Thursday, January 19, 2017


Irony can mean many things. The irony I mean here is a way of living a role without fully investing in it. "I'll be an X but do so with an ironic reserve so that some of the virtue associated with this role will rub off on me but keep enough distance so that others can't hold me accountable."

Here's an example of what I mean. I received a lovely gift this Christmas, beard oil and beard conditioner. Both are products of Sussex Beard Oil Merchants. In theory beard oil does stuff for your beard and the skin underneath it. I've never noticed any difference myself. Beard maintenance for me means shampooing it daily and getting it trimmed once a month.

The primary benefit of the stuff for me is the smell. It puts good, manly smells in your beard and your beard is right under your nose. Good smells are good. That's all the justification you need. No one apologizes for eating food that tastes good or looking at women who who look good.

It's also a manly smell and that is hard to come by. Most male after shave and colognes smell decidedly girly. They're also way to strong. A good after shave should go on relatively strong and fade quickly to leave a faint smell that a woman should not be able to smell until after she's started kissing you. A good beard oil should do the same.

On that count, Sussex Beard oil delivers. I like the product and have nothing but good to say about it. Except the label. I'm going to complain about the label. On the side of the bottle, it tells you how to apply the stuff. There are five steps, four of which are sincere and one of which is ironic. This is the ironic step:
Step 3: Stop, close your eyes, breathe in deep and picture yourself running through the forrest knocking down trees or catching fish with your bare hands from a stream.
Sussex Beard Oil Merchants are called that because they are located in Sussex, New Brunswick, a province whose early economy was built on the lumber trade. A lumberjack is a good manly role model. Why the irony? There are two possibilities and I suspect both are at work here. The first is a desire to maintain a distance on traditional manly role models as if testosterone was a kind of moral poison. The second is a feeling of inadequacy—most of the men who buy these products have never cut down so much as a Christmas tree and fear they couldn't if called upon. At the same time, however, manliness is a desirable and admirable that they want to be associated with it without being held accountable to any standards associated with it.

Why not just be men? Actually work with wood and maybe even figure out how to catch fish. You can catch brook trout with your bare hands by the way. It's more fun with a fly rod.

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