In which I, Michael Masurkevitch, describe my theories on sunglasses, based off of the notes I scribbled on a piece of paper in a bar and my own emotional experiences. (very little “fact” – thats not my bag, baby – but by gum, is there insight).

Barfly: the story of (Henry) Charles Bukowski

A couple weeks ago, a co-worker telling me about “Barfly,” a movie  loosely based on the life of American poet and novelist Henry Charles Bukowski. Henry was a writer, low-life and alcoholic, and his writing was about dirty things like sex and the lives of poor Americans – so its no wonder his work took off in the States.  (I mean that sincerely though – what is more moving then the lives of every day people, and the passion and lust we all feel?)  Also to be fair, the guy supposedly grew up with the Worst of abusive fathers, and he swore by alcoholism as the most effective form of self-medication he had found. I imagine his liver looked like Yoda, but he was a brilliant writer, with a deep and thorough understanding of pain.

Anyway, the movie itself is a dramatization of a time of his life where he goes to the bar to get drunk and write his stories and poems (as well as to pick fights with his rival, the non-writing bartender “Eddie.”  I have no idea if the actual Henry-Charles had a bartender from the Jersey Shore he liked to brawl with, but I suppose we’ll never know.) The movie is apparently raw and gritty and dirty and visceral – like the man’s work.  charles-bukowski-cinematheia.com_But one concept hit me like a brick: I’ve been the guy in an argyle sweater, typing away my blog post while sipping from a mocha in a starbucks, like a faux-starving artist with the financial stability to afford several five dollar coffees in one day.  I’ve been That Guy, and its Great. It feels trendy as shit. But this idea of writing in a gritty bar, while drinking  cheap swill and watching alcoholics interact in unhealthy ways in front of me while jotting ideas down on grungy bits of paper – not even a notepad –  with a pen borrowed from the wait staff … this appealed to me too much. So, as humans tend to make things happen when they prioritize something … I ended up getting it.

Wardrobe Choices: You’ll want Shades with that

The evening that I got my wish began by I was hanging out with a friend of mine, and we got a little inebriated (as friends often do together, and enemies do occasionally). Later I would be meeting some friends at the bar, so – ever a bit too into myself – I made my friend join me while I was making my wardrobe choices for the evening.

Perhaps his presence gave me too much confidence while choosing my look for the night: my eyes were drawn to a T-shirt I had made in university. The hand-painted words say “Green with ENV? Green With Badass.”  (This was an inside joke from my faculty, the faculty of Environment, or ENV. Atleast, the “Green with ENV” portion was – the “Green With Badass” was what my university self though was the height of cleverness). The image features a skull wearing a bandana that has a ‘3Rs Recycling’ symbol on it, with dragon wings, paddles crossed behind it, and a tree behind all that. Throw in a couple of birds perched on random design points, and you had quite a looker.  outfitagain3

When I saw it in my closet, my response was “Wow, I haven’t worn that in Ages!”  It did not occur to me to question whether there was a reason for that.

I then complemented the garish tshirt with a bright red plaid shirt (in lieu of jacket), and topped it off with my favourite red and blue toque. My concession to societal norms was a pair of jeans.  And I paused, and was like, “Wait, Mikey. Can I Actually go Out like this?”

The answer hit me: Yes – IF  I was wearing sunglasses.

That decision, and its results on my confidence and even dance moves, would become fascinating to me as a window into something many of us barely even think about: the inherent coolness of Sunglasses.

The “Full Bukowski”

Later on, I showed up at the bar, dressed like someone with only a vague idea of what people were supposed to wear to drinking establishments.  The doorman noticed me fumbling with my driver’s licence, and asked what I had had to drink, and did not believe my cute little white lie about what I had imbibed. However, I was extremely polite, and must have seemed harmless and non-threatening enough that he let me in with a surly “ok, but take it easy.”  I could have put his heart at ease by explaining that my friends would not be showing up to Club District for a while,  and I would actually just be sitting at a table with a glass of cheap whiskey scribbling on the scrap paper I had brought from home, with a pen I had borrowed from the waitress. (I actually brought my own as backup, but I wanted to experience The Full Bukowski.)  “Don’t worry sir, I’m too nerdy to make trouble, I’m here to jot down my observations on humanity.”

It was at this point, sitting at a table near the bar area of the club, that – loving every minute of it – I put my sunglasses and toque to the side, took a sip of the cheap whiskey, and began to jot down my thoughts on the relation between my wardrobe choices and eye-accessories of the evening.

The Social Phenomena of Sunglasses: The Curtains of the Windows to the Soul

Why is it that sunglasses are worn by movie stars –

She wore her sunglasses at night

but not on  set, security guards  – but not usually spies – and Bono?  Why is it that they give an air of “coolness,” and what does it mean in that context?  Aside from shielding our eyes literally, ofcourse – like safety goggles and ski goggles, from sun, rain, or dust and wind as we ride along on motorcycles. But while that may be the practical function of the sunglasses, what I’m interested in looking at are the more social human-oriented features.

Eyes are the windows to the soul.  They express emotions: they show others what we are thinking, where we are looking, what we are focusing on. Our eyes are tied to our emotions, our attention and focus, our thoughts. When most people are lying, their eyes flick up and to the side while thinking of the lie (or something like that – I’d have to check on exactly what they do, but I’m pretty sure they do something like that.)
Our eyes communicate the most: therefore, they also give the most away. Ancient samurai masters would use peripheral vision, else their highly trained opponents would be able to tell where the next attack would come from. And how many spy-comics have we seen where the most intense moments, the battles of wits between James Bond and a smooth nemesis, become cut scenes back and forth between the subtle changes in their eyes.
Ok, I think I’ve belaboured that point enough…


Security Guards use shades in a very functional way:

Who knows where this guy is looking.

by placing these one-way-shields over the windows to their souls, the groups of people they are studying cannot see where they are looking – increasing their range of effect. Its like having a security camera that  moves around to scan an area – and then covering it with one way glass so that nobody can tell where its pointing, suddenly it could at any point be covering anywhere in the whole area, and the whole area atleast seems to be covered.   There was an experiment by Foucault – who loved this shit – where a bunch of prison cells were placed around a central chamber for the guards, with one-way glass. The prisoners, unable to see through it, could not tell when they were or were not being watched: and thus the prisoners were on best behaviour. Sure, its a tiny hit to visibility – but increases their effectiveness as a threatening presence and watchdog. (Naturally, in areas with low lighting like a club, it wouldn’t make that much sense. Unless its dusty or sunny, in which case we’re back to the ol intended purpose.
Spies, ofcourse, are often seen wearing sunglasses as they blast along in their cars and motorcycles.  But once they are interacting with someone, sunglasses would be far too obvious – if you look like you have something to hid, that arouses suspicion. So for actual interactions, they typically need to lose the shades, and hide in more subtle ways – by being in character, believing their own lies with all but the core of their beings, and hiding in plain sight. Not to mention needing full use of their own visual faculties.


those goggles though
Ski-goggles: For a variety of conditions, incl. sun, snow, and inebriation.

Sunglasses and Ski Goggles Post-Inebriate
Perhaps my favourite personal use of shades, atleast back in my wild and dissipant youth: to hide public intoxication.
Sunglasses at night, as coined by Corey Hart, are mainly just to hide things like that an individual may be “Watching you weave and breathe” – or may be high as a kite.


That said, I will admit to having used a similar technique on the ski hill – when, for example, buying a lift ticket under the influence of an inebriate I may have enjoyed  (back in my wild youth when I enjoyed riding rapidly down a hill on skis in a state that wasn’t sober – which is unwise unless you do a Lot of skiing). I would often keep my goggles down so until the interaction was over.

Celebrities and Actors in Public
are classically seen with a pair of shades as well. Why? My theory is that this is a use of their “social shield” function.

Willy Wonka: The Ultimate Celebrity. I mean, he even had literally his own tribe of midget-worshippers.

When you walk onto a red carpet, you are hit with a Huge wave of attention. Which, if you have a pathological need for attention (like me) can be fun – but still exhausting. All of that attention and scrutiny, blasted towards one individual all at once – I imagine this would be stressful.  A little bit of a shield from that, to keep at very least the intimate emotions and direction of attention that one’s eyes denote as one’s own personal territory – well that sounds reasonable to me. I wonder if actors in particular make use of this before being on stage/screen: once they are on stage or screen, they are the complete focus, and the pressure is on them to become and showcase emotion and character, through – above all – their eyes. Stands to reason that, between shoots, they’d want a bit of a GD Break from the whole GD World peering so intensely through the windows of their souls.


The theory is given credence by this quote that I just found from Jack Nicholson about his use of sunglasses:
Jack Nicholson during Jack Nicholson, Adam Sandler, and Marisa Tomei on Location for 'Anger Management' at Central Park in New York City, New York, United States.

“I am a person who is trained to look other people in the eye. But I can’t look into the eyes of everyone who wants to look into mine; I can’t emotionally cope with that kind of volume. Sunglasses are part of my armor.” (1)

Exactly, Jack. Exactly.

And now, it’s time for the Crux of the argument:


What is “Cool” in social situations, and Why Sunglasses acheive that?

This is why wearing sunglasses allowed me to dress in a ridiculous fashion: this is why they are often given to action stars to look “Badass” in situations that would make other men upset:
Sunglasses do not show emotion.  
They hide emotion. They mask emotion. Jack Nicholson’s social shield stops our emotion from going out into the world, making our emotions our own. Another great quote from Jack on Shades is about his good buddy ol’ Fred:

“I was sitting next to Fred Astaire at the 1976 Oscars and we were having a few laughs. They announced his category and he didn’t win and that minute he put on his sunglasses. I don’t even think I had a thought, I just reached for the glasses. And that’s why. I wear all kinds. I have too many sunglasses.”  (1)

When Fred Astaire recieved reason to become upset, it was time for the ol’ shades. That way his more intimate emotions could remain his own, masked from the world.

And how, dear Blogivore, does this translate to making sunglasses cool?
Because What we see as “cool” is largely, in fact, a state of emotional detachedness.
The expression “cool,” accompanied by the phrase “butter wouldn’t melt in their mouth,” both come quite literally from the idea of releasing or hiding one’s emotions, such that one does not allow a situation to make them “bothered and hot.”  The best examples of coolness in our society did just that: Steve McQueen’s subtle emotions on screen, or Harrison Ford’s blazé and détacher Han Solo, both embody the idea of characters that don’t get razzed or show passion.  And sunglasses give us that in spades, by doing exactly that – hiding those emotions, and making them more subtle without those all-too expressive eyes.

Where did our idolization of a lack of emotion come from? Perhaps from the British Victorian-Ish Gentlemen. (I say “Victorian-Ish” because there are a few periods in there that ignoramuses such as myself usually just lump together as one, but I want to call myself out on that pre-emptively.)  There was an emphasis on high society being polite, refined and dispassionate (along with sexually repressed ofcourse.) Emotions were base things, fit for animals and the plebian lower class, but what went on in our hearts was as private and personal – if not dirty – as what went on in our bedrooms.

But it caught on, along with the idea of the cowboy – whose feathers were unruffled by anything, who shot casually from the hip.  The rock star, The fact is, emotional detachment is extremely effective – for example its hard to shoot skillfully or make deft decisions while thinking with your emotional brain.  Emotions are wonderful for guiding us – but also get in the way of efficiency. One extreme is the sociopathic CEO stereotype: the other side is people who make decisions ineffectively by being spurred on to irrationality by fear, loathing, xenophobia or greed. (From what I’ve been hearing, most of these trends are common trends in rallies full of Trump supporters: he plays on their emotions, fear in particular, as war and hate mongers often do.)

And this is why it allowed me to make outlandish wardrobe choices, not to mention my dance moves: the addition of sunglasses added that emotional detachment that made it so my wardrobe choice was not taken too seriously, was non-emotional, was part of a caricature with less emotion. By not showing emotion, I could appear more detached about the whole thing. The power of the placebo is strong, and having my social shield up to make me feel less emotion about feeling judged allowed me to feel less judged. So what did it matter if my wardrobe was outlandish? I was clearly there for a good time and didn’t care what others thought.
And if I did care – aye, there’s the rub – then it didn’t matter, because nobody would know.

So here is to sunglasses: in a society where showing too much real emotion can be just a little embarassing, long may they continue to allow us to do crazy things, act out, and lose our inhibitions. Long may they allow us to not give two hoots about being judged.

I leave you with the longest montage of sunglasses I could find on youtube (in the first 7 hits): Horatio Caine from CSI Miami

Stay uninhibited, my friends.


(1) why does Jack Nicholson wear sunglasses

Images that were not mine:
Henry Charles:
Charles with Shades:
Security guard:
Johnny Depp:
Jack Nicholson:
Clint Eastwood: