Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Rictus Redux

For reasons I won't go into--wait! yes I will!--I was meditating last month on the mouth as the window of the soul.

It all centered around the unlovely but often apt word "rictus." (Long story short: If you describe someone's smile with the R-word, they probably won't be invited around for Sunday dinner with the parson.)

Some classic examples: The snarl of Karloff's Frankenstein monster, the gaping mouth of a great white shark, the lipless and double-rowed teeth of a Ridley Scott alien, the rimless sucker-face of the radioactive fluke man from "The X-Files"--and, of course, Rudy Giuliani's smile.

I had planned to add the yellow-toothed, toothpick-chewing puss of Chuck Jones's Grinch, but could never find a still that showed his teeth, although this gives the general idea.

I also noticed that, where you find a rictus, you also tend to find words--often but not always negatively loaded ones--beginning with the soft-G sound. Words like Grinch, as a matter of fact. In fact, listen to Karloff's narration in the TV version: when he does the Grinch's gravelly voice, you can hear the gruesome, lipless, long-toothed grimace, in much the way that customer service trainers insist that callers can hear you smile over the phone.

And, as long as I'm on a roll, Andy Serkis' Smeagol/Gollum (a soft-G twofer!) has a set of chops that just beg to tear into the side of a live trout, don't they? But I digress.

The context for this discussion was Lance Mannion's prediction that Rudy Giulani, if he made it through the GOP primaries and won the nomination, has a kisser that would scare the crap out of a big segment of a TV audience not used to seeing it on their 28" diagonals.

He may look fine to Republican audiences watching their guys debate, but love is blind. Maybe Dennis Kucinich looks like Cary Grant to his supporters.

Come the general election though, when Rudy starts appearing on TV screens all across America, when he stands on the stage at the debates next to Hillary Clinton---note to Progressives. It's going to be Hillary, folks. I'm sorry. That's the way it's going. Start getting your heads around it.---people are going to look at his long, narrow head, that high bony bald dome, the sunken eyes, the livid skin, and that toothy rictus of a grin and they're going to say, "Whoa! Who let Death in the room?"

(Note, by the way, that LM doesn't just call it a "toothy rictus"--it's a "toothy rictus of a grin." The soft-G sound again. They go together like a wink and a smile.)

Which brings me to William Kristol, currently out there somewhere celebrating his manifestly unearned elevation to the editorial page of the New York Times.

Here's where it gets interesting. In fact, you're probably way ahead of me.

I've remarked on Kristol's aspect before, once even comparing his look to that of an iguana. Unwittingly, in that latter case--way back in early 2006--I was way ahead on the Rictus Curve, noting the resemblance between Kristol's wide, lipless smile (if you want to call it that) and the business end of members of the family Iguanidae. (And what's that first consonant sound in the word "iguana?" Why, it's . . . it's . . . ! Okay, that one's just a coincidence.)

In fact, a preliminary p3 Rictus Analysis of this remarkable post by TBogg, including quoted materials and subsequent comments, identified the following astonishing list of Key Rictus Markers:

  • "Regarding the thin-lipped, smug, waddling idiot child of Irving and Gertrude who inexplicably landed a gig at Time […]"

  • "Every time he appears on television, the appropriate response is to punch him in the face."

  • "Bears the burlesque Cheshire grin of a sophist born with a large silver spoon jammed sideways in his mouth."

  • "Sentence: Corners of mouth torn apart by metal hook towing mules and face stomped by high-heeled elephants."

  • "I heard him say, with that slit-mouth gruesome, spoiled-baby smile, that some American casualties might be a good thing so that the American people could get over the aversion to sacrificing their children they developed in Vietnam."

  • "His hollow laugh and shit-eating grin have long served to distract viewers from the copious amounts of blood dripping from his hands and seeping from his very pores."

Wow. Obviously a lot of rage there, and yet look where the imagery keeps returning. Not just violent images, although they're surely that, but images that always involve the Kristol Oral Aperture.

(By the way, where I grew up, "shit-eating grin"--soft-G!--was shorthand for the more formally complete "grin like a possum eating shit." If you've never looked at a possum up close, now there's a rictus. Forget about the beloved Pogo; the average possum is a ghastly piece of work, although in fairness that's the same "grin" it would have if it were eating chocolate truffles. Perhaps there's a place for it in Republican politics.)

(Image via Huffington Post.)

1 comment:

Jack Stub said...

I just found this and love it. Hilarious. Rictus! My new favorite word (and I'm a writer so I'm going to throw it in everywhere).