On a brisk, autumn night in the Music Hall of the Center for Fine and Performing Arts, there was a room divided. Honors students sat on opposite sides of the auditorium, split on one issue: a mustache.
The University of West Florida Honors Council held a debate on Nov. 27, to decide the fate of Gregory Lanier, English instructor and Director of the Honors Program, and his mustache. His supporters, known as team “Save it” sat on the left side of the auditorium. Lanier, who has a very prominent mustache, was defending his honor against Gregory Tomso, associate director of the Honors Program. Tomso was backed by his supporters in team “Shave it” on the right side of the auditorium. Random students wore T-shirts with a picture of a mustache that translates to “I ‘mustache’ you a question.”
Brendan Kelly, director for the School of Fine, Performing and Communication Arts, moderated the debate. Kelly was quick to address the topic at hand.
“For more than two decades no human being has seen what sits beneath it,” Kelly said. “It’s one of the great mysteries of Pensacola.”
Tomso’s opening gave way to a two part strategy, the bulk of which was comparing Lanier, and anyone with a mustache, to the evil men of history by reminding the audience of the historical horrors that men with mustaches can bring.
“Who has worn the mustache?” Tomso said. “Maybe Hitler? Perhaps Genghis Kahn? The mustache is an oracle, but an oracle of terrible promoting — things like genocide, like fascism, like the end of freedom.”
The second part of Tomso’s argument was of hygienic concern — not just for the safety of Lanier, but those around him.
“One’s breakfast, lunch and dinner intermingle in unholy ways above the mouth,” Tomso said.
Lanier’s rebuttal was of more personal tone.
“You don’t like me,” Lanier said, addressing Tomso. “You really don’t like me, and after all I have done for you. You’re a hypocrisy.”
Lanier’s strategy was more positive. Lanier made an attempt to signify the mustache as a symbol for love, so much as to personify himself as the holiday season’s most well-known character.
“Santa Claus has a really nice mustache, and Santa Claus is happy,” Lanier said. “He doesn’t say evil things. Therefore, I can keep it because I am a nice person.”
“Coal is coming.” he said as he turned toward Tomso.
Tomso’s rebuttal was one of harsh realization.
“The first step down the road to fascism is a belief in the supernatural,” Tomso said. “I just want to say that Santa Claus does not exist, but Hitler did.”
What happened over the next hour was teetering on the brink of absurdity, as one would expect from a serious debate over a silly situation. Tomso offered a very passive-aggressive olive branch of peace in the form of a very expensive electric razor. Lanier at one time responded by referring to mustaches as having magical capabilities, helping him win a karaoke contest by singing Elvis Presley. Lanier then sang some Elvis and threw a would-be scarf out to the crowd. He also sang a rendition of Johnny Cash’s “Boy Named Sue,” changing the lyrics to incorporate his prominent ‘stache.
At one point in the proceedings, both respective gentlemen attempted to loudly talk above the other. Kelly attempted to remedy the situation.
“Gentlemen this is not a presidential debate,” Kelly said, yelling over both men.
“I am not afraid to use this,” he said, brandishing the electric razor at the two men, both of whom have facial hair.
By the end of the debate, both men had exhausted the topic and had each referred to one another as a fascist.
This mock debate was an attempt to raise money for the Honors Council. Lanier agreed that if team “Shave it” raised more money than team “Save it” he would indeed shave off his mustache. At the deadline of 1 p.m. the following Thursday, team “Shave it” had raised a total of $1,095.89, while team “Save it” only raised $1,009.40 for a total of $ 2,105.19. Even though the real winner was the Honors Council, Tomso still expressed his satisfaction with his victory.
“(I feel) vindicated,” Tomso said. “I’m excited that we are moving into the 21st century in style.”
The shaving of Lanier’s mustache took place Dec. 4 at 1 p.m.