On Those Who Wear Hats
Wearing hats was once a widely enjoyed activity, surpassed in practice only by such entertainments as breathing and sleeping. There is a fellowship among those involved in this practice, one of the more poetically inclusive fellowships known to man; thieves and thespians, priests and pig farmers, wizards and whalers, are all embraced in the order of those who wear hats. Few hat wearers, however, know that they are a part of this group; neither do they know that this group reflects humanity as a whole, but to tell the story of those who wear hats is to tell the story of the Human race, a story both of separation and of a common bond, of categorization and of needs met.
It is not known when exactly mankind first donned a piece of cloth as a hat and the clues history leaves aren't specific. One early clue, cave artwork, depicts animal skins worn on the head, not a hat proper perhaps, but a forerunner to the hat, worn for protection for the elements. Somewhere in between this time and the time of the ancient Greeks and Egyptians the purpose of the hat began to change slightly, shifting from a piece of equipment meant to keep Early Man's head dry while hunting for dinosaurs, to something of significance such as Pharaoh's headdress and Caesar's crown. The hat had now fully emerged, no longer merely a practical expression of survival and common needs, but an ordering device and a sign of rank.
This idea of rank was cemented in the late 14th and 15th century, when the hat was introduced into the world of men's fashion, becoming an integral part of class distinction. In the 1960s and 1970s the hat fell from grace as it fell from the head of the flower child. The hippies threw their hats to the blowin' wind because they saw the hat for what it was, a bond maybe, but also a sign of separation. It was one more restraint cast aside in pursuit of free love and a universal brotherhood.
But what if everyone in history took such a negative view of hats? Had the hat never graced history's stage, organizations such as The Red Hat Society, would perhaps simply be know as The Society, G. K. Chesterton would have to change the topic of his famous essay, "On Running After One's Hat"; the reader of the altered essay ("On Standing Still" perhaps) is pitied. Hats can play a large role on how those who wear them are perceived; consider the career of John Wayne, might he still be known only as Marion Michael Morrison had the cowboy hat never been invented? And it is doubtful whether George Washington's strategic crossing of the Delaware would have been quite as grand if his three cornered hat had not so heroically perched itself upon his powdered locks. Don't forget to take Abraham Lincoln into account too; separated from his trademark stovepipe hat, he would scarcely be distinguishable from any other emancipation-proclaiming, six-foot-four, self-educated politician with which history presents us. It's clear that history and culture would lose a little of their flavor had the hat never stumbled into the light of existence.
But as flower children age into senior citizens the hat finds itself accepted once again. It still binds like a rope, uniting all those throughout space and time who have worn hats, and separates like a sword, rending bishop from pawn, king from farmer, with the mere placement of a feather or shaping of a brim; both Eminem and the Pope don a hat for official reasons, there is a connection there, a brotherhood, but those same hats also separate them, placing them in vastly different worlds.
For average people the hat still bears signs of what it once was, its anonymous wearers perhaps carrying a slight odor of divisiveness, but for the man or woman on the street the bond outweighs that, and when they see each other they acknowledge the history worn on their heads; we are like brothers they say, who have fought epics together, we are like people of the same village, who have loved and hated side by side, we carry the mystery of that scattered tribe called the human race on our heads. But none of this paradox of separation and of unity is put into words; instead, what comes out is simply, "Nice hat."
Thursday, February 16, 2006
The Rope and the Sword
I was supposed to write a 750-word essay for my Writing 121 class. Out of several writing assignments to choose from I decided on one where I was supposed to make a general statement about a group of people I knew well, being sure not to use the first and second person. Well, I got my paper back yesterday and thought it might be fun to share it with you guys, so here it is, as handed to my teacher: