Is It Really That Bad?

I’ll begin this post with a disclaimer. If you are under the age of thirty, it is quite likely that I’ll come across as an out-of-touch old man. If you are approaching, at or beyond middle-age; you can probably relate with what I’m about to say.

There is a phenomenon that transcends all sports and has slithered its way into our everyday society. It is curious, at best; but at times I find it almost disturbing. Unfortunately, the IZOD IndyCar Series is not immune to this virus that has infected our culture. In fact, it seems to be celebrated and encouraged within the series. So what is this that threatens our way of life? The scowl.

Have you noticed how menacing all of the IZOD IndyCar Series drivers look in their official photos and video shoots? If you stay up to watch the race at Motegi next Saturday night, notice the short five to ten second videos of whatever driver they are talking about. Obviously, some alleged creative person told them that whatever they do – don’t smile. Some of them look downright sinister. Dario Franchitti normally has a very pleasant and engaging smile, yet for any official photo – he looks like someone you wouldn’t want to share a commercial plane ride with.

From Tony Kanaan to the usually contagious smile of Helio Castroneves, they have captured everyone with some brooding scowl on their face. They’ve even managed to erase the genuinely warm smile from Sarah Fisher. They have somehow transformed her from the girl next door to some angry-looking woman you wouldn’t want to encounter in the workplace. The only driver that looks natural in these photo shoots is Danica Patrick, because she always seems to be pouting about something.

When did this become the way to sell and promote your drivers? Even the normally affable Justin Wilson looks a little bit like Lucifer, when he strikes the promotional pose.

When did smiling go out of style? For centuries, songs and poems were written about how disarming a person’s smile can be. Corny sayings have evolved over time, telling us how an infectious smile can do anything from brightening someone else’s day to keeping your own stress levels at bay; thereby staving off heart attacks, strokes and cancer. But somewhere over the last few years, it became fashionable to ditch the smile in order to see how mean and unhappy you can look.

The IZOD IndyCar Series is only the latest in our modern culture to adopt the fashionable scowl. Watch any NFL game. Every time they show the video head shot of a player, he is inexplicably looking down at his feet. Then he raises his head and assumes a frightening look as if he was just awakened during a burglary. Not only is it scary looking, it’s stupid looking.

When the Miami Dolphins running backs were introduced for Super Bowl VII, Larry Csonka was the only one that had his helmet off as he was smiling and posing for the cameras. When he was later asked why he had his helmet off for player introductions, he said it was the only time people could see him smile. My, how times have changed.

Pick up a high school annual from today and scan the individual photos. Everyone looks like they just attended their own funeral. It looks like a collection of FBI mug shots. Here I go sounding old, but it used to be that this was your chance to put on your best face – and smile. Scanning my old high school annuals – everyone was smiling. Were we just too stupid to know any better?

Somewhere along the way, our society got the idea that if someone carried a frustrated look on their face – it meant that they were a dark and mysterious deep-thinker. In the late eighties and early nineties, Tom Cruise made millions playing an angry young man. I just never knew why he was so miserable. Somehow, we have bought into the notion that if you are upbeat and positive – you obviously don’t get it and you are clueless. Nowadays, it’s as if no one will be able to connect with anyone who is actually happy. Maybe everyone is following the example of George Costanza from Seinfeld. He figured as long as he looked frustrated at work, people would think he was taking his job seriously and would leave him alone.

Commercials have helped propagate this way of thinking. Unless it’s a funny beer ad, most products today are hawked by angry young men and way too serious young women. You get the sense from today’s generation that smiling is a form of weakness.

Am I so out of touch today, that I am the only one that is turned off by brooding scowls? My way of thinking is, why would I want to use a product or follow a sport that might put a look on my face like I’m about to go see a proctologist? There is enough strife in the world, as well as our small world of IndyCar racing that make me want to avoid people that don’t smile. If I’m a casual fan checking out an IndyCar race, seeing a bunch of mad and unhappy drivers is not going to draw me in. Life is too short to spend your recreational hours following drivers that appear to be filled with negativity.

Yes, I am old-fashioned – and I admit it proudly. I was taught the value and power of a smile. There’s the old saying that you catch flies with honey, not vinegar (although I never knew why you would want to catch flies in the first place). I don’t buy into this new fad of the trendy frown. I’ve learned how people respond to smiles and how they don’t respond to frowns. I’m hoping that as IZOD and Randy Bernard reshape the image of the IZOD IndyCar Series, they’ll reverse the trend of the snarling photo shoot.

George Phillips

17 Responses to “Is It Really That Bad?”

  1. Bent Wickerbill Says:

    I agree completely George…. It seems that over the last 10-20 years that not only have many people adopted an outward scowl physically, but that they have also become more in your face and less courteous. There is a trend it would seem that dictates that one must generally display some kind of disturbed, aggressive attitude. I find many young people entering the job market today to be sullen, anti social and lack any semblance of communication skills. I think people are spending too much time in a darkened room at their mom’s house playing mortal combat, and are also spending way too much time trying to decide which death skull tattoo they are going to get next, and not nearly enough time interacting with real people, in the real world.

    • true, it seems Says:

      “I find many young people entering the job market today to be sullen, anti social and lack … communication skills. I think people are spending too much time … playing mortal combat, … and not nearly enough time interacting with real people”

      I agree with you and George.

  2. billytheskink Says:

    Mortal Kombat reference, nice.

    I may be under 30 but I never really got into this trend, I was usually one of the handful of kids smiling in high school sports photographs and the like. I imagine the trend will start to die at some point, it’s getting to where scowling athletes and celebrities are starting to look silly.

    I have race-oriented examples, actually.
    Several years back I attended a CART race and prior to the race they showed each row of the starting grid on the large video screens around the track. Next to each driver’s name, position, speed, etc. was a video inset of the driver looking down or to the side and then slowly turning or lifting his head to face the camera with a frown. Looked as ridiculous as it sounds.
    A short time later I recall watching an NHRA promo on the video screen at a Spring NHRA event that featured probably a dozen of the stars of the top 4 classes. Everyone was frowning and scowling except for the perpetually smiling John Force. Being the only driver who looked happy to be a drag racer, Force made everyone else in the promo look silly.

  3. I don’t know if this is just another way of trying to portray the drivers with their “game face” on. The serious and dangerous business they are in, is a different work environment than those headed off to an office cubicle. Making comparisons to Larry Csonka and Tom Cruise are different as can be also. Maybe Czonka just wanted everyone to see him smile, teeth or no teeth before he KO’d the opposition. Cruise on the other hand, $$$ were on his mind set. Your comment about Danistar had both myself and my wife laughing this morning. That was so true. I don’t have much of an issue with these photo shots as long as they don’t have the drivers putting that black tar strip under their eyes and pretend they are somebody they really are not. And, I fall into that over 50 crowd too. Thanks again for these early morning thoughts.

  4. How about the smiles on the drivers faces on the Hot Wheel cars? Oh, that’s right, you can’t find any in WalMart, Target or Toys R Us because they aren’t there, so you can’t tell if the little faces have scowls or not.

    • billytheskink Says:

      They were all over Target and Toys B We until earlier this year, mostly Kanaan, Dixon, and Danica’s cars.

      But that’s a good point, the drivers were smiling on the Hot Wheels packaging with Kanaan and Ed Carpenter really turning on the charm…

      • The diecast situation is horrible. Hot Wheels’ 1/64 can’t compare with Greenlights’ set. Also, if they aren’t going to promote the product then what’s the point? Hot Wheels is all over the television, but not a memtion of the IndyCar collection. By the way, I went to Toys R Us last night for some birthday shopping for my son’s 11th birthday, today. As a responsible father I wanted to get some 1/64 cars for him but they didn’t have any. They didn’t have any other ICS product either. Also, they didn’t have any NASCAR product (I was going to get him Tony Stewart 😉 ). I wasn’t smiling about that at all. Oh well.

  5. An interesting perspective, George. I’ve thought that the posed pieces in IndyCar and everywhere else were really cheesy and unnatural, but I never really made the connection to the lack of smiling.

    To add to Bent Wickerbill’s comment, the anti-social behavior and lack of communication skills are only getting worse as people walk around tuned into their texting devices, avoiding any eye contact with anybody around them. It is refreshing to meet people on the street who do actually smile and say hi.

  6. If you’re smiling then people won’t believe that what you do for a living is all that dangerous.

    That is the marketing “wisdom” being channeled to the teams.

  7. Hey George, Don’t forget about Grunge; Hya!

  8. George,
    Is that a scowl in your Thumbnail photo? (Kidding)

    I know what you mean. Those painfully, awkward headshots on MNF drive me nuts. And you know what else I hate? Stupid Dancing Robots in the Intro’s! AAARRRGHHHH!!!! I could throw a brick through the TV whenever I see the football robot on FOX. I just shook my head the first time Versus showed the intro where the Indycars transform into some sort of robotic animals and leap for the finish line, because apparently driving headlong into 90 degree turn at 235 mph, with another car inches from your wheel isn’t “extreme” enough?!!!

    Sigh…ever since I passed 40, I am starting to sound like Andy Rooney.

    • Oilpressure Says:

      Tom – A smirk is a totally different matter…

      Seriously, I like that picture because I was not posing. I was leaning against the outer pit-wall at IMS awaiting my turn for the Indy Racing Experience..hence the ever-present smile. My better-half snapped it without me even knowing it, with a telephoto while she was standing in the pits. – GP

  9. It depends on who you are and what you are doing. I’d expect Hélio to smile when introduced in any television show, or smile for five seconds if the camera aims at him when waiting next to the car before a race. I liked when players smiled when they were presented in the MLB All-Star Game. But I like (most) drivers looking serious when Versus shows the race leaders in a hangar before commercial brakes. Their faces aren’t angry or bored, they look serious about racing at 200mph inches to each other waiting for the right moment to overtake and win.

  10. Smiles or scowls?

    And then there is the darkened room that Jack Arute conducts his clandestine interviews.

    What audience mind set (aka intelligence level) is Versus catering to?

    I have yet to figure out a rational connection that motorsport racing interviews have with a darkened room and a single light illuminating the face of the person being interviewed.

    Any suggestions out there?

  11. I’m in-between. I have noticed it, but I generally don’t care. I ignore most of the posturing and such anyway. I even skip past most of the interviews because very few get beyond the same stock pre-approved phrases we’ve all heard before.

  12. Brian McKay Says:

    Good post, George.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: