Google Hitler Youth haircut. When I did it, Google reported “About 50,300 results” for that phrase, and most of the hits were articles praising the contemporary version of the Hitler Youth undercut (or “curtained“) hairstyle. And many of its fans actually call it that, and with a blithe casualness: the Hitler Youth. Is this actually happening?
Do things happen for a reason or not? Do symbols and culture icons have any meaning? Can we say the Confederate flag means nothing, for instance? Sure, there are differences, but can you really say there’s no crossover? Can the holocaust or lynchings ever be erased from these symbols? How is that recuperation of the swastika to its original (though mirror-flipped) Indian meaning going? I thought so. Fashion shares in these aesthetics; ideology in fact uses cultural expressions to reproduce itself. You don’t have to be conscious of it; it works regardless.
The abrupt turn to the right in the 2014 European Parliament elections, including massive gains for the far-right anti-immigration National Front in France, the anti-immigration and racist UKIP in the UK, and a far-right party in Denmark (among many others) seems to signal what we’re headed for. Then there’s the right-wing nationalist Navendra Modi’s win in India, military coups popping up in other places, rises in military spending, and the now undeniable creep of fascism in Canada with the secretive government of Stephen Harper… [Update: at least Harper has been stopped, but the drift to the right continues in many places, and thanks to the destabilization of Iraq and Syria and the ensuing refugee crisis, the rise of the far right in Europe has intensified.]
By way of observation I wanted to mention the comprehensive UK study which found that although people born between 1980 and 2000 (millennials) may be more progressive around issues like gay marriage and euthanasia, they vote markedly further to the right than either their parents or grandparents did at their age.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, who went to Eton, is a monarchist, and is now a Conservative MP in David Cameron’s government. Watch him in this 2013 episode of Have I Got News For You.
I know I’m not alone in finding this shaved-sides haircut and all its military-ish variants creepy. Maybe some of you can sleep with people sporting this hair, but I know from a casual survey on social media that a huge chunk of us don’t like it, regardless of age. And that’s quite apart from its name.
This military style seems slavish at best and hostile at worst, regardless of intent; it has both a military feel and also seems to connote the traditional ceding of power that comes with cutting your hair (those two things are probably related, because in order to align yourself with power, you have to submit to it; that’s the irony). And that’s not its only contradiction. It also seems to ape both an old-school masculinity and childishness. The odd thing about soldiers is the part we don’t emphasize enough: their subjugation to authority. Ask any regretful Vietnam or Gulf War vet.
Then there is the suspect eroticization of power and men in uniforms, which… just no. Despite the axiom, not “everyone likes a man in uniform.” And those who do, well, watch out for the baggage that comes with that. Being gay does not significantly change this, either; its politics are still suspect. Is this a funny irony?
Politics aside for a moment, from a pure design perspective this cut makes your ears look stranded, like abandoned molluscs after the tide went out. It feels raw, perhaps even surgical.
For a more extended argument on why historical styles probably can’t entirely be detached from their original historical referents, especially if the histories they refer to involve violence and oppression, please see this not-unrelated post on the settler/pioneer/colonial style known as the heritage hipster. It discusses a different style, but it’s a similar trajectory: hypermasculine, white, and referencing wild and usually genocidal frontiers.
Fashion is always a bellwether of sociopolitical currents, whether we like it or not.
And this from Fran Lebowitz:
“When we were young, we knew things. We knew basic history, even as it related to fashion. Now, when something reappears, an 18 year old has no clue that it’s a revival. Despite the fact that they’re almost always online they don’t get references.
I think that’s part of why visual things are becoming so derivative. Designers now, they all have these things called mood boards. I suppose they think a sense of discovery equals invention. It would be as if every writer had a board with paragraphs of other writers—’Oh, I’ll take a little bit of this, and that, he was really good.’ Yes, he was really good! And that is not a mood board, it is a stealing board.”
—From Style, As Dictated by Fran Lebowitz
To “mood boards” we should also add pinterest, tumblr, and all the other dehistoricizing blenders that are readily available out there. It seems that we want to reference history without being seen to know anything about it—or more accurately, we want to ride on its bloody coattails without taking any responsibility for its trajectory. Like all aesthetics, I think fashion is the thin end of the edge of a politics, whether we’re conscious of it or not. And politics, when successful, operate unconsciously through aestheticization and even eroticization of their power. This haircut is no accident. Nor is it really ironic.
UPDATE: The poster below appeared on three Toronto-area university campuses in September of 2015: University of Toronto, York University and Ryerson U. They were quickly removed though apparently some remain. Note that two variants of this hipster haircut appear in the one poster; that’s no accident. Not to mention every other element of Nazi aesthetics including the heroic angle, the skyward gaze, the obedient-looking white male masculinity… So, the CN Tower is a monument of “western civilization”? God help us.
Above: why do I want to throw water on this guy and his placid hair smugness? Why does he look so obedient and a little dense? Below: For fun, the overgroomed douche variant, which also looks disconcertingly like a mushroom atop a baby:
Then there’s the other shaved-sides dictator style, the Kim Jong Un. Supposedly this cut, which like all the others manages to look babyish and totalitarian at the same time, is now mandatory for all males in North Korea (and, apparently, for plenty of males in my own social circle):
Update on the Kim Jong Un: the tall head is getting taller, and the babyishness is getting babier. What is the relationship between boyishness and authoritarianism? Is it that they share the trait of petulance?
Enough of all this masculinity in crisis, these obedient clean-cut military styles, and all this conscious or unconscious aestheticization of fascism in general. I’m truly glad my grandfather who landed in Normandy on D-Day to fight the Nazis didn’t live to see all these twerps dressing like Hitler Youth and calling their hair by that name. Seriously, is this the best they can do? If people need an edgy joke haircut, I’m sure they can come up with a fashion joke that mocks power instead of victims of genocide and authoritarian surveillance. In other words, one that’s actually cool. This isn’t cool or edgy, it’s justfollowingordersy. And I would suggest that the last two examples aside, as I think they’re outliers, this style is a racial assertion.
PS Thanks to Spain, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Slovakia, and Romania for going left in the 2014 EU elections.
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Howe Street, Vancouver, May 2014. It might be called the Hitler youth, but I call it ‘the Chemotherapy. ‘ Unfuckable.
And this band, Death in June (a phrase that refers to the Nazis’ “Night of the long knives) using entirely Nazi imagery… and issuing artist statements that disingenuously pretend to be apolitical and claim that because the lead artist is gay they can’t be Nazi… while using this imagery (including the swastika though it doesn’t appear here). The more you look around, the more you realize this stuff is everywhere, just as this haircut in all its variants is everywhere. You can pretend it’s a coincidence but in aesthetics, nothing is really random.
Next in this series: more trendy male styles from other specifically conservative decades or iffy historical periods. See: Settler & pioneer “heritage hipster” styles in the age of Idle No More, Chinatown gentrification, &c.
Colonial aesthetics and Ralph Lauren
And now as a palate cleanser: Aaron Swartz, RIP. Not because his name is Jewish and this is a post about Nazis, but because Aaron fought for democratization and rights for all—against the state, by the way, rather than eroticizing state power—and because he has sexy hair.