Semiotic trichology

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man in possession of greying hair does not want distinction. Women, on the other hand, tend to treat the first indication of silvery whisps with horror, as if they are usurping threads deserving only of immolation. Well, maybe just dying. Or ought that be dyeing?

Hair, wherever it is found (and yes, the pillow counts, too) occupies an uniquely interstitial place with regards our identity.

The body is, give or take a few gym sessions, stable. It is rare that it can shift far or fast enough to materially affect either our sense of self, or others’ sense of us. Yes, it’s true to say that there are corporeal changes which can radically adjust our sense of self, but these are generally deeply traumatic, or involve the mere giving of a name to a problem which already exists. The assignation of an emotive word to a purely physical problem invariably causes problems. To whit a recent headline in the Guardian:

Comedy is a way to survive

Laura Linney on TV after her father’s cancer death

Now, there are several problems with this – and, note, it was an article serving as PR for the aforementioned actress’s new vehicle, The C Word. I’ll maybe bleat about that soon.

The first is the rather dreadful phrase ‘her father’s cancer death’. As was pointed out to me, this rather implies that this was merely one of his deaths. Presumably it was the final, fatal one.

I also wonder about ‘Laura Linney on TV’. Does this mean that for her TV has been changed by his death, or that she’s, er, on TV after his death (in a sort of temporal sense)?

[disclaimer – by the way, I’m talking about the headline and standfirst. I cast no aspersions on either the actress or her late father. If you misconstrue, then it’s you, not me.]

Perhaps the most pernicious is ‘Comedy is a way to survive’. Now, I don’t know about you, but when you have the words ‘survive’ and ‘death’ in the same construction, it suggests to me that they are connected. Plainly, her father didn’t survive. Just as plainly, the actress did. I presume Ms Linney was never in any danger, so comedy didn’t make any difference to her. I also presume that she has not been at death’s door since. It certainly didn’t help him in the survival stakes.

[I refer the hyperventilating reader to my previous parenthesis].

So, utterly fucking stupid bit of subbery. Don’t use survive as a metaphor (it’s crap, anyway) for ‘cope’ when you use death in its literal sense (that is, death) immediately afterwards.

So, adding the word ‘cancer’ makes people feel much, much worse (and those around them much, much more mother Theresaish.

So. the body can change things, but only slowly. The speedy change comes verbally.

Clothes can effect instantaneous change. But clothes are an accoutrement. They are not part of us, but a facade erected in front of our us-ness to enable us to assert ‘what we want us to be-ness’. You are most certainly are not what you wear. You merely wear it.

The hair, however, is very different. It is simultaneously part of us and a facade. Simultaneously us and not-us, real and contrived. If you meet a woman you haven’t seen for a while, you automatically compliment her on her hair. It’s practically foolproof.

There is nothing quite like the hair for allowing instantaneous and radical changes to both our sense of self and that of others. Shaving off one’s beard, for example, completely changes the way you feel, and how people look at you – especially if, like me, your beard is speckled with grey. It’s especially effective if you’re a girl, of course … consider how many looks a girl can rock. She can go from slut to sophisticate, from chav to cheltenham ladies college in half an hour.

The simple quantity of elderly men who rock the 50s rocker’s DA is astonishing. Old habits, and old signs of tribal allegiance, or perhaps simply old projections die hard. (with or without comedy). Style your hair as you did when you were 18 and you feel 18 again. If only for a moment.

Styling one’s hair changes your mood. If you have long hair you can wear it down, or up … it changes your mood completely. And for those of us with long hair, considering chopping it off is utterly terrifying. It’s saying goodbye to one’s youth. One’s youthful identity.

Fuck. It’s growing up.

Next time you visit the hairdresser, don’t tell them how you want them to cut your hair. Just tell them how old you are, and how old you want your hair to be.

And if that doesn’t work, there’s always comedy.