This photo of Prime Minister Harper’s father and brothers is from a recently published article about the late Joseph Harper’s influence on his son Stephen. The clothes, the housing, the father’s crewcut all point to the Harper family’s origins in SquaresVille. The ‘sixties were in full flower at this point and these black and white characters are not-no-never going with the hippie flow.
There’s a narrative I can spin, especially when the article makes a correlation between the father’s example of stalwart pro-semitism and his son’s pro-Israel foreign policy. It makes the boy on the far right of this picture look like a tidy little patriarchal project, a kid leather outline stuffed so full of WWII propaganda and a failed warrior’s dreams, that now the adult Prime Minister is as hard as a baseball in minus 40 °C weather. I can pore over the boyish face in the photograph and imagine that I see the buttoning down, sewing up process taking hold, as he puts up with the nonsense of motherly picture-taking. Once the shutter finally clicks metallicaly, Stephen bolts away keen to resume his fierce and heroic efforts to steel himself against the eternal enemies as revealed, enumerated and identified by his wartime dad.
Kids adopt social masks early but they’re transparent and ill-fitting, sometimes they fall off entirely. Paradoxically the adult Stephen’s persona, characterized by absolute control and a smooth, bullet proof exterior, features a childlike smile which must be a carefully contrived ornament added to his public appearances. He shows the tips of his two front teeth under the curve of his upper lip, a curve like swag bunting on a small town bandstand. He’s giving the smile that boys can’t help giving when all they’ve got are two teeth, signalling to everyone that they’re half-formed and vulnerable creatures in need of our protection. By contrast, the boy he actually was in the ‘sixties photo is slightly defiant and unsmiling, and that’s closer to the Prime Minister’s adult persona. I can see it in him as he declaims in the Knesset, still boyishly single-minded about the crusades of a black and white world, as sure as any old testament prohet that he knows who will win and who will lose on the metaphysical battlefield of good and evil.