We love to laugh at mullets, but why stop there? Nick Lehr investigates.
To answer Teitell’s question, it’s not that we loathe it—the world would certainly be a less interesting place had they never existed. It has since become a fun, easy target of derision and mockery. This happened in high school, when my friends and I would peruse MulletJunky.com during free periods.
Look at that one—Oh my god, we would scoff, slapping our keyboards and bursting out in raucous laughter. It was cool to make fun of mullets, which is arguably one of the first Internet memes, coming before even the Numa Numa video.
Of course, websites such as Mullet Junky can only serve as a portal to the past, with dated family portraits and school photos providing proof of the hairstyle’s shocking prevalence. Nowadays, the only place to see a good mullet or two are on episodes of COPS and Lockup: San Quentin.
All of this begs the question: why are people obsessed with this specific hairstyle? Why is an article written about them in The Boston Globe? The Globe, in fact, is a bit late to the game, as numerous tongue-in-cheek tribute websites (Rate my Mullet, Mullet Joe) have sprouted up over the past decade.
It’s almost too much. “Business in front, party in the back”—the phrase used to describe the hairstyle—has become cliché, and the best outfit at college 80’s parties is always the one that incorporates a (real, live!) mullet—you know, the jokester frat kid who actually grew his hair out, shaved the sides, left it long and flowing in the back, slapped on a sweet magenta nylon FILA jacket, to go along with a pair of Reebok pumps, and oh-my-god-did-I-mention-that-mullet-is-so-ridiculous-looking?
Well the mullet does look ridiculous, and this tickles us to the core. Some could argue that it never gets old—we continue to wonder: how, in their right minds, could our parents possibly have done that to themselves? And taken themselves seriously?
The laughter and revulsion is a standard reaction, but the mullet’s significance goes beyond just a laugh. It is a key part of a larger narrative, of a period in time marked by outlandish, pastel decadence, synthy music, material indulgence, and lots and lots of cocaine. No other decade has had such an assortment of fashion faux-paus as the 80’s, and the mullet was at the front and center of all of it: the heart and soul of the decade that didn’t give a fuck about rules, and just wanted to have a good time.
Maybe, then, we just need to give them time—in other words, we’re not far enough removed from the 90’s to truly appreciate them. Perhaps the popularity of (making fun of) the mullet will fade (and with it, 80’s parties), only to be replaced by websites devoted to rat tails and mushroom cuts. And it’s only a matter of time before college co-eds go to themed parties decked out in Starter Jackets and LA Lights.
I, for one, will always dreamily recall the cultural symbols of my childhood in the early 90’s, looking back with fondness and nostalgia to the days when my shoes lit up, my Trix were all shaped like spheres instead of fruits, those crappy Tiger handheld video games passed as entertainment, and my favorite baseball players all had badass mustaches.
And of course, I’ll always remember when, in 1993, my cousin proudly unveiled his freshly-cut rat tail, and I reacted with a mix of fear, awe, and envy.
While I never could bring myself to go through with the rat tail, I did eventually get one of those mushroom cuts. In fact, I had it for two whole years. It was my way of saying, “Hey, I want to be a part of it all, too.”
And I’m pretty damn proud of it.