In which the Hunchback gets no grace

“Years after I worked with the [RAF burn unit] airmen, I read a profoundly disturbing article entitled ‘The Quasimodo Complex’ in the British Journal of Plastic Surgery. In it, two physicians reported on their study of 11,000 prison inmates who had committed murder, prostitution, rape, or other serious crimes. They carefully documented a trend that I will summarize with one overall comparison. In the normal adult population, 20.2 percent of all people may be said to have surgically correctable facial deformities (protruding ears, misshapen noses, receding chins, acne scars, birthmarks, eye deformities). But research revealed that among the 11,000 offenders fully 60 percent showed such characteristics…

“Whether a murderer on death row or a crack pilot in the RAF, a person forms a self-image based largely on what kind of image other people mirror back.

“The report on the Quasimodo complex reduced to statistics a truth that haunts every burn victim, handicapped person, and leprosy patient. We humans give inordinate regard to the physical body, or shell, that we live in. It takes a rare person indeed… to look through that shell and acknowledge the inherent human worth, the image of God inside.”

Brand and Yancey, 1984.

There are two ways to look at this apparent link between ugliness and crime (not that all criminals are odd-looking, but it almost seems odd to us when they aren’t). First, that unhealthy living rarely leads to healthy-looking individuals. However, from this description, these were physical traits correctable by surgery; that is to say, deeper than jaundice or blackened teeth. The second is that our society links crime and ugliness, creating self-fulfilling prophecy, ostracizing “creepy-looking” people, flinching at their approach until they learn to associate themselves with such reactions. This is not at all P.C. to mention, but from my own observance, marginal groups of outcast persuasions rarely boast super-hot memberships.

Obviously not all unattractive people are doomed to a life of crime. In fact, a lot of them end up ruling the world. I doubt this is entirely due to upbringing or intelligence or drive to succeed; it may be access to power or access to trophy wives, but this would still be oversimplification. Terrorists are intelligent enough to build and dissemble bombs, and they also have drive to succeed. They may or may not get trophy wives.

So what’s the difference between Prince Charles and Charles Cullen? We would give the prince some measure of respect (however ridiculous we might find him), whereas the only respect we would give Cullen, probably, is the respect of distance.

Respect, then. How much of it is in our faces when we address another human being. How much of it we give ourselves for the accuracy of our first impressions, when that guy we hated turns out to be an axe murderer.

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