History of The Mohawk


Fuck You: A Brief History of the Mohawk
by Will Judy : July 14th, 2006

IMG_0054Any kind of extreme hair makes a statement, but none so unambiguous as the Mohawk. A shaved head makes a statement, but you have to parse it out. A shaved head can say near anything: “I’m a javascript programmer who cuts his own hair,” “I’m a 136 lb. passive-aggressive Vegan dickhole,” “Welcome to the Brotherhood, prag,” “Hi, I’m Dave Attell, and welcome to Insomniac,” “The girls can come in, but you losers have to leave,” or “No, I’m not the Dalai Lama, I’m Hunter S. Thompson, you little screwhead.”

A Mohawk says one thing: “Fuck you.” A Mohawk is a tonsorial middle finger to the world.

A Mohawk is different from a set of whitewalls, which is frankly not so far from a mullet. Lank, greasy sk8hawks also verge into mullet territory. A Mohawk stands up, bristling and sharp, and does not flop onto your forehead giving you a comical strip of extra-dense forehead zits.

When seen in nature, the Mohawk is there to intimidate. A raised strip of fur along the spine is the universal sign for “I’m ready to kick your ass, boy.” Rhodesian ridgeback dogs have permanent Mohawks, and they were bred to take on lions. You don’t want to get caught with your hackles down when your job is fucking with bigger, badder species. Think hyenas, or wild boar.

The name comes from the Mohawk tribe of native Americans, who held a bunch of territory around what’s now upstate New York. They actually didn’t sport Mohawks any more than the Huron and Iroquois or anyone else did at the time, but “Mohawk” sounds more badass than “Algonquin”. Brits call the haircut a “Mohican”, which is cute.

(Daniel Boone was captured by Indians around 1778 and given a Mohawk as a test of his courage. They did it the old-fashioned way, by pulling the hairs out one by one. The story’s probably bullshit and the Indians were Shawnees anyway.)

Mohawks were popular with paratroopers in World War II, for obvious reasons: “We jump out of planes, and most of us will be dead when we hit the ground. Fuck you.” Paratroopers also yelled “Geronimo!” when they jumped; all this proves is that people don’t give a shit about the particulars of native American history.

Regardless, the Mohawk wouldn’t have come into its own if WWII hadn’t fucked the British economy gutless. By the mid-70s, things were bleak, dull, and awful enough that kids were wandering around with safety pins through their faces and all kinds of shit in their hair. Punks adopted the Mohawk to say, “There aren’t any jobs; just booze, drugs, noisy music and general collapse. Fuck you.”

The punks brought the Mohawk into its own, but anything that looks that cool is going to get co-opted by the generalist media culture and diluted to pisswater. Punk didn’t sell enough records, so it got watered down and re-branded as “New Wave”, and instead of razor & glue Mohawks, 80s audiences got the “fish fin”, which was basically long 70s hair brushed up the sides and glued in place. Worse yet was the wighawk, a strap-on cotton candy confection seen on tarts in Duran Duran videos and on Sigue Sigue Sputnik.

The 80s also saw the rise of the jockhawk, as sported by Mr. T and the bad-guy wrestler in that Matthew Modine movie. Jockhawks were and are undyed, accompanied by a half-inch minimum of stubble on the sides, allowing them to grow out by Prom time. The jockhawk endures, depressing all who are not fans of WWE Raw.

The 80s did, however, give us The Road Warrior, which remains the Mohawkin’est movie ever. It should not be blamed for inspiring a slew of crummy post-apocalyptic wighawk extravaganzas, or for sticking us with Mel Gibson for two decades.

The 90s were a dire time for the Mohawk, what with lank, greasy hair being all the rage and the Cult of the Mullet looming. Yes, I know, Rancid and all that. They were fun, but I saw Repo Man when it came out and unlike the Baby Boomers, I don’t cream my khakis whenever I see stuff from my youth repackaged and resold. Times just weren’t shitty enough in the 90s for a distinctive ‘hawk to emerge. It was too easy to get a job and keep your fucked-up hair during the Boom, and easy times breed weakness and complacency. Thank god that’s over…

A Mohawk seen on the street these days says, “I’m a bike messenger. Fuck you.” Or, “I’m 16 and I know everything about being punk. Fuck you.” Or, “I’m in a band that will implode after two months for better or worse. Fuck you.” A Mohawk seen in the media says, “I’m a Finnish snowboard champ and I’m totally extreme. Dude.” Or, “I’m David Fucking Beckham and you wanted to Fuck a Spice Girl and I did it, and here’s my stupid fucking haircut this week.”

The 21st Century Mohawk is still waiting to be born, says me. The time is ripe. We have a repressive, conservative, bullshit-spouting administration in office. By the most optimistic estimates, the economy will stay in the toilet for three more years. War is declared, and battle come down (in a few weeks or months, count on it). Things are going to suck so much more before they suck less. There is no better time to take those hot, thrumming WAHL clippers in hand and strip away everything but a bright, bristling strip of Fuck You.

The world is waiting.