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hair

Aside from clogging drains and gradually fading in some places over time only to appear in others, one may easily forget cultural and religious significance hair has assumed in different times and places. It declares allegiance and legitimacy in a variety of social environments and has spawned a multi-billion dollar industry at the start of a new millennium.

Literature and art have long been dominated by images of hair. There are the feral implications of fifties greaser hair, which is an extension (no pun there) of the sexually demonic male libido, as read in Joyce Carol Oates's 'Where are You Going, Where Have You Been' or seen on the Simpsons Halloween special 'Hell Toupee', in which Snake's felonious disposition is transported to the otherwise idle Homer through a hair transplant. In art, so in life, nearly everyone has shared in the universal experience of Medusean bad hair days, Rapunzelesque infatuations.

O. Henry's 'The Gift of the Magi' jumps to mind, and Alexander Pope allowed a stolen lock of hair to serve as the focal point of his mock epic The Rape of the Lock, essentially an Age of Enlightenment Clueless:

    This nymph, to the destruction of all mankind,
    Nourished two locks which graceful hung behind
    In equal curls, and well conspired to deck
    With shining ringlets the smooth ivory neck.
    Love in these labyrinths his slaves detains,
    And mighty hearts are held in slender chains.
    With hairy springes we the birds betray,
    Slight lines of hair surprise the finny prey,
    Fair tresses man's imperial race ensnare,
    And beauty draws us with a single hair.

The significance gains when one looks at strictly historical examples. The principal division in the English Civil War was not drawn merely along religious lines but also between long and short hair. The libertine Royalists grew it long, Long Island style, and wore beards, Montana style; the Puritans, or Roundheads, sported what we would call crew cuts, as any ornamentation was viewed as lubricous (drawing eyes and hearts away from God). In a more modern frame, witness the criticism heaped upon the members of Metallica for finally cutting their hair (though lady Natura was already doing a capable job).

The greatest of hair stories comes from the Bible. Delilah (that Philistine) convinced warrior Samson to reveal the secret of his great strength and proceeded to give him a fade. The other Philistines then gouged out his eyes, bound him with fetters, and set him to grind at the mill in the prison. Luckily his hair grew again and he kicked their asses. Peter Paul Rubens gives us a very lush vision of this famous cutting, and of course Camille Saint-Saëns's most famous opera is Samson et Delila.

And so with coloration, to dark or light or sideways to pink, lines are again drawn. As it grows on back and leg and in pit, the struggle for hairlessness has raged from Periclean Greece to late-night infomercials with Australian gels in Bush's America, and so the task is set from Olympus, the gods decree:

"Go forth and write a short story about hair, the ways and wiles it brings to mere mortals, the divisions and loves it has grown, the wars it has inspired, lives snipped, the products flown from the corporate forge, to the ends of the known world; make it good; rinse and repeat, always rinse and repeat."


 
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