My wife claims that because I pay so little attention to lips when watching television—the deaf love nothing more than a tolerant spouse and a volume button—I end up pausing faces in the most awkwardly hilariously positions. Over the course of an evening my ring finger can lay waste to thousands of dollars of cosmetic surgery and three-point lighting and those bricks Tom Cruise’s costars are contractually obligated to ignore. So she thought it’d be a hoot for me take this talent to the masses and try it out on some politicians. Unfortunately, the results have been entirely awkward without being the least bit hilarious. Consider Mitt Romney:
There’s quite a bit to be said about Romney’s reaction to this bit of self-inflicted political theater, but the obvious message seems to me much more primal. As Darwin wrote in The Expressions of the Emotions in Man and Animal (1872), Romney’s “expression of misery [as almost] ludicrous caricature” is typical
with respect to infants when doubtfully beginning to cry, or endeavouring to stop crying; for they then generally command all the other facial muscles more effectually than they do the depressors of the corners of the mouth. Two excellent observers who had no theory on the subject, one of them a surgeon, carefully watched for me some older children and women as with some opposed struggling they very gradually approached the point of bursting out into tears; and both observers felt sure that the depressors began to act before any of the other muscles. Now as the depressors have been repeatedly brought into strong action during infancy in many generations, nerve-force will tend to flow, on the principle of long associated habit, to these muscles as well as to various other facial muscles, whenever in after life even a slight feeling of distress is experienced. But as the depressors are somewhat less under the control of the will than most of the other muscles, we might expect that they would often slightly contract, whilst the others remained passive. It is remarkable how small a depression of the corners of the mouth gives to the countenance an expression of low spirits or dejection, so that an extremely slight contraction of these muscles would be sufficient to betray this state of mind. (193)
In short, Romney’s desire to not be “bursting into tears” at all times has, “on the principle of long habit,” created a situation in which his hang-dog muscles “are somewhat less under the control of [his] will.” Meaning, of course, that any debate with Obama has the possibility of witnessing theatrics more grandiose than anything seen this side of a playpen.