Update: this feels all the more pressing now, since this US election. If you want to hear Chomsky’s post-election comments on white male entitlement and rage, it’s here. This isn’t just a fashion; it’s real. 60 million Americans voted for this. Thanks to Lydia for interesting new comment.
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“) or “high and tight” hairstyle. And many of its fans actually call it, with a blithe casualness, the Hitler Youth. Is this actually happening?
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 recent 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.]
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 between that racist flag and this haircut, but can you really say there’s isn’t crossover? Can the holocaust or lynchings ever be erased from these symbols? And how is that much-vaunted recuperation of the swastika to its original Indian meaning going? Yes, I thought so.
And we know that ideology uses seemingly innocent cultural expressions to reproduce itself. You don’t have to be conscious of it; it works regardless of your awareness, and preferably without it. And fashion loves to flirt with power, no matter how fascistic.
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 devout Christian, 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. See, it’s the military thing. Why? Wikipedia describes today’s most popular men’s haircut, the omnipresent “high and tight,” as “a military variant of the crew cut. It is a very short hairstyle most commonly worn by men in the armed forces of the U.S. It is also popular with law enforcement officers and other public safety personnel.” 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 won’t, regardless of our age. And that’s quite apart from the fact that it’s usually called the “Hitler youth.” Isn’t it bad enough that it looks like the army or law enforcement?
Military styles seem slavish at best and hostile at worst, regardless of intent. They have both a aggressive feel while at the same time their little boy air seem to connote the traditional ceding of power that comes with joining the army, submitting to its hierarchy, and cutting your hair. Both sides of that dichotomy are related, because in order to align yourself with power, you have to submit to it; that’s the irony. The odd thing about soldiers is the part we don’t emphasize enough: their willing subjugation to authority. Ask any regretful Vietnam or Gulf War vet. And that’s not this haircut’s only contradiction. It also seems to ape both an old-school masculinity and childishness. To me it’s a haircut for little boys in the 1950s.
Then there is the suspect eroticization of power and men in uniform. The axiom may go that “everyone likes a man in uniform,” but I certainly don’t. And those who do, well, good luck with the baggage that comes with that. I’ve chatted about this with my gay male friends, where the man in uniform is definitely a trope. I just think that fascist aesthetics come with a related politics in one way or another, and it will eventually leak out of the bedroom.
Politics aside for a moment, from a pure design perspective this cut makes your ears look stranded, like abandoned molluscs after the tide goes out. It looks raw, surgical and unsexy to anyone not into le Front National. Whatever happened to Samson?
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. Like, say, The Revenant.
Fashion and culture are always a bellwether of sociopolitical currents, whether we want to face it or not. It’s never meaningless; humans seek, and enact, meaning as a general rule. What that meaning is is another question; I hope I am wrong.
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.