Being Modern: Teeth whitening
bertolt brecht famously put it thus in his lyrics to the popular standard "Mack the Knife": "Oh the shark has pretty teeth dear / And he shows them pearly white." And that was where things stood for decades. Beware those flashing too white a smile – such things were best left to villains seeking the elixir of youth, models in toothpaste ads and Americans.
The 1970s success of the Osmonds changed all that. Before you could shriek "Donny" at the top of your lungs, we Brits had been shown what we'd been missing out on in the nothing-says-success-like-a-blinding-set-of-gnashers stakes and suddenly mums everywhere were booking appointments at the nearest orthodontist.
Within a few short years, artists as far from the squeaky clean Osmond ideal as David Bowie were straightening out and polishing their teeth in a bid to improve their appeal across the Atlantic. Surely someone somewhere was prepared to remain immune to this molar madness. Step forward Ricky Gervais. The man American critics once assumed wore a fake set of terrible teeth for comedy value told a reporter in 2010: "Who gives a fuck what anyone thinks? If I don't get a film role because my teeth are crooked, then fuck them, I don't want it." Within a year he would undergo what has been described as a "Hollywood make-over".
We are, it seems, all doomed to succumb to this cosmetic consensus; our "characterful" British teeth consigned for ever to an Austin Powers time capsule.
And now you can't walk down a high street or through a shopping centre without seeing the signs. "£99 laser whitening"; "Instant results"; "One-hour Hollywood smile"; "10 shades lighter".
There are teeth-whitening pens, kits, gels, pastes and sonic toothbrushes. The act has become a rite of passage for couples preparing for the close-up of their wedding photo. But without wishing to take the gloss off of anyone's lifelong wish to be shiny and happy, it's worth considering this: we have become a nation of confident smilers in inverse proportion to the things we actually have to smile about.
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