Who do we think we are?
THERE’S A COMMON MISCONCEPTION REGARDING the sartorial habits (such as they are) of Mormon missionaries — you know, those perpetually positive, impossibly young-looking men in white shirts, ties, and backpacks you see walking two-by-two toward you on the sidewalk, prompting you to quickly cross the street. The misconception, perpetuated innocently enough by the hit Broadway musical The Book of Mormon, is that their white shirts are always accompanied by black trousers and a black tie. As far as religious stereotypes go, this is absolutely harmless. When I hear someone repeat it, I never correct them, but I always want to. It’s a small, important detail: you will almost never see a Mormon missionary wearing a plain black tie. I know from experience.
For two years, a missionary’s life is so regimented (no music, movies, secular books, or phone calls home), their civilian identity so subsumed by their Church, that their tie is basically the only way to express a dash of individuality, at least publicly. So you’ll see some wearing wide old ties they picked up in thrift stores, or pushing the envelope with bright-ish colours that were fashionable three years ago, or wearing the kind of blue and red power stripes they imagine they’ll wear when they succeed where Mitt Romney failed. When you don’t even get to use your first name for two years, your ties become very important to you.
We say that style is an outward expression of who we are internally, but if that’s right, it hints at a potentially uncomfortable truth. If we all dress the same — at least within the context of our particular style cohort — how special can we be? Is it that we’re all the same inside? Or is it that not enough men know how to express themselves with the mass market, fast-fashion tools we’re given? Maybe the missionaries are on to something — the differences between us all amount to the width and colour of a piece of fabric you wear around your neck.
That’s why I’m happy to have Kevin Hart and Mike Meyers in this issue. Comedy, both stand-up and sketch, depends on the contradictory values of universality and individuality — possibly more than any other art form. The more specific a joke, the more universally funny it is. And the more defined a comedian’s persona, the more effective that funny person is. Kevin Hart is the highest paid stand-up in the world. His comedy resonates with an incredibly broad swath of people, and yet no one but Kevin Hart could do it as well. A good stand-up can remind us to be who we are, even as we all laugh when we realize we’re not all that different.
So, live like a comedian — a good one, with a point of view and material you didn’t crib from anyone else. And dress as if you were one, too. Eddie Murphy wore a red leather suit for Raw — what’s your equivalent?
It’s about finding your tie and wearing it proudly, damnit.