Papanui High School students protest the long hair ban, February 1971. Photo / Christchurch City Libraries
What does hair have to do with it? Many, in the counterculture movement of the 1960s. “What a frightening threat to humanity is posed by the culture of long hair, which the defenders of the law and the guardians
of the establishment should raise their collective daggers in righteous horror? asks Nick Bollinger, in his new book, Jumping Sundays. Elsewhere, Kiran Dass shares the five writers (living or dead) she would dine with. Good reading.
EXTRACT FROM BOOK
Long hair, I don’t care
In the ’60s counterculture movement, hair length sent a powerful message, writes Nick Bollinger
Growing out your hair was about being aware of society’s objections and doing it anyway. It announced your will to rebel and served as a signal to those who might be on your side. If you saw another person on the street with long hair, you might assume that they also opposed the Vietnam War, were in favor of smoking weed, and had a liberal attitude towards sex. And it was obvious that they had problems with authority.
“It was to amaze the bourgeoisie, shock the bourgeoisie!” says Roger Steele, quoting the rallying cry of decadent French poets of the late 19th century, including Charles Baudelaire and Arthur Rimbaud. Steele had given up cutting his hair when he moved to Wellington for college in the late 60s. “Why not let your hair grow? Like why not be a pacifist? We’ve always had those standards. In fact, long hair is beautiful. We always thought it looked good on women, why can’t it look good on men? And it looked good on a lot of men. But yeah, it upset our parents, and our parents defended the establishment, repression and the lack of freedom.
Similarly, short hair could be seen as representing conservative values, trust in authority, and a vested interest in maintaining the established order. Institutions like the police and military, as well as schools, enforced strict hair regulations.
The rebellion had started on the chin. Until the middle of the decade, the simple act of sporting a beard was enough to get you called a beatnik, a communist, a bearded guy – and a beat-up. Newspaper reports of local protest marches in the early 1960s noted that some of the protesters wore facial hair as if — along with corduroy pants and duffels — it was confirmation of a dangerous otherness. Fidel Castro had a beard. The last New Zealand Prime Minister to wear one was Thomas McKenzie, who served briefly in 1912.
A few of the bearded guys also eschewed the cropped back and sides in favor of a slightly hairier look, but by the mid-’60s even matching bangs and straight cuts down to the Beatles’ collar were considered unruly. As the decade passed, the hair continued to grow. The hippies in San Francisco and other American cities just stopped cutting it. The men began to look like Renaissance portraits of Jesus. Pop stars followed suit.
The hair became the subject of serious investigations in the newspapers. “It is part of a protest by young people against the world they have inherited – an effort to assert individuality in a society they see as having carefully ordered superficial values and hopelessly confused inner attitudes,” David suggested. Brunton of Christchurch Press. The Auckland Star seemed to breathe a sigh of relief upon realizing long hair was just another sign of conformity, before thinking that a little non-conformity might not be such a bad thing :
“What a frightening threat to humanity is posed by the culture of long hair, that the defenders of the law and the guardians of the establishment should rear their collective hairs in virtuous horror? There is nothing inherently virtuous or bad in long hair – and cleanliness and cleanliness issues apply regardless of cut… All the current fuss around long hair is just a sign of the growing intolerance of modern society towards anyone or anything that seems different. There are many subtle pressures in the world today that seek to bend us all into blind conformity of views and behaviors.
“Despite all the sound and fury of their rebellion against their elders, the modern teenage generation tends to be as rigidly conformist as any other group… An Auckland father recently said: ‘My teenage daughter has to knowing all the top 10 tracks or his classmates wouldn’t talk to him. And the hippies are another group that has simply traded one set of values for another that is equally inflexible.
“But there is no need to be overly pessimistic. There is a sufficient proportion of free thinkers in every age group in this country to make the vision of a brainwashed Orwellian future existence seem quite enough. ridiculous… A civilization exerts its pressures toward conformity only at the risk of extinguishing genius and engendering uniform mediocrity.”
Some have tried to rationalize their prejudices with safety arguments. A Lower Hutt fire officer feared that long hair and beards could be deadly to firefighters because “toxic air can seep between whiskers and the rubber of breathing apparatus”. Some regimentalism had to exist in the fire service, he added, so shorter hair should remain a requirement.
In early 1972, as the school year began with principals ordering mass shearings, two Wellington high schools caved. Wellington Secondary School principal Cyril Bradwell has publicly stated that there are more important things in education than the length of someone’s hair, while at Onslow College, where i entering 4th grade, a threat of a student strike (led by future historian James Belich who, at 14, came to school with bushy paws made of mutton chops) saw the board relent and abolish regulations on the hair. Around this time, Tim Shadbolt’s memoir-manifesto Bulls*** and Jellybeans was published. The first page finds him arriving in prison:
“I thought about refusing a haircut, but I wanted to be with the boys and see life in prison; for me, solitary confinement would suit them just fine. So I submitted to the final act of mass conformity – dress/gray, head/bald, inspiration/null, education/none. Discipline/uniforms/uniformity. Great preparation for New Zealand society, gray and dull. He pulled out 14 inches of my hair, my first haircut hair in six years.”
Excerpted from Jumping Sundays: The Rise and Fall of the Counterculture in Aotearoa New Zealand, by Nick Bollinger (Auckland University Press, $50).
5 QUICK QUESTIONS WITH KIRAN DASS
Sure, people love writers’ festivals, but what’s the point of bringing writers and readers together?
Nothing quite matches the spark that happens when you bring writers and readers together. It’s always amazing to look around the room and see so many brilliant thinkers, writers and appreciators in one place, where they can come together and share their love of books, writing, ideas and storytelling under its many forms. It’s the chance to be inspired, informed, entertained and challenged, which I consider to be complementary. This sense of meaningful engagement, community, and connectedness is extremely valuable, both at the brain and heart level.
This year’s WORD is your first as a program and engagement manager. What are your highlights?
I really feel like there is something for everyone in this program. Personal highlights for me include Rachel Kushner, Ottessa Moshfegh, Rebecca Solnit and Patrick Radden Keefe. And we have a terrific suite of masterclasses and workshops where punters can learn a specific trade from some of Aotearoa’s best practitioners – I wish I could go all of them. I think Chris Finlayson in conversation with Kim Hill will be fascinating, and I’m so excited to see how A Cabinet of Curiosities unfolds – it’s a lively session where a series of brilliant writers and thinkers will each give a little talk on an obsession. I expect the weird and the wonderful. I’m also looking forward to Te Piki o Tāwhaki, which will be a takeover of Tūranga’s beautiful library, complete with kapa haka and taonga pūoro. It will be special. I’m doing a session myself called Words/Wine/Sound with Viva’s wine critic, Dr. Jo Burzynska, where we’ll examine how words, wine and sound intersect, including sampling the three things together. A match made in heaven, I say. It’s gonna be fun.
If you could have dinner with five writers, living or dead, who would they be and why?
I’d love to sit at a well-furnished table with plenty of very cold, crisp white wine with 91-year-old writer Edna O’Brien, icy cool and sharp; mad Scottish writer David Keenan; the late Aotearoa journalist, novelist and poet Robin Hyde, who was extraordinary in his life and work; the late satirist and critic Dorothy Parker for providing the witty good words; Radden Keefe, New York journalist and author, because he looks like fun, but also because he tells the most amazing true stories you just couldn’t come up with.
You are also a writer. Can you tell us what you are currently working on?
I am very slowly chipping away at some personal essays. The one I’ve been working on most recently is a kind of deep dive based on the weird and sad story of motivational self-help guru Louise Hay — of all things. Would anyone like to read something like this? I do not know! It’s easy to park your own projects when you’re working on festivals – I’m really glad I can focus on showcasing amazing writers for now.
What are you reading right now?
I always have a stack of about three books at a time. I have just finished Nick Bollinger’s new book, Jumping Sundays, which is such an engaging piece of social and cultural history focused on Aotearoa’s counterculture told with Bollinger’s signature warm voice and lively curiosity. I’m currently reading Ōtautahi-based writer Chloe Lane’s new novel, Arms & Legacy. I loved his first novel, Les Nageurs. She writes with so much bitterness and observation. I also relish the biting darkness of Moshfegh’s new novel, Lapvona. She is one of the most subversive and surprising novelists writing today. These three writers are WORD Christchurch participants.
Kiran Dass is Head of Program and Engagement for WORD Christchurch, which runs August 31-September 4, wordchristchurch.co.nz.