Originally published on visualcultureweekly.wordpress.com on January 17, 2020.
This week was a tough one. Escalating tensions between the United States and Iran have been at the center of international sections in Canadian and Québécois newspapers and the immense tragedy that is flight 752 has made the situation hit home for many. This, coupled with Harry and Megan’s move to British Columbia, has given Canadian journalist quite some material. But one story has refused to be overshadowed by a week’s worth of civilian casualties and Royal family drama, and that is Justin Trudeau’s beard, our image of the week.
Persistent in the news since its first appearance, with articles still trickling in seven days later, the Prime Minister’s facial hair has remained a topic of conversation and this is possibly due to its relation to other two aforementioned stories of the week. This beard has not only become a way for us to interpret the Liberal party’s new approach to Trudeau’s image domestically, but also as a way for us to understand the Prime Minister’s stance on foreign affairs.
When looking at the first official image released by the Prime Minister’s Office we find a close-up of him pensive, almost brooding, brow fully furred with his hands pointing towards his mouth (almost directing us to his beard!) and his wedding band prominently featured. The angle at which the picture is taken suggests we are sitting next to him, curled up next to him in an intimate setting, no one else is in the room —or if there is someone nearby they do not matter—, it is but us and him. The kicker, he’s so deep in thought he doesn’t even notice us starring, gawking at him. It’s quite erotic, actually.
This marks an expansion of Trudeau’s sexual capital (see Catherine Hakim’s writings on the matter), and it comes at a perfect time. The new year is beginning, the recent renewal of his government has been marked by a stronger stance on national unity and, in somewhat good timing, both the Iranian plane crash and the Royal family’s adventures in the Great White North have sparked questions about the integrity and authority of the House of Commons.
On one hand, the tragic loss of lives in Iran brings up questions about Canada’s place in the Middle East and how, in this case, Canadian lives were lost due to a foreign leader distracting his own citizens from focusing on his impeachment. On the other, Harry and Megan’s arrival to Canada forces the government to play safe and, while playing along with the financially independent narrative Harry and Meghan have maintained, uphold the Canadian tradition of bowing to the royalty and footing the bill.
This sudden and urgent need for a government that must take a stance while not doing anything at all requires the focus to be on appearances and not actions. Hence the beard. Let’s not forget that this is his forte.
As RuPaul says: “We’re all born naked and the rest is drag.”