Is It Really That Bad?
I’ll begin this post with a disclaimer. If you are under the age of thirty, it is quite likely that I’ll come across as an out-of-touch old man. If you are approaching, at or beyond middle-age; you can probably relate with what I’m about to say.
There is a phenomenon that transcends all sports and has slithered its way into our everyday society. It is curious, at best; but at times I find it almost disturbing. Unfortunately, the IZOD IndyCar Series is not immune to this virus that has infected our culture. In fact, it seems to be celebrated and encouraged within the series. So what is this that threatens our way of life? The scowl.
Have you noticed how menacing all of the IZOD IndyCar Series drivers look in their official photos and video shoots? If you stay up to watch the race at Motegi next Saturday night, notice the short five to ten second videos of whatever driver they are talking about. Obviously, some alleged creative person told them that whatever they do – don’t smile. Some of them look downright sinister. Dario Franchitti normally has a very pleasant and engaging smile, yet for any official photo – he looks like someone you wouldn’t want to share a commercial plane ride with.
From Tony Kanaan to the usually contagious smile of Helio Castroneves, they have captured everyone with some brooding scowl on their face. They’ve even managed to erase the genuinely warm smile from Sarah Fisher. They have somehow transformed her from the girl next door to some angry-looking woman you wouldn’t want to encounter in the workplace. The only driver that looks natural in these photo shoots is Danica Patrick, because she always seems to be pouting about something.
When did this become the way to sell and promote your drivers? Even the normally affable Justin Wilson looks a little bit like Lucifer, when he strikes the promotional pose.
When did smiling go out of style? For centuries, songs and poems were written about how disarming a person’s smile can be. Corny sayings have evolved over time, telling us how an infectious smile can do anything from brightening someone else’s day to keeping your own stress levels at bay; thereby staving off heart attacks, strokes and cancer. But somewhere over the last few years, it became fashionable to ditch the smile in order to see how mean and unhappy you can look.
The IZOD IndyCar Series is only the latest in our modern culture to adopt the fashionable scowl. Watch any NFL game. Every time they show the video head shot of a player, he is inexplicably looking down at his feet. Then he raises his head and assumes a frightening look as if he was just awakened during a burglary. Not only is it scary looking, it’s stupid looking.
When the Miami Dolphins running backs were introduced for Super Bowl VII, Larry Csonka was the only one that had his helmet off as he was smiling and posing for the cameras. When he was later asked why he had his helmet off for player introductions, he said it was the only time people could see him smile. My, how times have changed.
Pick up a high school annual from today and scan the individual photos. Everyone looks like they just attended their own funeral. It looks like a collection of FBI mug shots. Here I go sounding old, but it used to be that this was your chance to put on your best face – and smile. Scanning my old high school annuals – everyone was smiling. Were we just too stupid to know any better?
Somewhere along the way, our society got the idea that if someone carried a frustrated look on their face – it meant that they were a dark and mysterious deep-thinker. In the late eighties and early nineties, Tom Cruise made millions playing an angry young man. I just never knew why he was so miserable. Somehow, we have bought into the notion that if you are upbeat and positive – you obviously don’t get it and you are clueless. Nowadays, it’s as if no one will be able to connect with anyone who is actually happy. Maybe everyone is following the example of George Costanza from Seinfeld. He figured as long as he looked frustrated at work, people would think he was taking his job seriously and would leave him alone.
Commercials have helped propagate this way of thinking. Unless it’s a funny beer ad, most products today are hawked by angry young men and way too serious young women. You get the sense from today’s generation that smiling is a form of weakness.
Am I so out of touch today, that I am the only one that is turned off by brooding scowls? My way of thinking is, why would I want to use a product or follow a sport that might put a look on my face like I’m about to go see a proctologist? There is enough strife in the world, as well as our small world of IndyCar racing that make me want to avoid people that don’t smile. If I’m a casual fan checking out an IndyCar race, seeing a bunch of mad and unhappy drivers is not going to draw me in. Life is too short to spend your recreational hours following drivers that appear to be filled with negativity.
Yes, I am old-fashioned – and I admit it proudly. I was taught the value and power of a smile. There’s the old saying that you catch flies with honey, not vinegar (although I never knew why you would want to catch flies in the first place). I don’t buy into this new fad of the trendy frown. I’ve learned how people respond to smiles and how they don’t respond to frowns. I’m hoping that as IZOD and Randy Bernard reshape the image of the IZOD IndyCar Series, they’ll reverse the trend of the snarling photo shoot.