The Wrong Man for the times

Just who does Belle think she is? After she rebuffs Gaston, he warns LeFou “That girl has tangled with the wrong man.” Gaston is a classic bully — bluff, egotistical, trapped in his own reality, intent on power and revenge and incapable of understanding anyone beyond himself. And that especially includes an upstart, intellectual girl.


In films, bullies come with warning signs: their clothing and hairstyle, their body language, tell us what to expect. Gaston doesn’t even need his bullying lyrics to let us know what we are in for — that deep red shirt, the bandolier crossing his chest, the thick raised eyebrows, and the orange leathery gloves all tell us of the bullying ways. But to reinforce the character set by costume, his amazing song, with LeFou admiringly outlining Gaston’s “manliness” makes it clear. As LeFou sings:

“No one’s neck’s as incredibly thick as Gaston’s
For there’s no man in town half as manly
Perfect, a pure paragon!”
The designers put in several details to frame his bullying character, all the while tailoring his look to suit the vague time period (1700s France). So, a tunic top in red, extremely tight fitting breeches in navy blue, hunting boots with thickened (if we were really in the right time period, carved wooden) soles. An anachronistic separate collar — the yellow collar of animated Gaston would mean a separate set of pieces stitched together and then stitched onto the neckline of the body of the shirt — something not common at the time. (In the nineteenth century, of course, collars were often removable and detachable.) Anyhow, there’s Gaston with that ugly golden-yellow deeply flared collar swilling down his chest.
The most recent Beauty and the Beast, featuring live actors, places Gaston’s bullying-man costume squarely in its time and place. Actor Luke Evan’s Gaston has a narrow set-in collar framed by a blood-red leather jacket. He’s your typicial bully whose short-lived and apparently mediocre military career is constantly hyped by himself — he’s a young man who can’t stop talking about his supposed military ventures. He clings to the emblems of soldiering life — the gold buttons marching down his jacket, the sidekick who refers to him as Captain Gaston.
And, like so many bullies in film, our Gaston is narcissistic and preening. Far too much depends, for this man, on how others perceive him. It is not how he really is but how he appears that matters.
Current U.S. President, Donald Trump, is understood as a classic bully (googling “trump + bully” results in just under one million hits). This is a descriptive term — he built a career on bullying, his television life was to act as a bully for the audience, and he ran his campaign on this personality. So to term him a bully isn’t to denigrate him as it is to describe him.
His clothing style is highly distinctive. He wears navy blue suits cut large: the shoulders are unusually heavily-padded, the sleeves sit about an inch and a half longer than popular today and the fit in the back is far looser than popular today. The last decade his style of suits was typical was the early 1980s.
To the left is Nordstrom’s model wearing a Hart (the brand favored by Obama) men’s suit with a rather puffy and wide blue tie ; the phalanx of men dates from the late 1980s and illustrates the typical loose-fitting suits with exaggerated shoulder padding of that decade, and we see Trump in his ’80s-era styled suit with Clinton, who wears a feminine version of the same outfit (hers designed by Ralph Lauren).
In addition to the retro-style abundance of padding and fabric, his collars are very wide-pointed and surprisingly long, his ties are very long as well (in the photo above, his tie length is typical for him — they usually sit about three inches below his waist belt). He favors a red with blue undertones — a kind of muted blood red (as opposed to a red with more orange tones, or yellow/gold tint to it).
This photograph from Rolling Stone highlights yet another detail that marks Trump’s suit style as unusually old-fashioned: his cuffs are quite large and exaggerated in size — a flamboyant touch to an already flamboyant version of the men’s suit. Combined with the elongated sleeves of his jacket, when he walks and lets his arms hang down he gets an almost comically-disjointed look, but when he stands behind a podium and gestures, all that extra fabric serves to give his hand movements extra flourish. The looseness of the over-sized jacket, the exaggerated width and length of his collar points, the unfashionably wide tie, and the overly wide and long cuffs pinched by his glittery cufflinks are all — in the eye of the camera and the viewer — ruffles.
You can see the visual effects of this — the ways in which he asserts visual dominance — as he gestures in his very characteristic “who me” shrug. That is a lot of extra fabric swirling about — the sloping shoulder pads, extending perhaps two inches above and beyond his natural shoulder joint, the padded front of the jacket (again, an unusually old-fashioned choice, but it does appear that the entire front of the jacket — and perhaps the back as well — is lightly padded, probably to build bulk and hide bulging rolls circling his girth).

In this photograph Trump clasps the hand of his hapless son Eric. The body language of a bully — at least as depicted by Disney animators and embodied by a politician — is clear. And these are markers of male bullying. In animated, fictional Gaston and in the all-too-real Trump, we see the same visual vocabulary: exaggerated styling of collar, the strategic use of red, the odd forcible lean-in posture masking aggression as friendliness. But at least Belle was well aware of the ways in which Gaston’s bluster masked a most dangerous weakness, for Gaston’s dependence on approval made him far more dangerous than the Beast, whose bad temper was worn openly and as a burden. Gaston threatened that Belle had tangled with the wrong man — but in fact, as we can see in Belle’s side eye for the ages glance at Gaston — Belle knew that she was fighting exactly the right man — the real bully of the story.

As I was finishing this blog post up, I noticed that Buzzfeed just posted a good story on bullying in the trump era. In a few days, I will be posting a “bullying women” post as well.

Kids Are Quoting Donald Trump


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