More trouble on the hair front. As faithful readers of this blog will know, I have very short hair. I like to think of this as my tribute to Jeffrey Katzenberg and a touchingly frank acknowledgement of Hollywood’s influence even on my hair.
But the real reason I have short hair is that I am going bald, and it seems better to remove my hair by an act of will than have it taken from me follicle by follicle. It’s better just to get it over with. Plus, thanks to Jeffrey and other metrosexuals, it’s the fashion.
But trouble today. On my holiday to Vancouver Island, Air Canada managed to break into my luggage and lose the electric razor with which I shave my head. (Their way of saying “thanks for flying with us…and the razor.”) On the Island, I resort to one of those blue Bic razors and this did a good enough job cutting things back. Pam, my fiancee, said, “no, it looks fine. Really. It’s fine.” You dont have to be a highly trained anthropologist to see this for what it is: absolute affirmation of your skill with a Bic and the fact that you have returned to the shores of high fashion.
I tried the same thing today, but this time I used one of those small-bladed Schick razors and the result was disastrous. Great patches appeared on my scalp. “Hmm,” I thought, looking in the mirror, “this is not good.” Of course, I could just shave right down to the scalp, but I thought in the interests of anthropology, I would leave the patches and see what happened.
It was worse than Kansas. People sidled away from me in the drug store. I got alarmed looks on the side walk. Dogs regarded me with grave suspicion. Clearly, my hair has become a declaration of something people just dont want to hear. And looking at myself in the mirror, I cant say I blame them. Well, not every one reacted badly. The woman at a bookstore give me a look of the warmest sympathy, as if too say, “it must be awfully hard being a poet.
We have seen lots of experiment with haircuts in the last few years. New subcultures use new looks. The Punk movement gave us several striking innovations, including the Mohawk and the Chelsea. Goths prefer something dark, dyed, long and moody. Country and Western gave us really big hair. Sassoon supplied an asymmetrical architecture for a decade. Career women in the 80s declared their seriousness with the blunt cut.
But no one has resorted to the “patchy look. How strange. If the object is to send a signal of disaffection, of refusal, of new citizenship, surely patchy hair is just the thing. It says, “Screw you, I don’t care how I look. I just took a Schick to my head and this is what happened. I am no slave to fashion. No captive of convention. I am my own man. This is my remaining hair.
All of the new looks (Punk, Goth, Sassoon) carried the shock of the new on first introduction, but eventually we said, “Ok, I get it. Carry on.” The innovation starts as a departure from the rules and eventually, as it forms, it becomes a new rule, a new form. But patchy hair appears to be un-formable. It will not “take.” Even the most radical social actors seem to know this. However innovative their intentions, patchy hair is one place they will not go.
And that for anthropological purposes is interesting. We are a society that streams with innovations. Even the really radical looks eventually shoulder their way into prevailing practice. We get used to them. Patchy hair shouldnt be any different. (It is, for instance, less irrevocable than bolts or tattoos.) But patchy hair is where we draw the line. This says that there are some things that are inassimilable, some signs that will never scan, some innovations that are truly off limits.
Why patchy hair? I am sure “this blog sits at” friends and readers will tell me. And I know Steve and/or Leora will point out that artist X wore patchy hair for the whole of his concert tour in the American Southwest in the spring of 1993. (To which I reply, “yes, but no one followed suit.”)
Apparently, patchy hair stands as a declaration of personal distress and disorder. The patchy look says not “behold, I have departed from the world.” This is the look of a “masterless man” who stands not apart from social convention, but utterly outside its ambit. It says, “here’s a guy who is really fucked up.”
So what’s the anthropological moral of the story? It’s that there are some innovations that cannot innovate, some sounds that will register only as noise.
Patchy hair says that, for all our dynamism and diversity, there are shared rules and a commonality. All the post-modernist moaning aside, there is still, an irreducible set of rules, a “smallest instruction set, still in place.
We have been so wowed by the post-modernist conviction that culture is “over that we have failed to look for these rules. This is one of the tasks that must engage an anthropologist of the culture of commerce. What are the rules that continue to govern us even as we set about rewriting every other cultural convention? We must keep looking.
Next experiment: no pants!