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The rest of the first chapter (after the not so good stuff I mentioned in my last post) is a good discussion of how people’s stereotypes can be useful to disguise artists. Absolutely in separable from this is the idea of context. The concept of context forms an important part of this book: “If your disguise fits a common stereotype that is substantially different from the image you normally project, you are not likely to be recognized later in your ‘real-life’ role,” the book says. It’s a good point.
The second chapter is about preparation and has as much to do with seeing others and seeing yourself as it does with not letting others see your true self. After second (this one is the last) fake sounding story about ninja practices, the book talks about getting over your own stereotypes and seeing people and remember very specific details. The exercises he suggests throughout this chapter sound very valuable to someone trying to emulate the world’s greatest detective and throughout the next month I am determined to practice some of them. I’ll introduce as they come up in later posts. After practising to see others, the book then says you should apply this to yourself. Identify your own stereotype. Only once you know what kind of person you project to others can you make alterations to that projection.
Next he talks about disguises. The perfect disguise has 4 properties:
1)It covers up your individual features making you generic
2)The disguise itself is also generic and made of common stuff
3)It’s easy to put on and take off
4)It’s easy to dispose of.
Beyond those points the main points of this third chapter can be summarized pretty clearly:
The most important things to disguise are your head and face BUT not to obscure your face. People are distrustful of masks and if you do not have a face (remember faces do so much of our unverbal communication) you will draw attention to yourself causing people to actively search your person for other identifiers (which is something you don’t want if you are trying to be disguised). He does have a couple of neat exceptions to this rule. Keeping in mind Batman read this paragraph:
“The second point is that the fear reaction to a cover-up disguise may at times be used to the disguise artist’s advantage. Medieval Japanese samurai armor often included headgear with terrifying iron masks, complete with exaggerated scowls, teeth, and long mustaches. Even when viewed in the calm of a museum, samurai armor is somewhat unsettling. Worn on the battlefield by sword-wielding, screaming horsemen, it threw opposing troops into confusion and disarray. The same principle operates with the simpler cover-ups. Observers typically feel frightened and confused when they perceive themselves threatened by a masked stranger, and this reaction can but the disguise artist some time in which to conclude his operation and get out of the vicinity.”
Now if that doesn’t sound like Bruce Wayne donning a cape and cowl, I don’t know what does.
The author finishes the chapter with a couple quick ideas about temporarily disguising cars and rooms.
The next chapter is basically about acting. There’s a couple of important points here. Firstly, don’t try to pass yourself off as a member of any group that you are trying to infiltrate. There are just too many details and subtleties to trip you up. Instead be as different as possible and rely on their stereotypes to help your disguise. Secondly, learn to be quiet. It is an amateur mistake to give lots of made-up background. Don’t babble. Shut up. Be confident in your disguise. People don’t generally care about you and if they are asking it is probably just polite and they won’t expect concrete responses so don’t give them concrete response. The book quotes President Coolidge as saying, “If you don’t say anything, you won’t be called upon to repeat it,” and also, “I never got in trouble for anything I didn’t say.” But this has to be done with tact because if you only ask questions and never reveal anything about yourself (i.e. the character you are disguised as) then people will feel like you are interrogating them and grow distrustful. The solution: learn to flimflam. Small talk is super easy, and so is saying words without any meaning. All it takes is a little practice.
The penultimate chapter deals with makeup. Now I think that it is more than a little dated but you have to remember that the book is written by a man presumably talking to other men about makeup in the early 80s so you’ll have to excuse the fact that he is explicit about everything. To me the important things were 1) NEVER use stage makeup which is a definite common mistake amongst amateur men 2) blemish cover works fairly well to downplay beard shadow 3) with A LOT of work even ridiculous disguises can be pulled off with makeup and good acting. The book does have a section on using makeup to change the shape of your face but I have to reread it.
So that’s the book in a nutshell (it turned into a lengthy synopsis, oh well). Over the next little while, I’ll implement a practice routine for some of the exercises the book recommended and tell you how they go.
It seems like forever ago that I last posted. What have I been doing for a week?
Reading up on disguise techniques, that’s what. Since my last post I’ve read through a short book called “Disguise Techniques-Fool All of the People Some of the Time” by Ed MacInaugh. It’s actually a great book and I would recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in disguises. I was really worried for awhile that I wouldn’t find useful information on the topic but this book was a great introduction and I’d like to recap it for you.
The book is made up of 5 chapters and a conclusion. The first chapter talks about the psychology needed to become invisible, the second chapter (definitely my favorite chapter) preps you for taking up a disguise, the third talks about disguises, the fourth about acting and the fifth about makeup. Please I beg you, if you ever pickup this book, make it through the terrible Introduction and the start of the first chapter. The Introduction centers around a useless cartoon picture about stereotypes and the first chapter starts off with a bunch of hokey sounding stuff like “Not-being is a state of mind. It could be described as the antithesis of ‘be here now.’ You have probably practiced not being…” But it does get better (after the terribly painful paragraph about Ninja training and an intuitive sense of scrutiny).
Tomorrow I'll post a synopsis of the chapters.
How Batman is like canadian cross-dressing civil war spies with malaria and other interesting things
In the mean time, let me introduce you to another person who is famous for being masters of disguise:
Emma Edmonds - Edmonds was born 150 years ago in 1841. When her father tried to force her to marry against her will, she left home. Worrying that her Canadian father would find her, she fled to the United States. And what does a woman in 1841 do in the United States? She enlists to fight in the Civil War as Mr. Franklin Flint Thompson. Apparently, physical examinations weren't common and so she was able to disguise herself as a man. Apparently, she is one of approximately 400 women to sucessfully enlist in the army during the Civil War.
Not only was Emma able to pretend to be Frank for several years in the army, Frank eventually became a spy for the Union. For her first mission to the Confederate front she disguised her white-self as a a black man whom she named Cuff. Shaving her head and donning a wig and coloring her skin by using silver nitrate. In this disguise (which was apparently good enough to fool her superior, she was able to spend two days on the Confederate side, long enough to gain important information about the Confederates.
About two months later, Emma disguised as Frank disguised as a fat Irish peddler woman crossed the enemy line again to sell apples and soap and steal secrets. Apparently, she had some sort of adventure getting back to the Union army since she had to steal a horse and was wounded in her escape.
Emma continued to use Cuff as her disguise but also developed a black mammy laundress. Once while cleaning an officer's coat, she found a bundle of official documents in one of the pockets full of important information. She was also involved in setting up a spy network in Louisville disguised as southerner Charles Mayberry.
She was able to continue with her amazing disguises until she caught malaria. As long as she wanted to keep her secret identy, she could not admit her alias Frank to the hospital. So she left camp and her alias behind and checked herself into a private hospital. Unfortunately, this made her a deserter. Her life as a professional spy was done.
She wrote memoirs and eventually admitted that Emma Edmonds and Frank Thompson were one and the same. She fought for (and eventually won) an honorable discharge (as Emma) and got her veteran's pension through a special act of Congress. What a crazy life. Amazing. Most of this information is from Wikipedia or civilwarhome.com