Storyline: The Ugly Reader
The Ugly Reader: Introduction
(Part 1 of 10.)
This is an idea that has been brewing in our culture for some time, and now the job has fallen to me to cast a bright, harsh light on it for the first time. Many in America are chroniclers of beauty. At any moment, in any place, you have, at the merest hint of curiosity, troves of information about beauty, none of which is relevant to your life. I will be the chronicler of ugly, the noble trait which all know.
Now is the time for the great ugly consciousness. I submit to you that the United States of America, known for its obsession with beauty, is actually obsessed with ugly. In typical American confusion of purpose, this has been twisted around to fear. I submit that Americans do not want to be beautiful, they want to avoid being ugly. However, this is a bad idea.
I can no longer stand by and watch America go down the beautiful toilet. This is my document to history on the importance of ugly. You may laugh now, but ugly always wins in the end.
“The Ugly Reader” is not the name of this article. It is the name of you, its reader.
The Ugly Reader: Ugly Makes the Grade
(Part 2 of 10.)
As I stand around New York City, watching passersby, I am struck by an absolute truth: in this, the city of the beautiful, the city of the thin and black-clothed, the city that manufactures image and image-correcting products for the world, people are very, very ugly. Some of the ugliest people I’ve known are the people who work in what is euphemistically called “the beauty industry.”
These are the people who tirelessly work for the suppression of ugly in our daily lives. They are ugly people, and they treat people in an ugly way. If you watch healthy thirty-year-old women going to fifty-thousand-dollar jobs in the beauty industry, you will notice that, whether or not they have beautiful faces and bodies, they are all wearing the same traditionally ugly clothes. Further, in the case of those who do not have beautiful faces, they are wearing makeup that attempts to simulate this.
In New York, makeup is de rigeur, and the darker and more severe, the better. This may work well on pretty girls, but ugly girls playing at pretty are committing a grave error. Thus, our first exercise:
The Ugly Reader: The Ugly Continuum
(Part 3 of 10.)
If you have something that is on balance ugly but has some aspect which is non-ugly, what is the result? Conventional wisdom says that the non-ugly aspect acts as a mitigating factor against the ugliness of the whole. Thus, ugly girls have “pretty eyes” and “pretty hair.” If they are rich and ugly, they have pretty plastic surgery.
An entire subculture of non-ugly obsessiveness comes about in shocking statements such as that of the pimp who believes, “There is no such thing as an ugly white woman.” Her definite whiteness trumps her possible ugliness. Or, there are those men who, lacking the ability to attract what they deem to be wholly desirable women, cut their losses by pursuing what I term “ugly girls with big tits.” In this scenario, the focus on the specific fetish acts as proof of the woman’s worth as a non-ugly person.
In fact, it is the opinion of this chronicler that there can be no mitigating factors when it comes to ugliness, the most human of attributes. Any attempt to subtract from ugly can only result in a cruel joke at the expense of the ugly party. In this way, the hugely obese are advised not to wear garish colors. The frighteningly stupid are advised not to talk to anyone. So why put red paint on those sickly thin lips of yours? Ugly is not something you can run from. However, if you embrace it, it will work for you. Furthermore, it is an affront to decency that ugly people who masquerade as beautiful are afforded privileges not available to those who are not any uglier, but simply admit it.
The Ugly Reader: Ugly Identity
(Part 4 of 10.)
Ugly is not something to be ashamed of: ugly is a common ground. There are many so-called positive thinkers who would tell you that all people, without exception, are beautiful in their own way. Nothing could be further from the truth. All human beings are ugly, and their ugliness is legion.
Once upon a time, we amusingly referred to men who found themselves in exclusively male environs, such as prison, as “situationally” homosexual, as opposed to “actually” homosexual. In this way, I believe that humans are “situationally” kind and loving, but not “actually.” If you are kind to someone, it is because they have cancer, or because they are your parents, or because you think they’re really terrific, or some other specific and all-too-rational reason. You are not kind to all comers, due to any innate kindness in your personality. Most people you treat like dirt. This is because you are an ugly person.
If you look around, you will see that beauty has not served us well so far. Beauty puts up monuments, but ugly wears away, if not their presence, then their significance. Beauty establishes charitable funds, and ugly spends all the donations on administrative costs. We focus on beauty, and ugly pulls the rug out from under us.
Ugly is not heartless, however; it merely will not tolerate our hubris. Ugly has often saved us when it counts; for beauty, whether it be in the form of Helen of Troy or a hope for a different future, starts wars, but only the ugliness that subsequently is revealed can scare us into stopping them. Ugly does this for us, despite our copious lack of patience or compassion for it. Imagine what ugly could do if it was ugly we doted on! What if ugly was the favored child? We would have far more favored children.
The Ugly Reader: The Ugly Muse
(Part 5 of 10.)
I am not alone in appreciating ugly. The art world, always at the vanguard, has paid this subject more and more attention over the last decades. Art gets uglier and uglier all the time. For many people today, art may be the only way to experience ugliness in a pure form.
Popular culture achieves only “insincere” ugliness by creating, for example, singers who cannot express human emotion with their voices, comedies that fail to provide a semblance of funny commentary, and leading men and women who are repulsive and insufferable.
The failing of popular culture is that it does all these things, which are noble in my descriptions, sheerly by accident. It creates all this ugliness in the pursuit of beauty, and bills all this ugliness as beauty. You can see, then, why we are, as a culture, confused about the nature and role of the ugly.
That’s why recent art, with its pure and loving pursuit of the ugly, has been so important. Artists, sensitive to the increasing prevalence of ugly in our society, have captured it as many ways as there are media. A famous play, insightfully titled “Art” for easy identification, is about several ugly men treating each other in the most ugly manner possible. Recently, in the City of New York, a museum full of fabulously ugly artworks was chastised by the mayor, an ugly little man, for being too ugly. He hurled many ugly words at this museum for being a patron of the ugly, and many ugly words were then used in the press to take this ugly man to task for his ugly attitude. Politics and art, of course, are merely the pawns. The winner, regardless? Ugly. When there is a conflict, ugly is always the winner.
Why, then, do we shy from ugly? Ugly is, in all its brazen flamboyance, still rather shy itself. While being unequivocally itself, ugly does not always tip its hand. Perhaps ugly “doesn’t want to get ugly.” To which I say, ugly can only get uglier, so it is best to start now.
The Ugly Reader: Is Ugly Something I Can Do?
(Part 6 of 10.)
Ugly is always within your grasp. Such is not necessarily the case with non-ugly. While I know some beautiful people and some ugly people, the ugly people are not beautiful; however, the beautiful people are also very ugly.
To return for a moment to another side of the “beauty industry,” there are many people whose occupation is to use photography to make ugly people seem beautiful. This may happen on an international scope, such as on the covers of magazines, or in a more democratic manner, as in wedding photos. What is the attraction of the ubiquitous celebrity tabloids? The dirty pleasure of observing the work of people with cameras who do not know, or care, how to make ugly people seem beautiful; of the resulting ugly photos of people well known for their beauty and little else.
Why are models paid so much? For their silence. They are not to admit that they were born ugly and remain so. Swarms of professionals must arm them daily against ugliness, for they would be powerless if left to their own resources. Ugly is a fact of life. Beauty is suddenly being riveted by the menu when your prospective employer asks if there is anything to know about your police record.
I have had a rare opportunity to pursue a more subversive career in photography: making beautiful women look ugly. Perhaps the best part is how much easier this is than the normal way. Since no model is truly beautiful, but all people are truly ugly, then not only is any model right for my work, but any person can be that model. However, I do not want to shoot ugly in a barrel. I do not take just any ugly person and reveal them to be ugly. Striving for greater challenges, I seek out those who are universally acknowledged as beautiful, and slowly and deliberately make them ugly. I cannot take the credit, however. I only show what is already there.
(When ugly finally takes its place at the apex of achievement, I will be a famous fashion photographer, and all the other fashion photographers will be out of work forever. In the name of full disclosure, then, I admit I have some interest in the acceptance and exaltation of ugly.)
So you see that ugly is very easy to achieve. It has been conveniently designed so that only very specific things are not ugly. If you are fat, you’re ugly — but also if you’re too skinny. Thus, there is a wide swath of ugly which most people can, with little effort, fit into comfortably. Here in America, where most people are fat — and the only people who are not fat are those who are always saying that they are, which makes them ugly to be with — ugly is almost a birthright. In fact, fat is the trump card of ugly, because you can be ugly in many ways, but if none of them are working out, you can always just get really fat, and ugly will be yours despite it all.
The Ugly Reader: An Ugly Movement?
(Part 7 of 10.)
You may wonder what you can do to start an ugly revolutionary cell. The fact is, you probably already have.
Your friends, coworkers, and relations are all ugly, as indeed are you yourself. It is only a question of being in touch with this ugliness. But even if overt consciousness has not yet occurred, every time that you meet a friend, confer with a colleague, or go home for the holidays, the undercurrent of your interaction is: “We are alike. We are ugly. Let us stick together despite our worthlessness. Who else will have us?”
This sense of self-worthlessness, which results in a desperate clinging to the companionship of even the most vile and debased people, is what keeps us together. If we thought we could do better, relationships would crumble. Liz Taylor; case closed.
The Ugly Reader: Is Ugly Culturally-Specific?
(Part 8 of 10.)
I don’t know, probably. In some Asian countries, where politeness and decorum come naturally to members of society, belching and slurping soup, which also come naturally, are considered part of politeness and decorum.
In some Western countries, where neither politeness nor decorum is a natural part of society, belching and slurping soup, which are natural, are considered the opposite of polite behavior. This is clearly a choice. In the East, this facet of ugly has been embraced and is now an expected tool in a civilized person’s repertoire.
The ancient Romans, whose civilization lasted a long time, held contests in which the gladiator who treated the other gladiators in the most ugly way, usually involving murder, would win general acclaim. The man in the realm with the most ugly convictions would become Caesar, a position from which his every ugly desire could be made real. They were also constantly throwing up on things and tossing bones over their shoulders.
We would today consider these acts unseemly, even though all the beautiful people are sticking their fingers down their throats in the bathroom at Spago. However, ugly is always a secret in America, be it well-concealed or well-known.
The Ugly Reader: Those Who Ugly Can Take the Train
(Part 9 of 10.)
I’ve been using New York, perhaps the most deeply conflicted city in the country and perhaps the world, as a microcosm for ugly. The so-called beautiful people are a very real force here. You will see them going to the same places you’re innocently going to. It is fascinating to see the beautiful people bumping into things in shops and cafés, because, as in the rest of the world, you also see them, or their equivalents, all over the news.
Thus, the normal reverence for these people which is made possible by a proper distance and mystery does not really set in. It is one thing to admire a celebrity when she uses sense to stay clear of trouble, another when she ties up traffic on your way home and takes your favorite table at Elaine’s. You will then hate her. Hate is an ugly feeling. You and the object of your hatred both become uglier because of it. It is powerful, and instant. Yet, the beautiful people remain, taunting halfheartedly from all sides, on television, in print, and on the sidewalk.
And every evening, in every bar, there is an ugly contest, and the goal for many millions is to lose it. Who will be the last one picked for the ugly team? “I hope it is me!”
The Ugly Reader: Ugly Takes a Stand
(Part 10 of 10. Thank you for your attention.)
So, while everyone checks out their date to make sure he or she is not the ugliest such possible date in the room, I am occupied in my role as the quiet champion of the ugly. I admire the girl with stocky, bruised legs who purposefully wore that short a skirt and now keeps tugging down on it every few syllables.
I admire the fellow who asked for whiskey and soda and then immediately clarified that he wanted soda water, not like a Coca-Cola soda. Those people sitting at the bar who are “explaining” something to strangers are automatic shoo-ins. We are a sad, sick, doomed group, and there is no one not like us. But that is enough to uplift us.
The songstress in the corner, probably near death, has the voice of a dirty angel. She has shown the way. My people, take up your ugly. It is your only chance.