In February 2016, psychologist and New York Times contributor Lisa Damour wrote, “Taking orders can be especially annoying for teenagers. So how should a girl respond when her parents say she can’t go out for the evening until she unloads the dishwasher? She may see no point in fighting back, but still feel compelled to broadcast her objection. … Ophthalmic calisthenics offer a useful solution.”
Ophthalmic calisthenics, you might have guessed, is a fancy way of saying “eye rolling.” Damour was writing about the technique as practiced by teen girls, but if you replace “teenagers” in the above passage with “celebrities” and “unload the dishwasher” with something like “stomach a life-draining promotional interview,” the point holds up. Like teen girls and everyone else, celebrities abhor being told what to do; they also, like everyone else, usually acquiesce to playing the game. They understand that fighting back is futile, and possibly career-endangering — leaving passive-aggressive optical resistance as the only satisfying option.
Eye rolling has been a popular celebrity facial gesture for years, employed by everyone from Prince to Kate Middleton to President Obama. This week, though, eye rolling is having its moment thanks to three celebrities. First, Anderson Cooper unleashed an earth-rumbling eye roll on Tuesday night in response to Kellyanne Conway saying Kellyanne Conway things after Donald Trump shockingly fired FBI Director James Comey. The following day, an interviewer told actress Jessica Chastain that someone feeds Johnny Depp his lines via an earpiece, and she reacted thusly:
That same day, Nicole Kidman participated in a cooking segment on Ellen led by celebrity chef Giada De Laurentiis. They — well, they did not mesh well. And when Giada hit Kidman with her brand of confrontational-but-friendly energy, the latter was all eye rolls.
We could all learn a thing or two from these three heroes. In fact, we should. Human eyes contain a much higher level of whiteness compared to other primates, meaning that we have a remarkable and unique ability to communicate using only ocular movement. It’d be a shame — and actually, disrespectful to Charles Darwin and evolution itself — to let that go to waste. Let’s analyze Cooper’s, Chastain’s, and Kidman’s exemplary gestures more deeply. Let’s take notes and extract lessons from them. Let’s fulfill our evolutionary duty and become better eye rollers ourselves. We’ll go in chronological order.
- I’m sure this isn’t the first time you’ve seen Cooper’s eye roll, either in GIF form on Twitter, or as a 10-second clip that rolled during Stephen Colbert’s monologue on The Late Show. But what you don’t see in those versions is that this eye roll occurred in Minute 10 of a 13-minute interview. That means Cooper listened to Conway say things like, “This is what leaders do,” for 10 minutes before deploying an eye roll.
- This isn’t the first time Cooper has rolled his eyes at Kellyanne (go to the 1:35 mark here)
- Cooper employs what I’d like to call a perpendicular lift, a variation on the classic 180-degree, circular roll
- Cooper’s eyes go so high into his skull that they almost disappear behind the upper frame of his glasses:
- Pick your spot: If Anderson Cooper pulled out this eye roll in Minute 2 of the interview, there’s a good chance it never would have gone viral. Instead he let his — and the viewing public’s — frustration simmer until it boiled over into one grandly cathartic facial gesture. Patience is important — remember that the next time your friend fires off a hot take at brunch.
- Earn it: An elaborate eye roll will be met with either admonishment or praise. To ensure you get the latter, you gotta make sure what you’re reacting to warrants something as cutting as an eye roll. In this case, Conway was boasting about winning Michigan instead of answering a question about the president firing the FBI director, which practically begged for an exasperated response. Cooper gave exactly that, and that’s why Conway’s accusation that his eye roll was sexist is being met by … people tweeting out the Anderson Cooper eye roll.
- Get creative and commit: They’re your eyes! Roll them how you want! You wanna go the Cooper route and make a straight line from your corneas to your brain? Would you rather take a page from Liz Lemon’s book? If you do what feels right for you, the eye roll will have maximum function.
- This whole video is a delicious mix of pure emotion and carefully crafted reaction. It’s masterfully done by Chastain. First she hears that “Johnny Depp sometimes has lines fed to him in an earpiece,” and is wholly unable to contain her chagrin and eye roll. But then she composes herself and fires off a scorching burn in answering how she goes about memorizing lines: “I guess my technique is working hard.” Flawless execution.
- This eye roll is a two-parter. It starts with a traditional but slightly askew roll of the eyes:
Then it’s capped off by a flourish of the eyebrows and a chuckle:
- It isn’t JUST about the eye roll: Chastain’s move is strong on its own, but the onslaught of supporting players are why people everywhere are uncontrollably yelling “QUEEN!” right now. You have so many resources at your fingertips to enhance your eye rolls. You’ll be amazed how much more weight your gestures will carry if they’re a part of a combination. Just don’t do finger guns.
- I bet when she agreed to do the show, Kidman was like, “Sure, why not? I’ll answer a few questions about how Keith gets his hair so straight, we’ll do a little dancing, and then Ellen will scare me or make me meet a 4-year-old who just went viral for going to school dressed as a tree trunk. Easy stuff.” Then she shows up and Giada De Laurentiis is yell-talking about risotto and chef-shaming and making bad food-sex jokes. What I’m saying is: I really sympathize with Nicole Kidman here.
- Oh, also? Giada called Nicole “honey.” [Rolls eyes]
- Kidman’s eye roll — which she employs frequently over the course of this six-minute video — is a hybrid: part eye roll, part side-eye.
- Side-eye is good: Sometimes a roll of the eyes isn’t enough. Sometimes, you need to inject a hint of disgust into your exasperation. That’s why the side-eye hybrid comes in handy: when you hate something or someone so much that you can’t believe it or they even exist.
- Sometimes it’s just for you, and that’s OK: Take a look at this screengrab:
Now, obviously, millions were watching when this happened, and millions have seen it since, so it’s not like Kidman’s gesture occurred in total privacy. But in this moment, with Ellen and Giada basically miles away making some gnocchi or whatever, Kidman’s eye roll is less a performative gesture than a method of self-care. She’s not trying to communicate to Giada that she’s being ridiculous and over-familiar — she’s simply internalizing the experience and saying to herself, “Yo, this is effed.” Sometimes an eye roll is for personal enjoyment and reflection only, and that’s OK.
- Be Nicole Kidman: Seriously, it’ll really help.