Archive for February, 2011

How Will We Do Our Hair in the Future?

Hair is a problem. We’ve been grooming, preening, and adorning it since before we were human. And when I think of hair in science fiction movies, I can’t help but note that whatever the century being depicted, the actresses’ hairstyles usually reflect the decade in which the movie was made.

In the wonderful Forbidden Planet, Anne Francis, as Altaira, lives in the 23rd century on the planet Altair-4, and sports a lovely mid-50s chin-length coif. This type of do was historically created and maintained with weekly shampoo-and-set sessions at the local beauty parlor, which makes us (if we bother to think about it) wonder how on Altair-4 this girl, who was raised without a mother, ever managed to attain such a style. Oh well, it’s still a great movie.

In Star Trek, (1966-69), Uhura sported a series of iconic sixties styles, including the bouffant shown below. I don’t find this style as jarring, as by the sixties, hairstyles had become more do-it-yourself. Could the bouffant, recur in the 23rd Century? I don’t think so, although Nichelle Nichols wears it well. All in all, though, the hair of the original Star Trek is way less strange than the female crew’s wearing ice skating costumes for uniforms.

By Alien, the female crew had ditched the skating costume for way more believable jumpsuits. Nonetheless, Ripley’s long perm was planted firmly in 1979. I had the same style myself ca. 1983. I don’t think this one is coming back in 2122. The strength of this style was its ease–totally wash ‘n’ wear. We’ve come a long way since then.

Hair arouses all sorts of emotions in us, in a way that make-up, clothing, and jewelry don’t. The musical question asked way back in 1986 by the group Timbuk 3, “Hairstyles and attitudes/Are they connected?/Are the styles we embrace a matter of taste/Or of values rejected?” must be answered with a resounding Yes. Hardly anything about a person’s attire is more likely to offend another than his or her choice of hairstyle. It is said that the Vietnam protesters of the sixties met a negative, sometimes violent, response from authority, because–unlike the civil rights protesters a few years previously–they had unseemly hair. The musical, Hair, rest on this premise. and it keeps getting revived. So that must be true.

So how will we wear our hair in the future? I put the question to a hairsylist.

Ron Matranga of Ronald Edward Salon told me, “Everything old is new again, and the Egyptians started it all.” He told me that Vidal Sassoon went to Egypt to come up with his architectural, asymmetric cuts, which changed everything as far as Ron is concerned. Before then, he says, you would never “cut out the ears,” or cut one side shorter than the other.

In other words, it was the beginning of the end of rigid rules for hair. The mullet, shag, and Mohawk would be along shortly. So how will we wear our hair in the future? However we want, I suppose.

It seems probable that we will be able to have hair wherever we want it, not not have it wherever we don’t want it, and we will notice who has hair in the wrong place, and look upon them with disdain. Strategic hair removal was important to the Egyptians as well. Maybe that was Cleopatra’s secret. I further predict that voluntary total baldness–for those with nicely-shaped heads and balanced features–will remain a valid style choice. If involuntary, hereditary male-pattern baldness is cured, it will then become an option.

I also predict long life and prosperity to all short, natural cuts, whether curly or straight, to ponytails, and to various sorts of braids, whether Heidi-style or cornrow. Ron votes for the bob–I presume he means chin or shoulder length–because it never goes out of style.

For the story set in the future, however, there is no way to get it right. The problem is that we are stuck in the moment with our hair. We will have our moments when we look awful and not know it. We will foist our bad and dated hair on future generations, not only through old yearbooks, but through our entertainment.

A little big, but not the worst future hair by a long shot.


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Presidents Who Fix Stuff

Campaign after campaign, we hear the promises that stuff will get fixed. Health care. Washington. Spending. The culture of mistrust. Unemployment. Education. We want stuff that is broken to be fixed. But somehow, after inauguration, it never turns out as we…or he…had hoped.

George H. W. Bush famously said, “Read my lips…no new taxes,” and then raised taxes. Obama promised Gitmo would be closed by one year after his inauguration, but it is not closed yet. FDR, however, kept many of his New Deal promises, to provide unemployment insurance, old age insurance, and to repeal prohibition. He had also promised to balance the Federal budget, but gave up on that promise pretty quickly. LBJ became president unexpectedly, upon the assassination of JFK, but then pronounced a War on Poverty. That hasn’t been won. Neither have subsequent Presidents’ Wars on Drugs, Crime, or Terrorism. Lyndon Johnson was of course derailed by a disastrous war that he inherited, the progress of which he lied about, in the hopes he could somehow fix it. Which he couldn’t. Nixon came along, promising “Peace With Honor,” and that didn’t really work either. But Nixon did keep the promise of extending the vote to 18-year-0lds.

I’m sure you can come up with dozens of other examples of things fixed/not fixed from the pages of our history. I’ll bet way more things not fixed than otherwise.

Trying to fix stuff as President is a difficult task. I do not believe we are totally honest about how limited the President’s control really is. I do believe fictional presidencies can give us a clear picture of the nature of these limitations and pitfalls, and my favorite fictional presidency of all time is that of Merkin Muffley, in Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

(Spoiler alert: If you have not seen this movie, go watch it first, and then come back and read the rest of this post.)

The movie came out in 1964, in the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis and Kennedy’s assassination. In it, an insane General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden), fearing communist plots against America, launches a pre-emptive nuclear strike against the Soviet Union. Naturally, President Muffley (Peter Sellers) tries to fix the situation in the most direct, aboveboard, and ethical manner possible. He invites the Soviet Ambassador into the War Room. He calls up Soviet Premier Dmitri Kissoff and apologizes profusely (in a delicious mid-western-mid-atlantic accent) for the error, and offers target information to them, so that they can defend themselves, as well as attempting to call back the attack. This should fix it, right?

Turns out, no. Premier Kissoff is a bit drunk, and despondent. Turns out the Soviet Union has developed a Doomsday machine, and if a single bomb drops in the U.S.S.R., a massive retaliation will occur. So call our planes back, right? Except that Mad General Ripper is the only one with the code to call back the attack. Dr. Strangelove (also played by Peter Sellers) helps overcome this problem, and the bombers are successfully called back, except for one.

Major T.J. “King” Kong’s (Slim Pickens) radio equipment was damaged by Soviet anti-aircraft, and so he does not receive the order to abort the attack. Although the bomb bay was damaged as well, he manages to open it manually, and releases the bomb, and rides it down, and achieves mutually assured destruction.

So President Muffley was prevented from fixing the problem of an unintended nuclear attack by the following:

1. Craziness (General Ripper)

2. Drunkeness (Kissoff)

3. Equipment failure (Radio equipment)

4. Equipment success (Doomsday machine)

5. Openess (President reveals target info, possibly resulting in damage to bomber radio.)

6. Secrecy (Doomsday machine kept secret from Soviet Ambassador)

7. Failure to Communicate (resulting from all the above)

And I haven’t even touched upon the balance of powers institute by our Founders, without which the President–any president–would be both far more efficient and far more potentially deadly. What I want depends on who is in office. When my guy is in, I want him to be masterful. When their guy is in, I want him to be quashed.

The office of President is called the most powerful in the world. Maybe. It also has its moments of utter futility. The President and everyone tasked with running our country are human beings who are occasionally crazy, drunk, incompetent, dishonest, too honest, or otherwise idiotic. Sometimes they are all of these, and yet still believe they are right.

Watching Dr. Strangelove makes me more sympathetic to the President, whoever he (no she yet) turns out to be. Poor President Muffley. You proved incompetent, but you tried.

Thanks to the IMDb website for refreshing my memory on this wonderful movie. If you haven’t seen it, do. It is still remarkably relevant.

Happy President’s Day.

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Are We All the Same Person?-#4

My final resolution for 2011 is a speculation, one that popped into my head a few months ago. It is hardly original; a Googling of the phrase We are all the same person yields 271 million results. I have not studied Buddhism, but apparently this is part of Buddhist doctrine. I do not insist on the idea as doctrine; I don’t insist on anything as doctrine. Fact is, I don’t know, and I don’t think anyone can know. The interesting thing, to me, is how this thought, this idea, has changed the way I look at my fellow humans. Overall, it has improved my attitude, my mood, and the quality of my life.

The first couple days, I was giggling to myself a bit, because if we are all the same person, that means I have to acknowledge in myself some pretty bad behavior. I wish I would use my turn signal more consistently, I think, as a car swerves in front of me unexpectedly. Silly, but it’s better than getting angry. I must be having a rough day, I think, if the person behind the counter is abrupt or rude to me.

At the same time, none of this is funny at all. If we are all the same person, why do we so often hate each other and blame each other? I suppose the answer to that is either obvious or mysterious, depending on how you look at it. A person hates someone because he perceives that other person is a threat to his well being, or to that of someone he loves. How could you not hate someone who harmed your child, for instance?

But if we are all the same person, harm done by one person to another is a form of self-destruction, and this is a behavior there is no shortage of. Self-harm? Let me count the ways: suicide, cutting, anorexia, substance addiction…on and on and on. And that doesn’t even begin to take in all the more subtle forms of self-destruction and self-hate. But taking the attitude that we are all one person helps with these self-destructive mind-sets as well. It is more difficult to fear an authority figure–a boss, a cop, an IRS agent–if that person and I are the same.

Oddly, I find this we-are-same-person mind-set works less well with those closest to me–my husband, my daughter, my closest friends. These are the people I trust, the people I’m most relaxed around. I often feel I know exactly what they’re thinking, and that’s dangerous. It’s dangerous, because then I might forget to ask what they’re thinking and feeling. I might make assumptions, assumptions that are wrong. I might end up not being so close to them at all. I need the separation from those closest to me, so that I can still see them, so that I can stay close to them.

In the end, for me, this notion that we might all be the same person is a tool, only a lens to look through, a way of better intuiting the impulses behind the behavior of others, as well as my own.

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I Want to Be that Guy–Resolution #3

Many years ago, my husband and I lived in what at the time was a brand new apartment complex with tennis courts, pools, and a fancy management office. We had one assigned parking space adjacent to our unit, which happened also to be quite close to the tennis courts. To our consternation, we often found that precious assigned space filled by someone else’s car. On occasion, the person wasn’t content only to take our space, but parked across two spaces, taking our space and some other tenant’s as well!

The first couple times, we left notes on the windshield. These notes failed to change this person’s behavior. So, my husband stormed over to the fancy management office to complain.

The twenty-something young woman responded with a giggle and a dreamy look in her eye. “Oh,” she said, “that’s Ron.”

My husband responded with something along the lines of, “Yeah. So?”

“He likes to park close to the tennis courts,” she explained, seemingly thinking this was a perfectly reasonable excuse for parking across two spaces that belonged to someone else.

Ron was a very inconsiderate person. Unfortunately, these people are all over the place. We all have to deal with their behavior and stand up for ourselves. But what interests me in this is the reaction of the young woman in the office. She was clearly charmed by this Ron person. He probably flirted with her and made her feel cute and pretty. She thought he was so cute that he was entitled to our parking space (plus the one next to us), because it would be asking way too much to expect him to actually walk from his unit to the courts, having to carry with him a tennis bag, with his racket, some balls, and perhaps, a jacket.

My husband managed to set her straight, and as I recall, Ron parked elsewhere after that.

That guy–Ron–has stayed in my mind all these years, not because I’m still angry, but because I envy him, just a little.

I don’t want to be an asshole. I don’t want to take other people’s parking spaces. But I do want, occasionally, to be given a pass. I want to be pardoned when I screw up. More than that, I want to be given special privileges on occasion–not at the expense of someone else, I hasten to add. But I want to be special.

And I don’t want to feel guilty about it.

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