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February 2, 2008

The Spanish Mullet

Spain is arguably the most culturally isolated of all of the countries in Western Europe. Rich in its own regional identities, the rush of cosmopolitanism taking place elsewhere seems yet to have reached Spain except through a trickle of dubbed cinema, the odd Chinese buffet or kebab stall.

What items have been allowed to permeate the national cultural membrane is reminiscent of the first whispers I heard of a broader world as a child growing up in Middle America during the 1980s. Foreign thrills came to us through Mongolian Barbeque, Bruce Lee (and the boom of martial arts schools that followed), Hawaiian pizza, and catching the odd glimpse of an immigrant family struggling to find suitable food at the Red Owl supermarket.

Spanish Mullet Boys 1

The cultural growing pains of the 1980s seem to be a necessary stage of development for a country about to join the rest of the world in the age of globalization. If the destination on this journey is to do as the Parisians or New Yorkers do then the first steps may be to eat chicken chow mein and wear a mullet. That's right: the mullet; the "business in front, party in the back" hairdo that was the hallmark style of our favorite 80s bands, wrestlers, and loser couch-surfing uncles alike.

Many of the travelled Spanish that I met were ashamed about their country's relative unavailability of foreign culture. To these things the standard, "we blame Franco," mantra would apply. Beyond a doubt, Franco delayed the country's development by decades. However, what is more truthful is that the Spanish love their mullets.

Spanish Mullet Boys 2

When I asked the Spanish people of what they thought of the mullet the answers I got were nearly universal: the mullet was cool, it was counter culture, and it made you hip. If you locked it in the back it made you "laid-back" or "Rasta." If you cut out and braided little rat-tails into it that made you seem to be like a drifter, a traveler, perhaps the Spanish Jack Kerouac type. I failed to see any of these things. My American sensibilities made the mullet wearer evocative of a Ted Nugent fans.

It certainly didn't help that most of the mullet wearers I ran into in Spain were often bleary eyed drunks smashing beer bottles on the cobble stones at the end of the night. Take my girlfriend-beating neighbor for instance: he was the proud maintainer of a dirty shoulder-length mane I used to call the Qui-Gon Jinn. His dumpy friend, the Jedi Apprentice, used to sport my favorite little number which featured three braided rat-tails in the back.

Granted the true origin of the hairdo likely has more to do with soccer than it does with with the 80s. Stars of teams in Europe have been sporting the Continental version of hockey hair for decades. It may be that no other region in the world has such a high density of the asymmetrical hairstyle.

I love the Spanish mullet. It used to give us foreigners something to connect on. I cannot tell you how many great conversations started with, "oh my god, can you believe all the mullets?"

A quick search on the Internet revealed similar exuberance for the Spanish version of the Kentucky Waterfall:

As with all trends, I am sure this one has a limited life span. Soon the mullets will give way to full-on grunge hair. Time will tell what the Spanish version of a plaid work shirt will be. I await with bated breath.

Posted by jordanh at February 2, 2008 6:21 PM |

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That's great Jordan! So true about topics of conversation for foreigners, in fact I've had NUMEROUS conversations myself about it!

Posted by: Ruthanna Penton at February 3, 2008 3:25 PM

Mullets are great. My best friend's cousin spent a year in South America. She didn't take pictures of ruins or landmarks but came home with 12 rolls of film all of different mullets she had seen. At some point she actually began to think herself that mullets were really cool and cut one for herself complete with racer stripes on the sides.

Posted by: JENNIFER LINNETT at March 28, 2008 10:56 PM

Well, you're impressing your own cultural reference and assuming "everything hits so late" in Spain, but the truth is that the hairstyle IS rather big amongst a certain subculture in a few countries, even the US. It's sort of hipster thing here and even those in other countries like Spain and France know that this style was something associated with an uncool part of the past. Maybe you're out of touch- these people don't look ike "Ted Nugent" fans to me. How small minded of YOU.

Posted by: Anonymous at November 27, 2009 5:37 AM

Just came from Barcelona. The trend has not yet eased.

Posted by: Anonymous at September 24, 2010 4:50 PM

I have to agree that mullets did not die in Spain. But being a Spaniard myself, I should explain to you where it comes from, because cleary you are out of touch with the SPanish realiaty. The mullet has nothing to do with Franco, it has to do with our gypsy influence. And if you go and dig up where the inpiration for the mullet comes from, it will most surely come 1) from Britain 2) from some English rock star who went to Spain for vacations, saw some gypsies with their mullets 3) liked it and brought it back to England and the rest of the world. The mullet is a gypsie heritage, has been for now about 1000 years, will be probably for the next 1000 years. The fact that in Spain, contrary to many other european countries, being a gypsie and being a non-gypsie Spaniard (payo) is not always distinguishable, the mullet is present among gypsies and non-gypsies alike. Do not be naive and pretend that because we still wear the mollet, something the rest of the world only did in the 80s, that we are retrograde and that we ought to pass by your lame fashion like grunge or plaid. Don't worry about it, take a nice trip to Spain to realize that we are advanced in many more aspects that the United States can claim to be. Took a train ride lately? But the mullet? It is here to stay, it was fashion 1000 years ago, and will be in the next 1000 years.

Posted by: Ana at July 7, 2012 8:15 PM

Hi Ana, thank you for your comments. I had not heard the gypsy/payo origin theory before. Having lived in Spain there are a great many things that I love about your country. I would never make the claim that Spain is overall retrograde nor the US is overall more advanced. I will stand by my claim that the mullet is hysterically funny to me. I share your enthusiasm: may it thrive for millennia! ¡Viva la mullet!

Posted by: Jordan at July 8, 2012 12:23 AM

This blog entry is rife with generalizations and prejudice. For example, you never even bother to mention that "Jedi Apprentice" is a term used in basic to refer to what is known in the Jedi Order as a "Padawan," i.e., a Force-sensitive adolescent who has begun one-on-one instruction with a Jedi Knight or Master outside of the confines of the Jedi Academy. Having passed the Initiate Trials and ascended in rank, Padawans were given more responsibilities within the Jedi Order but were subject to the demands of their master. These are the very same Padawans who fought bravely during the Clone Wars as commanders to protect the Republic... only to be cut done by the very soldiers they led following Darth Sidious' gruesome Executive Order 66. Where are the Jedi in your home country?! Do you even have Jedi Trials for Initiates in the United States, yet alone a Jedi Council? Before you start judging others according to your own superficial standards, you might want to take some time to LEARN. Being a Jedi is about a lot more than just escapism and counter-culture. The Jedi have been around for thousands of years and, if Darth Vader can bring an end to them and the Force, what chance does your arrogant little blog have?

Posted by: Jesse at July 8, 2012 3:15 AM

I'm always fascinated by these derided minority groups that in fact contribute many of the things that the majority end up being proudest of.

Posted by: Jeremy at July 8, 2012 4:57 AM

It's true that there are a lot of mullets in Spain. Me being Spanish I thought it was normal until I travelled abroad.
Also it needs to be said there are two types of mullets in Spain, one type is the ones you describe who seem to have a sort of 'counter culture' element to it, but there are also the Asturian mullets, they are subtler and the wearers don't seem to be aware that they are sporting a mullet, you can find them mostly in the north of Spain like Galicia, Asturias and Basque country, specially in villages, these are in my opinion the "creme de la creme" of Spanish mullets.

Posted by: Me at September 14, 2013 7:39 AM

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