“Smile and others will smile back. Smile to show how transparent, how candid you are. Smile if you have nothing to say. Most of all, do not hide the fact you have nothing to say nor your total indifference to others. Let this emptiness, this profound indifference shine out spontaneously in your smile.”
In this comment, Jean Baudrillard tries to encapsulate what smiling is about in our contemporary societies. His view of the ‘cool smile of collusion’ is typically cynical of a postmodern philosopher who sees smiling as a defence mechanism, putting us at a safe distance from the theatrical reality of this world while acknowledging its pervasive influence on our thoughts and feelings . Yet, there is more to smiling than meets the eye! Despite the pictures of horses or monkeys allegedly smiling at the camera, we, humans, retain this unique privilege that we can equally smile out of accepted resignation or in candid recognition of a private moment, somehow worth sharing with someone else. Smiling is, indeed, a social act as one rarely, if ever, smiles at one’s own reflection in the mirror. It is an invitation to reciprocate and smile back although it does not share the same infectious property as laughter. Smiling at a large audience in the expectation of a returned collective smile may only provoke embarrassment and end up in a loud public laughter. If smiling is never gratuitous it is because it exposes one’s innocence and vulnerability. All children love having their photograph taken while dictators are weary of their public image and prefer to cultivate a serious if not sinister look with the notable exception of Stalin’s official benign smile as Father of the Russian People .
Philosophers do not build their reputation on their harbouring a permanent smile, be it as a badge of intellectual cockiness or as the exterior sign of some oceanic inner peace. Statues of Greek kuroi , show a reserved, discreet smile of satisfaction which turns more jolly and blissful in Chinese representations of the most serene figure of the Buddha. By contrast, the enigmatic nature of Mona Lisa’ smile is part of its perennial charm as it does not denote some kind of inner wisdom or truth but seems to transcend the very purpose of a smile. Leonardo’s sitter does not look particularly interested in attracting the attention of the painter or for that matter, any potential onlooker. She seems lost in her own world and it is the ghost of her smile which for the last five centuries has been enticing art-lovers into an everlasting philosophical rêverie.Greek SmileBuddah SmileMona Lisa