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longhair tv
by jeff miller (@jmillerboston)
2.24.10
pop culture


My hair used to be REALLY long. Cliff Burton long. Conan the Barbarian long. Born-in-the70's-hit-puberty-in-the-80's long. There was nothing ironic or unusual about this.

In my day - and at a burly 38, I feel entitled to an occasional in my day - if you were a young man who knew how to rock and roll all night and party every day, this was barely a choice at all. Growing your hair was as much a conscious decision as wearing jeans or eating fast food. It wasn't a question of should I grow it out?, it was a matter of how fucking fast can I grow it?

Later it became a matter of how high can it go?, but I'll save that for another installment.

Some of my hairy proclivities were nothing more than an offshoot of my unconditional worship of 70's rock stars like Paul Stanley and Eddie VanHalen. And growing my hair was something I could actually do. I couldn't find, let alone afford rock star clothes. At 15 years old, there were no flashy cars in my immediate future, and the chances of me dating a model were (and remain) pretty slim. But long hair was something every country boy could have (with a couple of unfortunate exceptions that spent a little too much time handling fertilizer and pesticides).

It wasn't just the rockers that put me on a track that would clog shower drains for over a decade. Another influential force was arguably more important - TV actors. Sure music and movies are an important artistic reflection of culture, but television is where the rubber really hits the road. TV gives you permission to be a certain way.

Let me just throw a few characters out there. Fonzie. Vinnie Barbarino. Johnny Fever. Everyone on the original Battlestar Gallactica series. Even Hawkeye Pierce, Lamont Sandford, and Michael Knight wore their hair a little long...because that was the swaggery thing to do. It gave you something to toss around when you laughed and something for chicks to run their hands through.

Right now, TV gives men permission to act like aging, nihilist Star Wars nerds. Their receding hairlines cap foreheads crosshatched with worry lines. Their eyes are filled with sweaty desperation, their half-smiles always laced with self conscious bemusement. They have more in common with Matt Lauer than Mad Max, and they make me sad.

There's always a love interest that these bores can't attain because of duty or honor or some other such bullshit. They suffer night terrors involving corporate/government conspiracies set to syrupy John Williams scores. It's as though a steady diet of Steve Perry ballads and Zima has sapped them of their alpha male birthrights.

In the 70's and 80's, TV men handled existential crisis by driving hot cars and sleeping with hot women. Now there's no time for that, they gotta keep moving to outwit the enemy who is always, always one step ahead (24, LOST, Flash Forward). They gotta save time for quiet reflection in their smoke-free hybrid SUVs.

It's not just the dramas, the comedies are no better. Check out the male leads in new shows like Better off Ted, Modern Family, and Cougar Town. These guys have zero swagger. They're hyper-aware of their own geekiness, and their spousal relationships are filled with anxiety, fear, and awkward sexual tension. LAME.

I'm not saying I don't watch, I do. Like most people, I rely on TV the same way I rely on coffee, Diet Coke, indoor plumbing, and oxygen. It helps me get through the day. The stories, for the most part, haven't changed...and that's okay. These are stories of the human condition, played out by archetypes that are baked into the fiber of our culture. We need Jack Bauer and Jack Shepherd, the same way we needed Tony Baretta and Sonny Crockett.

But are these new characters relateable? Are they really? Do they reflect our collective mindsets and values? Do they give us permission to be who we actually want to be?

Not for me. No thanks. It's all a bit claustrophobic. Oh, I'll watch, and I'll even like it. But I will not aspire to this version of Leading Man, anymore than I'd trade in David Lee Roth for Thom Yorke, Paul Stanley for John Mayer, or 90's Soundgarden Chris Cornell for whatever it is he's become.

Today, my hair is short. I like wearing it this way. It's low maintenance, and with the exception of a few silvery strands that crop up now and again I've still got my original shape and color. But inside, where it counts, I will ALWAYS have long hair. It flows around me, an unseen superhero cape, a symbol of my independence, a talisman of personal power.

I walk the Earth as though my hair still reaches my belt, and the best part of all is no one else can see it. What began at the hyperhormonal age of 15 as rebellious look at me hero worship has transformed into an invisible source of inner strength that shields me from middle-age myopia and the Hollywood-flavored world. You won't see it, but you'll feel it in the way I walk, talk, work, and play.

Good luck getting that kinda inspiration from Grey's Anatomy.


ABOUT JEFF MILLER

Brown eyes, brown hair, bluejeans and a T-shirt. Digs loud guitars and good design. Easily hypnotized by green-eyed blondes, shiny leather, B-movies, and brightly packaged foods. He's got a bustle in his hedgerow - but he is NOT alarmed.

more about jeff miller

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COMMENTS

tracey kelley
2.24.10 @ 12:35p

Heh. I actually feel the same way about hair now. Long is too complicated. Short is better. But on the inside, my tresses flow, and I express this feeling by wearing earrings that reach down to my collarbones.

Oh, and the worst hair on a woman on TV? That chick from "Cold Case". Always looks like she went through a wind tunnel with ferrets.

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