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Too much power makes a person powerless. That is something I absorbed from "The Mirror and the Palette" by Jennifer Higgie.
Once again, “The Mirror and the Palette” is a book about female self-portraiture. And I thought about the grotesque irony of power when I read this part:
“In seventeenth-century Holland, a love of both morality tales and jokes resulted in a robust trade in paintings of people drinking and laughing, but in France, smiling – and in particular a smile that revealed the teeth – was sternly frowned upon. Of course, this might have had something to do with the fact that King Louis XIV had no teeth left by the time he was forty and it wasn’t done to gloat.”
I have heard before that in some cultures, people think it’s improper to show their teeth. So that wasn’t the part that felt so grotesque to me. The grotesque part was that the reason it was recommended that people don’t show their teeth might have been because of Louis XIV.
It seems that it’s not for certain whether Louis XIV demanded that people stop showing their gorgeous healthy teeth, or if he implied that he was too sad from seeing people smile openly, or if he did nothing of the sort, but people just assumed.
Whatever the actual situation might have been, the possibility is there, isn’t it? The possibility of a king compelling people to stop smiling while showing their teeth. I mean, a king! No teeth! So everyone around him might have just stopped showing their teeth while smiling. And that, somehow, could have turned into some kind of a… fashion statement? Or some kind of… a way to show how high-class you were?
As in, Hey, if you hang out with Louis, it becomes so normal for you to hide your teeth while you laugh or smile, so anybody who shows their teeth must be total peasants.
It is so bizarre, but you know what? I don’t have that difficult a time believing that something like this could happen. And that is so grotesque, for a king to just… let this happen.
If I had been a king who needed to show who was boss, as soon as I noticed that people weren’t laughing around me with an open mouth anymore, I would have either explicitly ordered them to resume smiling normally, or, alternatively, I might have actually explicitly illegalized laughing while showing your teeth. Basically, anything but the passive-agressive way.
And this wasn’t a timeplace where kings and royals in general were in any shape or form equal to other people, so I’m excluding that equality strategy from this discussion. Like, if I were Louis the Sun King, I wasn’t gonna suddenly advocate democracy because of my toothlessness.
So I might have yelled at the court to stop with the foolishness. In fact, since I am the king, I might have ordered them to laugh. Immediately!