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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

What's a haircut anyway?

Riding the bus today I noticed more (ironic?) mullets, mustaches and hippies than ever before. I miss the innocence of an 80's mohawk. I mean, it seems like more than a generation gap. While I do find these haircuts and looks in general to be insanely ugly-*ok that part is maybe part generation gap*---what freaks me out is that the kids don't seem to mean it.

Maybe they DO mean it. But how do you mean irony? This is what I call post-irony. It's a little confusing....

I have a friend who claims to hate irony (and the 80's) who swears he collects California raisins because he REALLY SINCERELY loves the California raisins. This kind of post-irony, where the ironic tactic of referencing something historically is claimed as an act of authenticity, has been going on for awhile now. I remember noticing it for the first time in the late 80s. But what does it mean to REALLY LOVE a bad bad haircut. How can you MEAN a mullet?

During the 70's/80's rise of the mullet, it was also called a saftey cut. People had this haircut so they could have both long and short hair at the same time. You could be a rocker (long hair) and still get a job (tidy short hair in front, away from your face). Hence SAFETY cut. It has a long history as a working class haircut, possibly for this reason.

When people in the 90's started bringing the mullet back ironically (see article in Grand Royale, the Beastie Boys magazine, from 93 or 94 for an early, influential spiel) I found it to be disrespectful and in poor taste. Like when people love to laugh at someone who is so behind the times or whatever. It was just kind of mean. I didn't think it was funny or "cool" to make jokes about mullets or laugh at people with them, I just found it depressing and sad.

In the past few years, the mullet has become the new mohawk. Not just worn by fashionista hipsters at discos, but dreaded bad-haircutted punx have now have them too. They have this weird combo of a safety cut and a "no hawk", which is a mullet-y mohawk that has no actual shaved parts, just some longer hair in the midddle, surrounded by shorter hair. This haircut is super trendy right now. There is a newer version of it that combines the mullet or 'bi-level' with a new wave asymmetrical hair cut. To me this looks extremely silly and the punx who wear them seem to be super into road warrior--also silly in a punksploitation type way... see also quincy punks the suburban phenomenon, not to be confused with the band quincy punx... But whatevs.

Anyhow, this haircut has been around for at least five years or so, but it just keeps getting more and more popular....as do the mustaches and the punks-turned-hippies. I can't tell the 'hipster' hippies from the hippy-hippies anymore. And then today there was this one young woman on the bus with a mullet who looked like a real 80's mom, not like a kid trying to dress like an 80's mom. I really couldn't tell if she was being ironic or not. I think she just really wants to have a mullet because she thinks it's the best haircut, not because she thinks it's funny or weird. I think she means it. I'm trying to understand this and I can't understand it. It just looks bad to me and it always will. Like she got the 80's wrong. Or maybe she doesn't even know this is an 80's look. Is that possible? Post-Irony or just bad fashion? Maybe post-post irony, where the historical reference ceases to be evoked entirely, in which case, a rose is a rose is a rose (see gertrude stein) and the thing being signified becomes the thing itself. But, a mullet is still a symbol, regardless or whether or not the kid wearing it is aware of its history.

I'm writing this at a time when I am more anti-fashion than I have been since I was teenager, but I have been thinking about this as an example of irony vs. authenticity. The poser vs. the punk. The carefully constructed and outwardly expressed authenticity of "the punk" might also be a little hard to take....but given a choice...at least everyone knows a mohawk is supposed to be rebellious. Right? What about MR T you ask? Hmmm. I'll have to think about it.

I guess I understand that someone who had never heard Marvin Gaye or Gladys Knight and the Pips before the California Raisins covered I Heard It Through the Grapevine could love them...especially if they were a little kid during that time period. I mean, I didn't properly hear Aretha Franklin or Booker T and the MGs until I saw the Blues Brothers for example. But you don't see me collecting Blues Brothers memorabilia either. No. I collect Stax/Volt singles, as it should be.

Ok ok ok. You are not what you own etc. (see Underground Ideas 2009)

But are you what you wear?

What is a haircut anyway?

I'm going to listen to Alternative TV and try and remember what punk means to me.



the kids of today should defend themselves against the 70s/80s/90s/now/forever.

Tobi Vail said...

what does that mean?

Tobi Vail said...

also, I'm breaking my own rule here by calling young adults "kids". Everyone on the bus was over 18. Ha.

CO said...

maybe postpartisan politics are matched by postpartisan haircuts and old systems of meaning/ modes of authenticity are discarded for the pragmatics of everyone trying to seem unique and authentic and new and cutting edge while realizing it is impossible to be unique and authentic and new and cutting edge. i do thinks its all influenced by a movement from post-ironic post-modernism to whatever the hell were dealing with now.

Unknown said...

I wonder if anti-fashion is a signifier too? If so, of what?

Tabitha Says said...

Anti-fashion is a stance for sure, but it's not a trend at the moment like the mullet is, unfortunately.

As for post-modernism, that has been around for how long now? sooo long. I remember learning all that stuff 20 years ago when I was in school for the first time and surely my own ideas about the politics of style come from cultural theory (eg Dick Hebdige's The Meaning of Style)

But I'm not really questioning whether or not authenticity is a construct. Rather, wondering what the intention is with the mullet by the wearer. Maybe that's not clear here. I am asking, "do they mean it" as well as "what does it mean" --offering my perspective, which includes a historical analysis.

I am curious about young people and how they rebel and don't rebel. Coming from youth culture, trying to still participate in a culture of resistance as an adult, I have a long term perspective. Some older punx shrink away from dating themselves in this way, but they share my history. My parents grew up in the 50s and 60s and then got into punk in the 70's and 80's when I was getting into it and shared their perspective with me. I watched them watch the 60's become ossified and mined and sold back to them as nostalgia-- it was interesting to hear their stories and go to shows with them, comparing their perspective with my own.
So, while I think generation gaps are funny and recognize that there is one between me and people born in the late 80's-early 90's--I also think they are compelling and wish to explore this fully.

E.Rockett said...

oh god. I never thought of my hair like this before....

I had a mohawk for a year. A good 5 inch hawk that was insanely too crazy of colors. Then slowly i cut it down to only like 3 inches and let my natural hair color grow back...eventually it grew out on the sides and then i missed having a shaved side, so i buzzed one side...

now here i am with one of those fashion mullets and its totally accidental but its so easy! I wake up and I dont need to do anything with my hair, no torturous hours under the straighting iron to make my mohawk stay up. all i do is wake up. rub my hair a bit and go.

Its freeing to just not give a crap about my hair. When I had my mohawk I needed it at that time in my life, I need to feel like I was different from all the same ole haircuts around me and I wanted to make a statement and just be like fuck you to social norms. I dont know I even find my mullet to mean something. I feel more gender queer then ever having my mullet, and the fact that I get called a guy all the time is kinda fun. To make everyone have to second guess am I a girl or a guy like its thrilling.

I guess in my crazy ramble which i do to much, im trying to say that yeah right now mullets are in and im a fashionista or whatever. But even all the kids who are rocking mullets have a reason to do it. Like even if they started out doing it because its "in" through the harassment im sure they face because of their hair like it turns into a haircut not just for style i guess...

I dont know. That was a long ramble. Apologies.

Unknown said...

i went to the mall, to go to radio shack, and standing out side the hot topic, was kid, an actual kid, with the tightest pants i'd ever seen, fake vintage sneakers, and a haircut that looked like a fractal explosion of the locust circa 1998. also a neon band-aid on his cheek..maybe to hold in the tears?
this the market-prescribed look for rebellious teenagers i think..which leaves them no choice but to turn all signifiers topsy turvy.

Unknown said...

also...from the saettle times...

"According to Ashley Doane, the co-author of "White Out: The Continuing Significance of Racism," which examines white culture, ethnicity and stereotypes, the term "mullet" has evolved from a hairstyle to a pejorative label similar to "redneck," "hillbilly" or "white trash." All those terms can carry negative stereotypes of "barefoot, beer-swilling, cousin-marrying, NASCAR-loving and gun-toting," said Doane, a professor of sociology at the University of Hartford, in Connecticut.

The label is used by the dominant culture of successful whites, Doane said, to stigmatize and shame "deviant whites" for their failure to conform and to "reinforce lines of race and class."

He said the continued popularity of the mullet can be seen as a sign of "working-class rebellion."

Tobi Vail said...

the sociologist in me would love to see this trend as an example of "working class rebellion", but it is my experience that sociologists are always looking for this and quite often find it where it is not actually occurring.

thanks to e. rockett for such a candid exposé! I think I am actually starting to get it.

more soon, i'm sure.

Tobi Vail said...

p.s. tabitha is my other alias, in case that is confusing