It’s Just Hair
Tell that to Delilah
It’s just hair, that stuff that covers the top of your head. It meant more to Samson, but that was a special case. And the story of Samson and Delilah isn’t actually about one’s coiffure, but being really careful about whom you decide to marry.1
Hair took on a strange, quasi-mystical importance in that most foul of decades, the 1960s.2 Hair became an emblem of the counterculture, growing it long unlike those squares with their military buzz cuts. Entire songs,3 indeed entire musical theater productions, were written about those thin strands of keratin sprouting from your noggin. In a decade full of stultifying conformity, don’t conform to the norm, man! Those reactionaries think growing your hair long makes you a woman? Even better! Shatter those ancient gender norms! Grow your hair out like, uh, like everyone else. Even among the counterculture, it’s conform or be cast out.
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This isn’t hypocrisy though, and it makes certain sense. Sartorial and aesthetic considerations are just uniforms by any other name. You dress and do your hair a certain way to symbolize that you’re a part of a certain crowd. You are separating yourselves from the rest of the herd of humanity. Why do you think Hasidic Jews wear their hair that way? For fun?
A note on conformity: This is the criticism levied at the 1950s, but strangely no other decade before or since.4 Indeed, once the clock struck midnight on January 1, 1950, Americans of all stripes lost their free will. All American women, as though under a powerful geas, felt a strange compulsion to get in the kitchen and do exactly what their husbands said without deviation. Men en masse donned drab gray suits—those ones with the high-waisted slacks, gigantic lapels, and ties that only extend halfway to the bellybutton—went off to boring paper-shuffling jobs, and started ranting about pretend communists under their beds5 (separate beds, of course, because come 1950, and ignoring that the decade actually began in 1951 and ended in 1960, husbands and wives stopped sleeping together. One wonders how babies were made during such a strange time, but that’s a topic for another day). Oh, and of course they shaved their heads.6
And then . . . then when the bell struck midnight on December 31, 1959, America was at long last liberated from the oppressive yoke of the Eisenhower regime! Churches closed, schools began to teach real history (like communism, atheism, and birth control), racism ended, and people were finally, finally, able to let their locks flow!
You couldn’t yet swear or depict drug use or graphic sex on TV and in movies, but freedom takes time. Remember: the arc of justice is long but it bends towards full penetration being broadcast directly into your living room. Just like our Founding Fathers intended.7
I have read that the buzz cut came into style first as a means of controlling lice, and then stuck in popularity when the gigantic force of men which was mobilized to fight in World War II returned home. So the same guys who fought the Nazis (and the Japanese, but that’s not as important to modern people for reasons incomprehensible8) and were, like, totally the first Antifa, were responsible for the conformity which makes the 1950s a convenient shorthand boogeyman for all that is wrong with America.
Yesterdays fascist are today’s freedom fighters, I guess. All I know is that when my World War II vet Papou was alive, all of these super-progressive types hated him and everything he stood for.
It’s just hair.
Hair symbolizes many things. For women, long hair is yet another of those wonderful examples of sexual dimorphism: men are attracted to women for many reasons, among which is that they are different from men. Slender waists, wide hips, fuller lips, the obvious differences in biological attributes we don’t need to get into now, and yes, lovely long hair.
Men have had long hair throughout history too, but women’s long hair is different. Trust me.
Ancient Greeks kept their hair short, save for the Spartans who grew it long. The rest of the Greeks thought that was strange, but rarely said so to a Spartan’s face. The Spartans, in turn shaved the Helots bald as a way to humiliate them. Hair has had many meanings in many places throughout history, and my purpose is not to survey them all. The point is, even in the United States, there long hair for men was actually pretty common for quite some time. Until it wasn’t.
It’s just hair.
Stop being so literal and get symbolic. If it was just hair, everyone would be bald because it’s more convenient.
For men, hair can symbolize virility. It can symbolize allegiance. But more than anything, hair symbolizes time.
Hair, like all things, symbolizes youth until it’s gone. And it disappears because you get older. You grow up. Not all men lose their hair, but most do. Maybe there’s a reason for that beyond biology.
Back in the before times, when we hadn’t abdicated our tastes and preferences and our entire gestalt to people barely old enough to reproduce, a lack of hair indicated wisdom, experience, gravitas.
A bald head can look really good.
Now, it means you’re old, dude. And old people suck.
Many millions are spent developing, marketing, and purchasing hair restoration products. Next to dick pills, this might be the most lucrative industry geared towards the male of the species. All over, receding hairlines and thinning scalps are being grafted, rubbed with foams and ointments, and boosted from the inside by totally organic compounds. Special shampoos abound, because your rank-and-file hair goo is killing your follicles. It’s a hair genocide and don’t you people care?
Maybe they work. Maybe they don’t. What I’m more sure of is the cause for concern. When youth wasn’t king, when men mattered,9 and there were things to accomplish that made us Y-chromosome bearers feel competent and important, losing your hair was a rite of passage. It signified that you had what it took. You’d made it. You were worth listening to as a leader because only people old enough to go bald had done it, had been there, had lived to tell the tale. That shiny dome indicated trustworthiness.
Now, it indicates that you’re a loser, because old people are losers.
And so, feeling a lack of accomplishment, an absence of an actual passage from adolescence to adulthood, some sort of initiation or induction to mark the transition from boy to man, we cling to youth because youth never ended. That’s what it feels like, at least.
See, if you get fat, you can always lose weight. If your hair goes gray, you can dye it, and at least it’s still there. If your parts stop working like they used to, sure that’s a sign of age too, but there’s a pill for that. As of right now, though, there is no cure for baldness. Or cancer. One of these is more important to try curing, obviously but the other is more likely to happen to half of the world’s population. The cynic would say that means there’s more money to be made. The optimist would say it’s on everybody’s mind. I would just say “Yes” to both.
This is just a theory. But I’m an overthinker. And as with most writers, most artists generally, we’re a special kind of delusional narcissist. So I’m extrapolating my personal experiences and anxieties and universalizing them, which is what artists do. But let me tell you, losing my hair wouldn’t worry me so much if I felt like a grown man instead of a really old boy. I wouldn’t be using pills and potions to cling to my hair if I felt like I’d actually accomplished something of value in my life.
It’s just hair. Until it isn’t.
Keep it inside the tribe, gentlemen.
Followed closely by the 1970s, the full fruition of the 1960’s rotten seeds.
Remember: to Americans, history began in 1939.
“Communists in the State Department? Ha ha ha, what a rube.”
Lost in the discussion of the 1950s is the idea that, maybe people “conformed” because they liked the status quo?
It is self-evident that Washington, Jefferson, Adams, and all the rest conceived of the First Amendment to protect and only to protect obscenity.
Probably this idea that only white people can be evil. This helps explain the bloodthirsty animus directed at Russians (stand-ins for Trump voters in these people’s Marvel-movie addled brains), who actually never killed a single American, which is about 1,000 times more intense than the animus directed at Islamic terrorists, who have killed thousands of Americans.
The only extant patriarchy is the one they have to keep presenting is there to justify their boundless misery.