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But Most Of All, Michael Hardt’s Hair1

I’m gonna have to reproduce this here, because I’ve been tittering inanely about it ever since I wrote it for a mailing list. It’s about the new edition of Left Business Observer, an excellent publication to which you should all subscribe — the current edition carries an interview with Michael Hardt, co-author of a weighty tome of political philosophy called “Empire”.

The new LBO is out to email subscribers, and I would say something about its content, but I’m transfixed by the photograph on page 3 of Michael Hardt.

How the hell does he leave the house with that … item on his head? For those who haven’t received their copy yet, Hardt is pictured sporting a bouffant creation that, at my estimate, appears to stand about three inches proud of the surface of his skull in all directions. I haven’t seen a “do” like that since Barry Manilow got out of the game. God knows what it must have been like in the radio studio with all that static electricity around; I’m surprised he wasn’t mistaken for a microphone.

How much alienated labour in the hairdressing trade does it take to maintain this coiffure in its candy-floss perfection, to say nothing of the environmental despoliation? Can it be anything other than succour to the global Empire to know that its most prominent academic detractor looks like one of Herman’s Hermits?

I’m guessing that the illus. came from a publicity photo and it isn’t quite as extreme in civilian life. But hell, it’s shaken me to the marrow. I can still see it as a floating retinal image when I close my eyes. Permanent revolution? Permanent wave, more like.

In actual fact, I wrote that one hastily and it doesn’t come close to doing Hardt’s magnificent barnet any kind of justice. It has the sort of scale and grandeur that one usually associates with novels by Tolstoy or tropical rain forests. Basically, the hair kind of gathers itself up from a point starting slightly below Hardt’s left ear, and swoops majestically upward before cascading in a crashing, glorious, life-affirming, anemone-like plume on the top of his head. It’s simultaneously unruly and immaculate; a perfect balance between pristine order and buzzing, bubbling chaos. It’s like a Japanese painting of a breaking wave, except it’s made out of Hardt’s hair. You can’t, simply can’t gaze upon it without thinking that something should be done by the government, or possibly the United Nations, to preserve its epic beauty for the benefit of future generations. Maybe we could have Hardt laminated or cryogenically frozen or something …

In actual fact, I don’t really have anything against Hardt or his book. Everyone I know who’s read “Empire” has said it’s pretty crap, but the fact is that I hang round with such a crowd of deadbeats and Philistines that this means nothing; it might be the best book ever written in the English and/or Italian language for all I know. I wrote the short panegyric above for two reasons: first, because it really is an absolutely magnificent bouffe, and second, because in defending it as a serious comment and not a rather childish and churlish piece of common abuse, I get to make a couple of points about two particularly tiresome tendencies in discussions on the Left. But I digress; here first is my apologia.

The first argument I would like to make in defence of the proposition that everyone should take this post seriously and admire me for writing it, is that Hardt is an academic. He lives in an isolated, ivory-tower world, far removed from the reality of working class life, where a hairdo like that would be laughed off his very skull by the roots within five minutes . By mocking his haircut, I am bringing him into contact with the realities of day-to-day existence. Only people who live among the working class have any right to have any opinions on any subject at all, and the fact of his barnet reveals that Hardt does not. (I do not propose to enter into any correspondence relating to Hardt’s workingclassitude, or indeed to my own status to cast aspersions on it. I’ve played the prolier-than-thou card first, so you lot can just deal with it).

The second argument would be that by having such a risible item on his head, Hardt brings the entire left into disrepute. How can anyone possibly envision a broad-based socialist movement if the common image of “a leftist” is a guy who looks like the bastard child of Jerry Lee Lewis and Madame Pompadour? It matters not that nobody else on the left looks like Hardt, or that there is a vast variety of different hairstyles sported by people who believe in the abolition of exploitation under the wage-labour relation of production. If anyone anywhere to the left of George Bush has any characteristic at all that anyone anywhere might object to, they must be viciously shouted down until they fall into line with the lowest common denominator.

Now, fair-enough, arguments based on the chauvinism of manual labour, or the special status of “activists” in having their opinions count for more, are on the fact of it more cogent and intelligent than just taking the piss out of a guy because you don’t like his haircut. And probably, so are arguments against this or that leftwing group because they have unpopular opinions or engage in “destructive tactics”. But are they really all that different? Face it, the main reason that there isn’t a broad-based socialist movement in the USA (or many other places) is that nobody fucking wants one. Any other reason is pretty pointless, unless you just want to pin the blame on some other grouplet to justify starting a fight with them for your own purposes. Me, I blame it all on Michael Hardt’s hair.

edit: Here’s a picture.. Apparently he has a Hasselhoff-like “tousled” look as well as the more groomed publicity still which set it all off. I can’t find the version I wrote about anywhere on the web, so I guess you’ll have to subscribe to Left Business Observer to check it out.

other edit: On closer inspection, I think that the “groomed” version is just the “tousled” version, shrunk in Photoshop, cropped around Hardt’s head and printed in black and white. He looks a lot less scruffy when you cut him away from that jacket, which may require a post of its own on some future date. You should still subscribe to LBO though.


1Anyone who recognises that song reference gets immediate expulsion from polite society.

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