Demonising a smile

Adults fake it. Do children? Anders Breivik’s smiling picture as a four-year-old is being used by psychologists to analyse what led him to kill 77 people in Norway. It’s been called the smile of the monster. Such photographic ‘evidence’ will demonise children.

At his trial in Oslo, a doctor said:

“Much of what we see in him today is visible here, not least in the disarming smile he hides his feelings behind. He had difficulty expressing himself emotionally. He lacked light, joy and the pleasure of playing with others. We feared he would develop serious psychopathology (problems), which may indicate mental illness. Unfortunately we were right, but we never imagined that one day he would become a mass murderer.”

This is just so dangerous. There are children who are shy for various reasons. Many turn out to be writers, scientists, actors, pretty much involved in activities that either are done in isolation or to become somebody else. Look at the picture again. Have you never seen a child smile like this – perhaps your own or someone in your family, maybe your childhood pictures? Have you gone and killed someone?

There is much to discuss about troubled childhoods. They affect the children more than anyone else. Does every child with a not-so-happy background read works that are considered violent? Besides, does such a smile reflect exactly what form of aggression will be used? What is the impetus for choosing one over the other?

About masking, it is a defensive reaction or in many instances nervousness. It could also mean suppressed laughter, and that one is taught in classes on decorum – do not laugh out loud at someone or over a poor joke, it is bad manners. Like, don’t talk with your mouth full.

If the psychiatrists are saying that it revealed “serious illness” in Breivik’s case, and was used to keep away emotions, then it is used by many adults at different times. The most extreme example would be Hitler’s masked smile that seems to be a held-back sneeze.

Body language is a fascinating study, but it cannot be seen as parts of a whole. How we look at people or away, how we sit in company, how we talk to or at, how we purse our lips, how we cross our legs are all about a situation at a given time. This need not be about us as we are, but what we behave like with someone for some reason. It may change in a few minutes or a few hours, days, months.

And those who give a full jaws smile need not be ‘open’ really. That too is part of the faking, the congeniality people.

I do wonder if Mona Lisa had the makings of a terrorist since we just don’t know what she’s hiding or revealing.


  1. I presume you are the shy, quiet type of a girl in the class yet you were strong academically, someone who is thoughtful, more like the one with philosophical flair with calm finesse and yet turn out to be a fine writer. Court psychologist are not the final authority and I believe the study of body language is a complete sham!

  2. I *was*! If harmless, thrown-in-the-wind comments, then the sham is not dangerous.


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