The Truth about Smiling
September 23, 2018
Western history, including New Zealand, can be divided up between Pre-Smile and Post-Smile eras. Even though portraiture far pre-dates photography, our posing ancestors elected not to smile then either. So why the change around 1870?
Usually it’s explained by photographic technology changing, just as Nelson Provincial Museum wrote here…
“…people had to stay very still so their faces wouldn’t be blurry. That’s why most Victorians look so stony-faced..”
My explanation is more powerful. As we know, the earlier mainstream citizen was a puritanical Christian. He was anguished, dour, and self-flagellating. I mean that literally- priests deliberately wore hair shirts to itch and aggravate them and others swung a whip over their backs to lash themselves painfully. These sorts of sadomasochistic messianic acts were conspicuously practised to signal piety. Ever notice how miserable Scottish historian Neil Oliver looks all the time? This culture once was mainstream (eg Cromwell’s Protectorate, Victorians,..) but lives on today as one of our sub-cultures.
Unhappiness was the sign of piousness well into New Zealand’s colonial history until one day we reached a tipping point.
Unhappiness was the sign of piousness well into New Zealand’s colonial history until one day we reached a tipping point. Slowly at first, yet increasingly and predominantly, outward success, hard work, and happiness became the signs that a person was good and Godly. The Book of Job was re-evaluated. Americans started exuding absolute cheerfulness at all times as proof to their neighbours that they were good Christians. Ned Flanders! “Star Spangled Eyes” and a high premium on perfect teeth to broadcast it with to watching photographers. They’re still doing it. Other Protestants, like Germans and Scots, very much dragged their heels, and still do, but New Zealand has emerged as something in-between.
So, according to me, when you see smiling or its absence in old photographs you’re not witnessing technological restrictions. You are witnessing a tribal flag.
Smiling is a gang sign.
The long-exposure pictures are the ones used as an explanation/excuse for sour faces. This is to obscure human cultural reasons!
Image ref. Mrs McLean and baby. Circa 1870s. Nelson Provincial Museum, Isaacs & Clark Collection: 7465