The Bay Citizen
Short, Gray and Trimmed, a New Star in the Campaign
By REYHAN HARMANCI
Published: November 5, 2011
Last November, the Bay Area was abuzz over beards — specifically, the beard of Brian Wilson, the San Francisco Giants relief pitcher who captured the nation’s imagination with his jet-black face sweater.
But on the heels of a season of disastrous baseball and increasingly chaotic facial hair, Mr. Wilson recently saw fit to anoint interim Mayor Ed Lee of San Francisco as the city’s new follicular hero.“Ed Lee. For mayor. Do it now,” said Mr. Wilson, sporting a “Fear the Mustache” shirt in a campaign video featuring a modified version of MC Hammer’s “2 Legit 2 Quit.”
This slickly produced video, paid for by San Franciscans for Jobs and Good Government, an independent group that supports Mr. Lee, is only the latest wave of obsession for the most recognizable feature of the city’s soft-spoken mayor, his mustache. The video got over 360,000 hits on YouTube.
Locals zeroed on in the tidy facial accessory — one long enough to avoid any resemblance to that of der Führer and short enough to seem more functional than fussy — soon after Mr. Lee was named interim mayor in January.
At least two Twitter feeds, a Facebook page and a Web site featuring slogans like “Ed Lee Mustache is Manlier than Chuck Norris” sprang up in its honor.
Once the meme got out, it was embraced by supporters of Mr. Lee (like those who pasted “Run Ed Run” posters all over town this summer) and competitors (Phil Ting, another mayoral candidate, recently released a joking attack ad video in which innocent citizens wake up with a dark mustache.)
While Gavin Newsom, the previous San Francisco mayor, was known for his smooth coif (which had its own Twitter feed as well, @GavsHair), it is fairly rare for a modern American politician to be known for a mustache.
Aaron Perlut of the American Mustache Institute, a nonprofit based in St. Louis that calls itself a “facial hair advocacy group,” said the last mustachioed president was William Howard Taft, elected in 1908.
But Mr. Perlut said he understood the appeal of Mr. Lee’s facial hair, which he termed “Chevron-style,” the kind favored by Tom Selleck and many men in law enforcement.
“It speaks to a great sense of discipline,” he said, “especially in these days when we’re looking for fiduciary discipline from our political and business leaders.”
According to Sam Buffa, founding partner of F.S.C. Barber, which has an outpost on Valencia Street, the upkeep of Mr. Lee’s mustache is most likely fairly intense. He estimated that Mr. Lee trims at least every other day.
Whatever one thinks of the style of the facial accessory, it has served mightily to distinguish a politician who, until this January, was unknown to the general voting public. The mustache’s ascendance is “both organic and manipulated,” said Eric Jaye of Storefront Political Media, the consulting firm that produced Mr. Ting’s video.
“It’s a reflection on how little we pay attention as voters that what we note is facial hair,” Mr. Jaye said, “and also how much time and effort is spent trying to brand people.”
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