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Mark Zuckerberg Scholars Tell Us What Makes This Image a 'Rare Zuck'

The editors of the California Review of Images and Mark Zuckerberg and skincare experts analyzed this image of Mark Zuckerberg wearing sunscreen while surfing in Hawaii.
July 20, 2020, 8:35pm

Photos of Mark Zuckerberg surfing in Hawaii, his face white with a layer of sunscreen, has given the internet a canonical entry into the historical ledger of Zuck's looks.

“This image is what we refer to in the field of Zuckerberg Studies as a 'rare Zuck': a scene on one hand depicting a regular dude making sure he doesn't get sunburn, and on the other hand capturing something far stranger and darker: the sunken eyes, the mask-like visage, the expensive next-gen electric surfboard," Tim Hwang, cofounder and editor of the California Review of Images and Mark Zuckerberg, an academic examination of the visual culture of Zuckerberg, told Motherboard.


"Part of what makes Zuck such a compelling subject for photography is that he's perpetually trapped between the dream of trying to be a normal guy and the strange and somewhat sinister reality of being one of the world's most powerful billionaires,” he said.

Zuckerberg's visage has been endlessly memed on Twitter and has drawn comparisons on Twitter to characters as far-ranging as Batman’s Joker to the ghost in “Spirited Away.”

“While most of us are relatively powerless against Facebook's policies and practices, a meme that mocks its CEO for looking ridiculous is one way to try to claim power over him,” Li Cornfeld, contributor to the California Review of Images and Mark Zuckerberg, told Motherboard in an email.

Cornfeld said Zuckerberg’s image is normally meticulously crafted, so “there is a special pleasure in catching him unready for the camera.”

Many people are rightfully angry with Zuckerberg's refusal to take Facebook's role in spreading misinformation and hate speech seriously. One thing he does appear to take seriously is keeping himself safe from the sun's harmful rays.

Michelle Wong, a beauty blogger and science educator, told Motherboard that Zuckerberg is most likely using a zinc oxide or titanium dioxide sunscreen.

“Those ingredients are notorious for their white cast since they reflect visible light, making them look white on the skin if you apply a lot,” Wong said, adding that it appears Zuckerberg hasn’t applied the same amount of sunscreen to other parts of his body as he has to his face.

Notably, and crucially, Hawaii passed a law banning sunscreens that contain oxybenzone and octinoxate (which are most of them), because they are unsafe for coral reefs. The law doesn't go into effect until 2021, but it seems Zuckerberg may have been trying to be reef-friendly anyway.

“While it's important to protect face skin, especially if you want to keep away wrinkles, skin cancer shows up on other parts of the body as well, such as the legs and neck,” Wong said. “He's wearing a long sleeved shirt which is good for sun protection.”

Zuckerberg and his family own a 700-acre plot of land on the north shore of Kauai, which has been a point of contention as he's bought a huge amount of land once owned by Indigenous Hawaiians. A current petition on with over 800,000 signatures states that Zuckerberg “is suing Native Hawaiians in Kauai for their land so he can build a mansion,” though in a report by Newsweek a spokesperson for the Zuckerberg family office stated that "the premise of this petition is false."