Humanity’s first impulse is to attempt to explain, or at least to assign words to, things that make us afraid. I think that probably the murky abyss of space became much less horrible when that first philosopher ascribed the words “murky” and “abyss” to it.
Recently, most of the bad has at least been familiar. But not anymore. This election season we’ve been faced with an entity that is at once so horrific and confusing that we’ve thus far been incapable of capturing it in one of our word cages. That entity is, of course, Ted Cruz’s miserable face.
The tsuris that this face causes me, and hundreds of thousands of Americans, isn’t a result of any kind of patriarchal standards of beauty (so #tcotters can fuck right off). His physical face isn’t necessarily ugly, but (especially when coupled with his aggressive misogyny, xenophobia, and general lack of empathy) it is terrible, like a gorgon or an embarrassing memory.
And so, as we would do with any entity that threatens our happiness and safety (death, disease, articles about leaving New York), we have attempted to control it the only way we know how—by turning to science and literature.
Richard E. Cytowic, a neurology professor at George Washington, noted that Cruz’s face looks so odd because he doesn’t give a Duchenne smile—that typical, comforting smile where the eyes narrow and crinkle and the mouth turns upward.
“His mouth goes in a tight line across, or else it curves down in an anti-Duchenne smile, so he doesn’t come across as sincere at all,” Cytowic said in a video posted by Quartz.
Cytowic has also invoked the term Backpfeifengesicht, meaning a face that needs a good punch, which is slightly closer.
Feeling better? I’m not, because while science might be able to describe what you’re seeing, it doesn’t describe how you feel when you’re seeing it. That’s why we need good writing.
In Rolling Stone, Jeb Lund wrote, “Ted Cruz looks so tantalizingly like something we all know—some Jungian archetype or the star from an Eighties sitcom—that our sense of recognition needs something to latch onto, something to grasp and say, ‘This! This! This!’”
Let’s see if any of these ring your bell:
- “An odd face—it looks like someone sewed pieces of a waterlogged Reagan mask together at gunpoint...” —Rolling Stone
- “Kevin from The Office” —PopSugar
- A “cardboard box full of old bibles” —Jezebel
- “Large, strange” —Broadly
- “You can draw Ted Cruz’s face with four thick ink strokes, and looking at him is actually more like looking at the New Yorker cartoon of a person than the person himself,” —Rolling Stone
- A Dutch Shepherd —What-Dog
- “Looks like a jerk” —Donald Trump
- “Looks so weird [pretends to barf]” —Heckler
- Like Grandpa Munster of The Munsters —Bustle
- “Creepy animated Barbie movie villain” and “noted lizard person” —Gawker
- “Cold dead eyes...[with] flat, lightless features” —Jezebel
- “Fallen souffle,” and “Rotten apple,” —Kelly Faircloth just a moment ago
So, have we found it? Have we found that perfect combination of the grotesque and the religious? The perfect deep, sexual taboo smashed together with some kind of melting wax? Is Cruz’s face more like a deflated, mummified beachball? Or a wad of tissues filled with blood? Or the face staring out at you through your MacBook’s built-in camera as you masturbate?
I don’t know if we’ll ever know what’s the most true. And maybe we aren’t supposed to. Maybe Cruz’s face is like death insofar as we’ll never be able to fully understand it until it is charging toward us, arms strangely wide, inviting an open-mouth kiss.
But unlike death, whose embrace is inevitable, I hope we’ll never have to.
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Image via Getty.