Mohawks, Irony, and Youth Culture

TG’s first weekday wrestling match was last night, and Boyo won one of his two matches.  He was pleased with the win, critical of his overall performance, and, generally, a Tough Guy.

This morning, he’s a tough guy with a backache.   Poor boyo.

High School Wrestling is a strange enterprise.  For myriad reasons, but I’d like to address the reason most closely associated with this blog’s enterprise.  Oh, wait.  Okay, the second most closely…

First would be the potential addictions, of course.  Steroids are of major concern, but after seeing them twist the bejesus out of each other last night, I’d say that those mats are likely the beginnings of more than a few painkiller addictions.  Hell, I wanted painkillers, and I was only watching them.

But, I want to address something close to my heart: punk–this time, via the mohawk.  Now, those of you who aren’t hanging around high schools or watching Glee (or UFC, according to my High School fashion correspondent) might be a tad baffled as to why I am discussing a trend to indelibly linked to my own teen years.

My tweet-o’horror last night:

I’m disappointed in the quality of the mohawks here today. Kids these days. Sheesh.

Well, perhaps not horror exactly.

I’m fond of the mohawk*.  In the years I’ve been teaching, I’ve had a few students who sported them, even one fellow who wore some truly impressive Liberty Spikes (I admit it…I covet the style.  I’m not sure I have the patience for the maintenance, however.).  Some were of high quality and talent and others were of middling effort, but acceptable, for the most part.  Granted, in the last year or three, I’ve had several students sporting  faux hawks, which disappoint me tremendously, but I’ve not encountered the likes of the ones I saw last night outside of television.  Say, on Glee’s Puck, for instance:

I should have known…there’s Glee fanfic.   OMG.  Sorry.  Oh, and PUCKLEBERRY????  WTF?  *headdesk*

Now, Puck’s hairstyle is clearly intended to be all about intimidation.  He’s the jock with an attitude, given to lying and threatening as needed, tossing the occasional slushie, and to singing “Sweet Caroline,” should it help to get in Rachel’s pants (or Quinn’s, or whomever he was actually hitting on in that episode).


According to TG, UFC fighter Chad Lidell is responsible for the appearance of mohawks on the mats.  Now, I’m not sure I agree completely with his assessment, but this picture amuses me sufficiently to include it here.  Lidell’s mohawk is not of my favorite style,admittedly, as I am rather fond of the more flashy, work- intensive mohawks.  The photo is apparently from Lidell’s** stint on Dancing With the Stars.  But it is serviceable, and, I suppose, it does fulfill the intent of being “intimidating” (I guess.  Not for me, but, hey, maybe it works in the ring).   Football players have used a similar mowhawk-style over the years, with a varying degree of success with regard to intimidation, but certainly they do tend to stand out (Chad Johnson’s blonde mohawk–there is a pic on the mohawk link above).  I’m not a huge fan of the wide mohawk look in any event, so I’m probably a bit biased on the matter.

Thing is, the kids last night had either poorly maintained mohawks (sides growing out really, noticeably–perhaps working on getting rid of the ‘do??) that might have worked or were, well…it looked for all the world as if we took a standard, every day male haircut and then removed the sides.  Pitiful excuses for mohawks.  What is this world coming to?

There was a point here…

Ah, yes, I recall.  I had been pondering punk and youth cultures in general of late, and wondering how applicable the theories (link points to previous brain droppings on the matter) might be to current American, and, particularly, Southern, white Millennials–and, more to the point–if they could be applied at all.   I keep reading incredible rage in papers from this group–especially the males, and I haven’t pinned down where the rage is coming from, largely because it is so diffuse. They rage against everything…

And, yet, much of it seems to be a tempest/teapot thing.  Indeed, on more than one occasion, it has occurred to me that I am seeing reflected rage–“I’m supposed to be angry” so I am, but there is no identifiable trigger.  Some will cite the economy and current economic practices, but these are also upper middle-class students, many of whom do not pay their own tuition, who live away from their parents, but are largely subsidized by the parents, and often approach college with radical learned helplessness.

And yet, rage.

What are the points of resistance?  What are the specific spaces of frustration, change, etc.?  How is it (and is it) reflected in the codes of their behavior and dress? Most of this was idle thought, but looking over the mohawk-travesty got me wondering about it again.

Much of punk style was initially ironic co-opting (one could argue as much about the mohawk, certainly).  Sarcasm and sardonic humor are a mainstay of the punk music genre (thank goodness).  But, as my colleagues often point out (following just about every 20th century European literary theorist), our American students have almost no sense of the ironic.  Many of them simply cannot recognize it, even when it is pointed out to them.

And I caught myself wondering if these half-hearted ‘hawks were significant in that fashion (a mohawky death of irony).  The styles  come to the students via media images from sports, which co-opted the “fierce” associations with the mohawk and reflect a period these kids don’t recall, but have likely been exposed to via the Quincy-punk media image (again, fierce, violent, but also often ridiculous), which does still pop up every once and again.  But, students do seem to be aware on some level that punk was associated with rage and rebellion (at least, those who have any concept of punk do)…so are they co-opting it without irony?


Yeah, kids these days.

*Okay, I have to admit something here. I have Darby Crash’s voice in my head right now bitching about the use of the term mohawk. Mohican, it keeps saying, Mohican. Gimme a beee-ah. Mohican…. Oi.

**Every time I type his name, I find myself wanting to go read Borges’ “Garden of Forking Paths,” which faux-references (sort of) Liddell Hart.


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