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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Will second life take away the political power of hair?

Hair and hairstyles have been impacting much of world politics of late. Nawaz Sharif secured a stunning performance in Pakistan elections after getting a scalp reforestation job. And Italians gave Silvio Berlescuni one more chance after he too got his Namib looking more like the Steppes. To the contrary, John Edwards probably lost in the nomination race for the Democratic Party in the US, courtesy his $400 hair-cut that didn’t quite gel with his attempted pro-blue-collar image. And to top it all, this month, Iran unleashed a crackdown on unconventional hairstyles.

Hairstyles have always been a contentious issue. In Indian mythologies, great revenge battles have occurred owing to one party imposing a humiliating hairstyle on the other (Jayadratha in Mahabharat). In reality too, similar tactics have been deployed rather extensively. Periyar’s Dravidian movement unleashed its revenge for years of humiliation of the lower castes by tonsuring Brahmins in public. Not conking ones hair was a key strategy of the black power movement. In Europe, skinheads and punks have defined their political views centered on the imagery of their hairstyles. On a smaller scale, at high school, every male student is expected to keep their hair short and unappealing. Any tuft longer than the teacher’s comfort level is dealt with through corporal punishment to prevent simultaneous occurrence of rebellions and orgies in school premises.

Such significant social ramifications apart, hairstyles play a critical role in our trivial lives. And several contexts demand stereotyped hairstyles. For example, there is the Indian software engineer hairstyle, in other words, a short cropped head. This style has become pervasive with most Indian software engineers getting a short hairdo the day before they leave for their foreign trip so that more of the dollars earned can be added to India’s current account surplus. Then there is a similar hairstyle meant for freshers in college, who have to get their hair chopped as part of the tribal rituals of ragging.

When not contentious, hairstyles can be used to great commercial effect. One has to only think of George Clinton, Donald Trump, Sinead o’ Connor, Bob Marley, Dhoni, and David Beckham to understand hair’s dollar power. And ex-NASSCOM chairman Dewang Mehta, with his lush wig, was the symbol of success of India’s software industry.

So while Iran is imposing stringent controls on outlandish hairstyles, one hairstyle that will never be banned anywhere is the bald head. The problem of balding has troubled men since pre-historic days as they came up with outrageous cures like ashes of sea urchins. Therefore, religions, custom designed to make god’s words ensure the comfort for males, came up with solutions to deal with balding. So while Jews and Muslims made wearing of Kippah and Fez a sign of piety, Hindus made a shaved or bald head a symbol of learning. However, as women empowerment gained foothold, men were forced to create a $1 billion hair loss treatment market. But then, who knows? With people increasingly replacing themselves with their avatars, hairstyling, hair growth, and hair loss prevention may be dead industries rather soon.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Read that the ex-president of Turkmenistan used to change his hair color every now and then