Some people suffer from an inability to recognize faces. The neurological term is prosopagnosia, or face blindness. A film producer friend of ours has it. It’s polite to introduce yourself by name even when meeting him for the thirty-fifth time so he has no trouble knowing who he’s talking to and doesn’t have to pretend to recognize you to spare you embarrassment. It’s been said the one face can recognize is his wife’s, and only by the part of the forehead where her eyebrows approach the bridge of her nose.
I’m sure the first thing that comes to the mind of most people is the potential for the numerous pranks one could play on such a person, from something as harmless as convincing them they’re in a crowd when they’re actually in a room with only one or two other people, to the far more amusing deception of leading them to commit a crime against a close family member. You people are disgusting. That’s what you call amusement? I’m not sure I agree!
There is an odd kind of face, though, that can induce prosopagnosia in otherwise neurotypical individuals. Agnethotism is “being forgettable” or “having a forgettable face.” It’s the mirror image of the other thing we were just talking about, which I’ve since forgotten the word for. It’s odd that two afflictions that are basically about the ephemerality of the human face should be able to be called “mirror images” of each other, since each of them conjures a mirror or vision field in which an image fails to appear. It’s like talking about the mirror image of invisibility. But that’s part of the mystery of mirrors. Within a mirror lies another world, and if it were indeed invisible there almost wouldn’t be anything at all to a mirror. What is a mirror but an object that reflects whatever is in front of it? And if all it does is reflect the invisible, it’s unfit.
But the subject of a malfunctioning or malingering mirror leads us into highly speculative territory, and we don’t tolerate the highly speculative in this infotainment venue. A slight window of speculation is all we need, open just enough so that we can reach in and pull a thin conspiracy theory from it. That’s why I’m here, anyway. I don’t know why you’re here. Probably to trick someone into killing their mother, from what I’ve learned about you in an above paragraph!
Let’s let bygones be bygones, though, shall we? What’s really important is the issue of these people without faces. I mean, effectively they have no faces. At least none that I remember.
Think of the power you’d have if you were instantly forgotten. You could go in for as many free sample gelato flavors as you wanted. All sorts of crimes would be possible. You could be caught on security footage and it would be of no help in capturing you. No witness could describe you. You couldn’t be picked out of a police lineup. You could play any number of different characters in a drama and, as long they never had to share the stage together, no one would be the wiser.
The drawbacks, however, are obvious. So obvious I won’t even list them here.
The question arises, how do we know that people with this attribute exist? An interesting thing about it is, although they are repeatedly anonymous at a quotidian level, they do have the ability to be recognized once spotlighted in the public eye. The difficulty for them is getting into the public eye in the first place. One theory is that the gatekeepers of The Spectacle have special spectacles for picking out of the masses agnethotic candidates for power, fame, and fortune.
That’s how we know of three agnethotic individuals, all of them, eerily, from Indiana. The most immediately frightening is Mike Pence, most recently the Vice President of the United States while it creaked under the ancient girth of Donald J. Dump, one of our most illegal Presidents. Sure, you know who Pence is now, but before he became Governor of Indiana he had difficulty getting anyone to look twice at him and recognize the same guy. He won five re-elections to his congressional seat, not because his constituents liked how he served them, but because they were looking to replace him with a fresh face.
Another erstwhile faceless Hoosier is Pete Buttigieg, the current Secretary of something. Secretary of Transportation Explosions? He’s also known as Pete “Pete Buttigieg” Buttigieg. Although he is known to have policy opinions, a facial feature or two, and certain ambient idiosyncrasies, Pete Buttigieg, as he’s often called, retains a great deal of his forgettability even now as a household name. Agnethotism can return like a five-o’clock shadow if the person in question is unremarkable enough even as a fixture in The Spectacle.
A name the world seems to have forgotten is that of James Danforth Quayle, Vice President under George HW Bush. George HW Bush was himself a so-called victim of agnethotism, but he seems to have been cured sometime while heading the CIA. Dan Quayle, on the other hand has had a relapse so complete, many assume he died at some point early in the second millennium.
And there may be some truth to that. Maybe even some SuperTruth®.
There is a figure from the Japanese Edo-era yokai tradition called noppera-bō, the faceless ghost. The legend of noppera-bō was brought to the English-speaking world by the journalist Lafcadio Hearn in his collection of stories titled Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things, some of which were adapted by director Masaki Kobayashi in his 1964 movie, Kwaidan.
The medical literature links the two, the noppera-bō and the agnethotics. Doctors are famous for gossiping and telling tales out of school, which should be a warning to all of us to keep our ailments and infections to ourselves. The doctors speak of a belief that those with remarkably unremarkable faces are in fact possessed by the spirit of the yokai, noppera-bō. One legend that has grown up around the forty-first presidency is the following story, of anonymous attribution, still told in medical circles.
Dick Cheney, at that time serving as Secretary of Defense, was walking in the White House Rose Garden one night when he saw from a distance the Vice President crouched down at the edge of a pond. Cheney listened and could swear he heard the man softly weeping. He came up behind the VP and discovered that, yes, the man was definitely emitting quiet sobs. Cheney had the perverse impulse to push the man into the Rose Garden water feature and drown him there, but then he reasoned the effort would be more usefully applied one day when he himself was Vice President and whatever little crying bitch was serving as President by then was crouching by the pond, and he could actually profit from the crime. Later he discovered that the ambiguous nature of the office of Vice President could be of even more use to him than murder.
So Cheney said, “Mr. Quayle, sir, why are you weeping beside this pond in nothing but a kimono,” for indeed Quayle was wearing a kimono and weeping into one of its wide sleeves. “Surely whatever it is can’t be so bad as all that.” But the sobbing continued. “Please, Mr. Quayle, tell me why you weep so. If there’s anything I can do to help you, you need only ask and I will faithfully execute your wish.”
Quayle stood up, still crying quietly into his sleeve as he turned to face Dick Cheney. He then let his arm drop, revealing a face without eyes, nose, mouth, nor any feature whatsoever, just blank skin, as smooth as an egg. Cheney let out a comical squeal of fright and fled for the safety of the White House. As he approached he saw the President, George Bush the elder, nursing an aperitif beef jerky stick in the porchlight.
He threw himself at the President’s feet, crying out in fear, “Ah! – aa! – aa!”
“Now, now, what’s the matter, Mr. Secretary,” said the President, “Did someone hurt you?”
“Nobody hurt me, but – ah! – aa...”
“Only scared you?”
“It was Vice President Quayle, he was by the pond, crying, and… he showed me… oh, I cannot tell you what he showed me!”
“Ha! Was it anything like this?” the President asked, and on looking up, Cheney saw that Bush’s face had become blank like an egg. And then the porch light went out, and Cheney had his second in what would become a series of abundant heart attacks.
And so the Taoist verse – which is Chinese, not Japanese – is confirmed, “Seduction comes from what you can see, but terror comes from what you cannot see.”
And that’s the Moment of Truth. Good day!