IN THE LOOP
The Windy City—Chicago, is rich in culture and full of soul. Known for its architecture and delicious deep-dish pizza, it's like a liberal art-hive that journeys through the city’s transit Loop, unable to escape the deathly shadow of its infamous South Side. And with a surreal backdrop of ever expanding access to guns in America and a society seemingly paralyzed in the face of these horrors, sometimes it's the people on the ground floor, the ones who are just living their day to day lives in the city they’ve always called home who step up to the plate regardless. Fortunately, positive change does happen in the midst of chaos and in Chicago, some of its premiere barbers are leading by example.
Barbershops themselves have historically played a particular role in our culture. They serve as places where men gather, cleanup, shoot the shit, and generally take care of business, whatever that business may be. So as epicenters of their neighborhoods, Chicago barbershops have withstood generations of violence, corruption, and gentrification, and luckily some barbers continue to use their roles not only to flex their creative muscles, but for good as well. After all, Chicago is a city demanding justice for those impacted by gun violence.
As Chicago native Alonzo Avila found, “these barberprenuers are not just cutting to make more than minimum wage. They are using their business platforms and culture to shape their communities by addressing the inescapable social conflicts all around them. Their compass goal is to spread love in the North Side, East Side, West Side, and South Side, and finally change the headlines.” It seems like some of these barbers have become the new grassroots activists in their neighborhoods and beyond. He spoke with barbers all over Chicago, from Sunni Powell, owner of Englewood’s Powell’s Barber Shop, who just relaunched the The Barber Cease Fire Movement, to Miguel Rosas, a Rock Island barber who uses his artistry to educate the barber youth through social media alone. Read more Chicago Deep Cuts here.
“I wanted to set a precedent for peace. All the barbers came together to give free haircuts for the kids, and to show the whole world what peace looks like in our community,” said Sunni, who’s own shop was the site of a tragic shooting in 2016. Yet the spirit of the non-violence action movement encouraged more Chicago barbers to speak about peace to their clients. His passion for spreading knowledge and petitioning for peace has captured the attention of not only humanitarians and celebrity entertainers, but most importantly, the Chicago Police Department themselves.
And there are new generations of barbers taking their own stance through programs like Juan Acevedo’s #cuttingthenegativity which was the first 24 hour Chicago barber charity event. “The barbers who participate are giving back to the culture of barbering, to their current clients, and clients who are no longer living. The movement is to make an impact. My goal is to make our #cuttingthenegativity an organizational charity." Juan hopes to inspire not just barbers, but other business owners to make their noble accomplishments more visible. “In the age of social media, there’s no excuse.”
Israel Torres, owner of Platinum Fades VI, said, “I felt a responsibility to incorporate my culture and my ideas into my business. My Platinum barbershop is the result of my finesse.” He spoke of how bothered he felt by the acts of bigotry and racial slurs appearing in the news and all over social media feeds and was newly influenced by certain movements happening around the country and the many protests in Latino communities. “I wanted to rethink traditional values in a barbershop setting.” So which movement influenced his business the most? “Gender equality!” he said, quickly apologizing to other customers in the shop for screaming out the answer. “It was an immediate decision. It’s 2019! Barbers aren’t just men. My barbershop has a woman barber, and her clientele is up there. Little girls will look up to her and should.”
Since the 19th century, the barbering industry has built a culture based on communal support and fine men’s grooming. Right now, the new generation of American barbers are both men and women. The culture is evolving in a revolutionary way. And as we learned, the new era of American barbers, specifically those frozen solid in Chicago, preach longevity to the next generation, and all it takes is one haircut. But if you’re a barber only in it for the money, that’s okay. Your fade game better be on point, though.
Your hairdresser does it better. A 1970’s meme that surely our Chicago barbers would agree with, as it captures the sentiment of a film that so echoes our current political and cultural chaos that it can only be described as eerily remarkable. So while Hal Ashby’s 1975 masterpiece, Shampoo, is more than just a comedy of errors or a look at the life of a hairdresser and his loyal clientele, it acts as a subtle critique of the darkest parts of our society, those that are rearing their ugly heads once again, this time in greater numbers.
By setting his story on the day of Nixon’s re-election in 1972, Ashby’s film itself in many ways culturally marks the end of the free-loving ‘60’s, an end that was brought about by the controversial Republican swing to the racist right facilitated by a Vietnam War weary disconnected electorate; a condition that still plagues society today. Starring Warren Beatty, Julie Christie, Goldie Hawn, Lee Grant, Jack Warden, and the debut of an underage Carrie Fisher, the film casts a light on the two faces of America at the time: a scandalized White House and the citizens who were aloof, if not numb to it. If the film was released today, you might do a double take, if not for the noticeably unlined faces of Beatty and Hawn.
The complicated politics of the time serve as the backdrop to the film's plot, always there, lingering in the background. We see the characters attend election night parties and hear bits of radio broadcasts every so often. It’s a telling representation of society at the time – detached people preoccupied with their own reflections and trivial ongoings, citizens who can’t even be bothered to vote and Beatty’s portrayal of the star hairdresser of Beverly Hills so perfectly captures the zeitgeist of the Me Generation and the dangerous ways we tend to bury our heads in narcissism. Which, especially with the re-emergence of Nixonian levels of Presidential coverups, paranoia, and Roger Stone’s back tattoo, feels all too familiar.
So as this tale of Beverly Hills blowouts, overt misogyny, and the secrets kept between a lady and her hairdresser expressed an ambivalent society, Shampoo was unknowingly foreshadowing Nixon’s resignation. If only we could be so lucky. Warren Beatty‘s antihero hairdresser George Roundy pursues pretty much every skirt in his path, while shrugging it off with explanations like, "As long as I can remember, when I see a pretty girl and I go after her and I make her, it's like I'm gonna live forever." Sound familiar?