I have not read the year’s It book, Freedom. Jonathan Franzen’s much anticipated follow-up to his 2001 National Book Award winner The Corrections had everyone tweeting its praises from Oprah to Time Magazine, which dubbed Franzen the first great American novelist of the 21st century. I’d be inclined to agree; I scrapped my novella 21 pages into The Corrections, having realized calling that a novella was pure fiction. A week later I helped start Crooked Copy; three weeks after that the library called my house asking for the book back. I tore out the first 21 pages, stapled in my novella and paid a $28 fine, $40 replacement fee and $100 framing the pages of classic prose, soaked in bad writer tears.
What I do know about Jonathan Franzen is that he is a wordy guy; a man of his caliber can afford to be. He spent more than 250,000 words writing Freedom. Forgive my oneupsmanship, but I can sum up the entirety of liberty, independent thought and, well, freedom in one word: haircuts.
A haircut is the epitome of freedom in that it makes a mockery of all who take it seriously. It is individualistic to the point of creating a herd-like mentality, in which everyone wants to copy some crazed Hollywood style. This can be just as dangerous as any other celebration of liberty.
Anytime you’ve stumbled upon greatness, you will see someone standing atop the mountain, like some fun-killing sherpa prepared to lend you some “expert advice,” which boils down to chicanery. What saves hair styling is the fact that its industry expert is Us Weekly, a publication of such terrible caliber that even its readers know not to take it too seriously. Us, along with every trendy gossip rag, doles out advice with the full knowledge that it readers approach articles as they would Dr. Pepper commercials featuring Doogie Hauser. Everyone is fully aware that the emperor has no clothes; that’s why they called it Us.
Those cookoo for the latest craze in accessories and misappropriated hair goop have a leg up on industries where experts are taken at their word. And good thing too. Could you imagine Lee Iacocca or Warren Buffett running a hair salon? It would look like a mash-up of Beauty Shop, Wall Street 2: Stone Always Creeps and Tron Legacy presented in 1D.
No, Mr. Buffett couldn’t make it in the haircutting business. He’s not mature enough.
Everyone is treated like a grown-up at a hair salon or barber shop. There is a high rate of failure, mis-snip and accident once a customer sits down in that swivel chair. And here, in lawsuit-happy America, this may be the only activity left without a standardized waiver form. That individual look comes at a price: barbers cut your hair to your liking, leaving you perfectly capable to mess it up.
A bad haircut is the most fair and equitable moment in human existence. It’s not the stylist”s fault you walked away looking like Rhianna; you asked her to do it. And it’s not Rihanna’s fault either. She makes five-figures a follicle, but still has to walk around in public looking like she got her hair did by a Darren Aronofsky remake of Edward Scissorhands, in which the title character has Xact-O knives for fingers and a meth habit to boot.
Recourse for a bad hair-do is ripe for foolishness. You can opt for a hat or wig to cover it up or a shorter cut, if you really want to double down on an already terrible investment. You can sweep the problem under the rug all you want, but in the end everyone knows you have a fundamentally fucked haircut.
So what is the alternative? We could sacrifice the choice which begets terrible haircuts. Expert stylists could tell you what is best for you–then again, the asshole who butchered your hair in the first place was an expert of sorts even if he used Xacto-Knives and was high on meth. Or maybe we could turn to the government, hold a petition drive to ban bad haircuts. The Senate Committee on Health, Education and Labor could examine the potential mental health effects of bad haircuts on teens; it is now in the business of policing self-esteem in our schools and workplaces anyway. Kathleen Sebelius over at the Department of Health and Human Services could consult a variety of experts in the field of hair styling, waxing and botox to create a pamphlet on proper haircutting techniques and acceptable styles.
This could be good for the nation. We wouldn’t have to see emo kids or longhairs anymore; we could put Us out of business; and we could cut costs (get it) from our everyday budget. It would be ideal, until you realize that a government approved barber wears a standard issue Army uniform, rather than that hipster with the Vietnam-era field jacket.
Or maybe the best way, the most mature and stand-up way to approach failure is to accept it and move on, allowing for natural growth, rather than the artificially propped up wig or the freedom killing regulation. Franzen in a nutshell. I just saved you 600 minutes of your life.
You can find Bill Haurton’s Novella, “A Lonely Guy Really Likes a Girl, Lacks Courage and Has a Dog Named Spock, not Spot, Spock like in Star Trek, No, the New One, and Other Adventures” in the Lost and Found bin at the Chicago Public Library.