hair. We then cut to AM’s next guest, an unfunny America writer and comic called Harry Shearer who sported (like Marr’s boss, the BBC’s DG, Mark Thompson) fashionably dodgy stubble. I don’t know why people think stubble is sexy or becoming, though I do see that the Jewish practice of being stubbly during mourning makes a sort of sense. (I presume it betokens that grief makes one inattentive to one’s own wants and needs.) And of course, many of the stubblers also go on for slap-head shaves, which are peculiarly unattractive (and somehow disrespectful for those poor denizens of the Nazi concentration camps and the Soviet Gulags who had no choice but to feature their crania). 

I do indeed see that the absurdly liberal and greenish Archbishop of Canterbury would be more impressive if he got a grip on his follicles. I don’t get why Dick Strawbridge goes on with his vast walrusy thing, unless (like the victims of Comb-over Syndrome) he resists having to admit how silly he has looked all these years. 

For myself I can say that I spent my boyhood fighting the demands of school for short hair. I have never been beardy enough to be much tempted to grow a beard. I am curiously caught out by the hairiness which the British Army now accepts in its combat soldiers. A bit of me likes the old discipline (Lord know why, since I would be useless at it) whilst another likes the characterful hippiness of the look. I also appreciate that beardy soldiers impress beardy Afghans as being more male and commanding than the weird basin-shaves the US forces prefer (a thing I learn from Doug Beattie’s wonderful memoirs).

In my less PC moments, I can remind myself that some religious hair-growing has been to do with distinguishing the men from the boys. On Mount Athos I was told that only bearded men were tolerated on the grounds that unbearded persons might be boys or women brought to the place for sexual shenanigans. 

Oddly, what really appalled me about AM’s remark was is its extraordinary illiberalism. Blimey, it offended even my rather specific liberalism. Huge numbers of men all over the world grow blameless beards. Beardedness signifies very little.

Oh, and just in the margins, it’s worthing noting that there is merit in AM’s assumption in the same little intro that all book-burning is bad (though I would cheerfully burn mine if, as in the case of Chris MaCandless in his school bus in Alaska, it was that or freeze). But isn’t the point about burning copies of the Koran that it is sacred to Muslims as an object, not merely as a text? Or is this a canard? If the Koran is a sacred object then it is importantly lifted above the vaguely liberal requirement that one think twice before burning texts.

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Publication date

14 September 2010