Sunday, August 29, 2010

'Germany does not stand alone in organizing for good looks'

I'm not entirely sure exactly what sparked this item from the editorial page of The Times in 1929, but it seems likely to have been a move by Berlin doctors to offer cosmetic surgery to disfigured people; somehow (at least in the mind of The Times's editorial writer) this was generalised into an 'anti-ugliness league' and provided inspiration for the following (paragraph breaks have been added):

An Anti-Ugliness League

There is plenty to be said for the newest movement in Germany. To form a League to raise the standard of human looks is but to apply to a very important field that principle of cooperation which has worked so well elsewhere. Nothing will strike posterity as more absurd than the way movement after movement is started in England to preserve or beautify buildings or places that are only seen at rare intervals, while nothing whatever is done to improve the faces which everybody sits opposite in tramcars and omnibuses or passes in procession in the street.

For town dwellers the face of England is a human face endlessly repeated, and we shall do well to watch the new League in Germany and to regard with eager expectancy each slight improvement it brings about in the national face and figure over there. It is an old and deep-rooted belief that ugliness and sin go hand in hand, and that the beautiful face goes with the beautiful nature. Remembering this, we may find the motive power behind the new League in Germany in a recent announcement by the Berlin police of their next step in the war against crime.

Hitherto they have broadcast finger prints, but that is boring work and the patterns on fingers rarely give much aesthetic satisfaction. They seldom suggest a new and successful wallpaper and the fun of tracing their unique differences soon palls. So the Berlin police are going to broadcast faces, and they have a double inducement to raise the standard of the German face. If a nation can be produced whose most hardened criminals are good to look at, the policeman who spends his days scrutinizing countenances, broadcasting them and measuring them, will live his life amid beautiful surroundings, which is well known to be worth a large salary in itself. A more beautiful nation will enjoy a cheaper police force.

What is more, it will need fewer policemen, for it is the teaching of psychology, which the Germans at any rate are not likely to disobey, that the way to gain a good character is to behave cold-bloodedly as if you had it. Men of noble mien, such as the League will aim at producing, will find their lower natures overcome by their fine faces and will cease first to do wrong and then to wish to do it.

Germany does not stand alone in organizing for good looks, for there has been talk in Italy of providing free plastic surgery at the state’s expense for those who think that alterations would improve their prospects in business or marriage. Nothing has yet been said about how many signature of neighbours, hotel proprietors and the like, will be needed to bring about compulsory alterations in the interests of the locality where an ugly person resides, but the highly controversial question will soon arise who is fix the norm of beauty and lay down the German, or Italian, or English face.

Aesthetics generally lead to blows from lack of fixed standards, and the best solution will probably be a strict adherence to the standards of antiquity. The arms of the Venus de Milo are still being fished for in the Aegean, and if they are found it will be a great help. The future in this, as in other matters, must be built upon the past, and it will only be by starting with the ship-launching features of Helen of Troy as the type that we shall learn to build the two-thousand-ship face of the future.

The Times, Saturday, 6 April 1929, p. 11

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