August 10, 2012

NASA's Mohawk Guy

New geek chic: Mohawks in, pocket protectors out

By Seth Borenstein and Alicia ChangKnown to the Twitterverse and the president of the United States as "Mohawk Guy" of the Mars mission, Bobak Ferdowsi could be the changing public face of NASA and all of geekdom.

Ferdowsi, whose shaved scalp also features star shapes, is a flight director for the Mars rover Curiosity—a mission that captured the nation's imagination with its odds-defying, acrobatic landing.
And:"You guys are a little cooler than you used to be," President Barack Obama said in a Monday congratulatory phone call to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Given Ferdowsi's success, Obama, a "Star Trek" fan, joked about the Mohawk and suggested he might try it: "I think that I'm going to go back to my team and see if it makes sense."

Mohawk Guy's Twitter followers have soared to more than 50,000. Over the weekend, he and the 49-year-old Steltzner appeared on NPR's game show, "Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me." He's been doing Google+ hangouts. And, oh yes, he's gotten marriage proposals.

A brief history of the mohawk:

NASA’s ‘Mohawk Guy’ and 18 Other Famous Hairstyle AppropriatorsSo mainstream America has decided the mohawk is cool again. But does this hairstyle, other than its name, have anything to do with Mohawk Indians anymore? We asked Ray Cook, Mohawk, ICTMN’s opinions editor, who told us the traditional warrior’s hairstyle is better described as a “scalp lock.” “The Mohawk is known as scalp lock because it makes it very hard for an enemy to lift one’s hair for a trophy,” he says. “But, on a practical note—we are a woodland people, bugs and ticks like to hide in lots of hair, a scalp-lock frustrates them too.” Cook points to the paintings of Mohawk artist John Thomas as illustrations of the pre-Colonial Mohawk scalp lock.

It’s significant that the subject of the painting is a lacrosse player wearing a scalp lock—Cook says the haircut is “for those who do battle. Which today means athletes.” Wes Studi also wears a fairly authentic scalp lock as Magua in The Last of the Mohicans (and incidentally, in the UK, a mohawk haircut is known as a mohican):

The mohawk first gained popularity among non-Indians in modern times toward the end of World War II, when it was adopted by the “Filthy Thirteen,” a unit of the 101st Airborne Division—and yes, the inspiration for the highly fictionalized 1967 film The Dirty Dozen. Sergeant Jake McNiece of Ponca City, Oklahoma, who is said to be of Native heritage, started the trend—according to a news article from 1994, he joked that it was a Native tradition, but really wore the haircut for sanitary reasons. Some of the members of the Filthy Thirteen followed suit, and a photograph of two mohawk-ed paratroopers applying face paint before a mission was published in Stars & Stripes. But the practice was not widespread.

Jazz musician Sonny Rollins went through a mohawk phase. In 2009, Rollins told NPR that “[t]he mohawk was my attempt to pay homage to the Native Americans. There was a Native American guy that I know that used to come to see me when I was at the old Five Spot. … This was back in the ’50s. That sort of brought that to my attention.”
Comment:  The article continues with the most famous mohawk wearers, including Robert de Niro as Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver; Joe Strummer of The Clash; Wendy O. Williams, lead singer and personality of The Plasmatics; and of course Mr. T.

For more on the subject, see Seattle University's "Red(Mo)hawk" Promotion.

Below:  Wes Studi in Last of the Mohicans.

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