December 10: barbers, baldies and barthes

Got my hair cut at the barbers today. Women are bemused when I tell them I just turn up with no appointment and get it done for £11. I do leave them £12 mind. I’ve always been generous like that. And then they say: but don’t you have to wait? And I say: yeah, there might be three or four blokes ahead of me, so I might have to wait half-an-hour sometimes. They gasp. How long does a haircut take? It’s ten minutes in my barbers. Anyway, I don’t mind waiting. Where else am I going to read The Sun? And in any case, it’s mostly bald blokes whose hair they’re cutting. Though – I realise – barbers take longer with bald men. It’s with bald men that they are able to demonstrate their art at its most elevated reach. You see, the less hair there is to cut, the more the work of the artist recalls the work of the semiotician. Here we are in the realm of the theatre of hair-cutting, what Barthes in his celebrated work of popular sign decipherment, the hermeneutic masterpiece that is ‘Mythologies’ (Editions du Seuil 1957) refers to as ‘spectacle’. Indeed, the barber enacts the ritual of hair-cutting for the baldie and it is for this peacock performance that he is rewarded with £11 or maybe (if he is lucky) £12. Oh yes, it’s a semiotician’s wet dream down my barbers.

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