Tuesday, August 09, 2011

The Social Meaning of the Mohawk

The area I call home has a curious mix of folks. Traditionally a blue-collar rural area, it lies in the overlap of the McMansion belt of the suburban sprawls of both D.C. and Baltimore. As a result, there is an interesting socio-economic stew. In the last couple of years, there has been a marked increase in the number of mohawks on younger children. These kids are predominantly of the working-class families or those who make middle-class incomes, but who still identify with a working class way of being.

This is peculiar, because for years this group saw the mohawk as offensive. I remember well a conversation with an older guy at the beach years ago who recounted how his mohawk resulted in any number of violent encounters with exactly the parents of those whose children now wear the haircut. The hippies rebelled by making hair length political. Think of the musical hair or the Crosby, Stills, and Nash song "Almost Cut My Hair." It was combined with a vague back to nature element in 60s utopianism. The American punk movement of the 80s was a dystopian reaction to what they saw as the arrogant naivite of the boomers and if the older generation rebelled by growing their hair long, the punks would revolt and be revolting by shaving theirs off completely or almost. But this was a, intra-class rivalry. The hippies and the punks were both from the comfortable, complacent middle and upper-middle classes. This is why the mohawk-guy I was conversing with was found so offensive. He was calling attention to himself as a rebel, and thereby a tough guy, when he wasn't actually tough. He had nothing to rebel against in the eyes of the working class drunks who pummeled him, since he had everything, so how dare he make himself appear so different. For his intransigence, he deserved what people who actually are different receive, a good beating.

But as I have said before, when revolutionaries get old and cease to be dangerous, they get cute. Punk rock is no longer a social force, no longer a rebellion. And so, the mohawk is now cute. It has replaced the rat-tail as the go to hair style for those boys trying to be different and masculine in a working-class way. Those who used to beat the snot out of my mohawk-guy are now giving them to their sons.

What is wonderfully ironic about it is that it is the same demographic who originally had it in Britain where the punk rock movement was not a bourgeois phenomenon, a revolt against corporate homogenization of American culture, but a good, old fashion class revolt by the children of the workers. The accent is different, but the worldview of the mohawk has come back around full circle. As London burns from their own class issues, our economy collapses n part because working-class folks have been swept up in conservative/tea party rhetoric in which everything that serves their economic interests is unamerican. But, at least we have the mohawk. Maybe it is a first step in changing how upside-down our policy discussions are.