Ari's critique

The politics of a haircut

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I don’t like to spend much on a haircut. It may be because I’m tight, unfashionable, a poverty stricken PhD student or all of the above. When a cut is in order I seek out the cheapest hairdressers around. Arriving in Brunswick, and starting to look like one of the Beatles, I decided to try my local barber. He advertised $15 for students. It seemed reasonable.

I walked in and made myself comfortable. I watched as he cut an old bloke’s hair. The guy looked about 100. They were having an animated conversation in Italian. This seemed to be the main reason for the visit as he didn’t have much hair going on up there. I was understanding most of what they were saying. The barber was lamenting the loss of clientèle. He suggested that this was because the new residents in Brunswick wanted fancy haircuts (I recall him using a homophobic term for this that is probably best not to repeat here). So,  it was quite likely that the business, that had been passed down to him by his father, was not going to be viable much longer. The old guy was visibly moved by this, continually repeating how sorry this made him. It obviously wasn’t his first visit.

All of this got me thinking about the link between my haircut and gentrification. Could where one chooses to get one’s haircut contribute to making the neighbourhood a hostile place for some?  Now I’m not trying to take the moral high ground here. I had chosen to get my haircut there purely based on the price. I hadn’t intended on making a political statement. However, reflecting on the political ramifications of my “poor taste”, and remembering this article, I began to think that it was a good choice.

As Brunswick becomes increasingly colonised by hip new places, prices go up and the older residents and shop owners, finding it hard to afford the prices and attract their hip new neighbours, are gradually forced to move further out into the suburbs. Hipster economics has its perils. The elitist tastes us new arrivals bring with us can be exclusionary and discriminatory. I think that it is important we are conscious of this. We could call it eviction by vegetarianism or something like that.

Spanish academic Jorge Sequera argues that the “creative class” is used to facilitate the gentrification process. The process goes something like this. Arty/Intellectual types are drawn to cheaper inner city suburbs. Price is a factor as is proximity to each other.They bring different tastes and consumption habits with them. These begin to change the structure of the neighbourhood instilling it with cultural capital. This cultural capital then begins to attract trendy young professionals. Developers pounce, prices sky-rocket and the older working class residents are forced out (if they are still there). The “creative class” is thus a key participant in converting the neighbourhood into a brand that can be sold to tourists and the wealthy.

I was interrupted mid reflection. My turn. I struck up a conversation with the barber. I would have liked to ask him what he thought about the changes the neighbourhood was undergoing. I wasn’t sure how to do it though and football was a much easier topic. He complimented me on my voluminous hair. It must have seemed quite something after the old bloke. When he was done I gave him $20. I was too old to be a student anyway and did a PhD really count? “Nah mate”, he said “15 bucks for you, you can pay me $20 when you finish your studies”.

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