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Another Scientific Report

December 2008

Science can teach us many things, I always say, and it’s really a wonder that scientists can take some time out of their busy schedules to illuminate a few of the ordinary features of our troubled lives. Just take a look at The Environmental Security Hypothesis, which has been recently offered up, thank goodness, right in the midst of our current economic plight. A Professor Pettijohn II, professor of psychology at coastal Carolina University, and his colleagues have come upon the idea that people, as you and I, need comforting in these periods of fiscal stress – I think we can all agree to that and we seek this out through changes in our popular music, movie stars and playboy models.  You see, and all this time you thought you’d just feel better if your 401k would stop heading south. Professor Pettijohn is joined in this by Mr. Leo Shapiro, a consumer analyst and independent researcher, who discovered that the sale of laxatives soars in bad times while deodorants enjoy a profitable rebound when good times return. This does pose a lot of questions if you care to think about it – I don’t however.

Certainly of more interest, I believe, is the Professor’s findings regarding the type of female movie stars we wish to have comfort us in moments of financial depression. It turns out, according to the Professor, that we should be running to film actresses with ‘small eyes, thin faces, and prominent chins’ and as the Hypothesis reveals, this is how it was in the 30’s and 40’s. He calls this the ‘mature appearance’ and it was fashionable during the Great Depression and World War II even if you weren’t a movie star.

Now it’s not at all clear from the scant data so far available what actresses the Professor had in mind when he and his friends came up with the Hypothesis. There is some suspicion that the Professor may have leaned too heavily on stars like Barbara Stanwyck and Irene Dunne. Although neither had thin faces or prominent chins you could say their eyes were smaller than Joan Crawford’s who had enormous eyes but disappointingly a thin face and a strong, aggressive chin. Carol Lombard had a slim face, sort of like Greta Garbo’s, as well as a pretty firm chin; still I wouldn’t call their eyes small. Jean Harlow and Ann Sothern had large eyes and full faces and how would the professor feel about Betty Grable or Rita Hayworth? You can go on like this for all the 30’s and 40’s. Maybe the Environmental Security Hypothesis should include a couple of those scientific adages as ‘beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder’ and ‘there is no accounting for taste’. Actually, the only actress that perfectly fits the Hypothesis is Margaret Hamilton, best known as the wicked witch in the 1939 “Wizard of Oz”. If this hatchet-faced lady represented a mature and comforting figure back in those days it’s no wonder those were hard times and much worse than has been reported.

Shifting their scientific attention from faces to bodies, the Professor’s researchers studied back issues of Playboy magazine and found this a good deal more exciting. The focus was on changes in the Playmate of the Year over good and bad times and after much scientific discussion and whistling spotted a correlation with their studies of movie stars’ faces. When times were tough the Playmates were older, had taken on more poundage and were considerably less curvy than when the Dow was thriving. The Professor didn’t say so, but I suppose what is good for the Playmate ladies must be true for the movie star ladies. Still it’s not easy to locate any, past or present, that can be neatly accommodated by the Professor’s Hypothesis. Margared Dumont and Marie Dressler might do for the 30’s but that simply shows you how desperate people were then for any bit of solace. It’s probably too early in our present economic crisis to see who will replace our Gwyneth Paltrows and Julia Roberts, but I guess we should start looking around – not to be an alarmist but don’t these two already have smallish eyes and are short on curvature?

As far as I know the Environmental Security Hypothesis hasn’t yet reported on male movie stars. Maybe once the researchers’ interest in Playmates of the Year has waned, they’ll tackle that one. It does seem to me that the Hypothesis suits men better than women stars. Male actors of the last Depression were generally small-eyed, of resolute chins and of been-around-the-block maturity – Cagneys, Bogarts, Mitchums who eventually give way in later boom years to the man/boy types – the DiCaprios, Cruises, Damons, Afflecks.

Scientifically speaking I report this here while a Recession rages all about me but with luck, by the time I finish we may have our very own Great Depression and can look forward to a completely new team of movies stars to settle us down. And I’m betting that George Clooney is the harbinger of the new Depression male. And I for one am glad of it.

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