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Monday, 20 September 2004

It may reasonably be argued that shampoo, the article and the practice, is a hallmark of proper civilization. Witness the derisive distaste with which we manhandle any citizen seemingly estranged from the stuff -- we wrinkle our faces at the sight of unwashed greasy hair, its tell-tale odd spikes, clumping self-adherence, and unpalatable odor. We lean conspiratorially to our neighbor and speculate upon the companion bad habits such a person surely entertains. Also, we shun social intercourse with such lepers as those possessed of dandruff, scalp itch, and other symptoms of unfamiliarity with shampoo. Those of us who use it regularly take pride in our coifs of silky, well behaved and pampered follicles. It is only the civilized thing to do.

Yet, the social graces of shampoo stand gripped in an explosively prolific insanity which threatens to unglue the civilized countenance of clean hair, and rend it into a thing of babbling idiocy. To wit:

Shampoo no longer confines itself to one shelf in the market, but that it must invade and conquer the nations of entire aisles with prodigious soldiers of shampoo buffoonery. Every stupid idea ever schemed and discarded to the scrap heap of shampoo design has been resurrected and hurled into production, thereafter to besiege us with false promises and inane suggestions. Do I exaggerate? Readers are invited to decide for themselves, as I list some of the names and oaths of these inventions.

Two that spring immediately to the forefront are Physique and Flex. Apparently aiming for the fitness-crazed consumer, these brand names suggest that users must develop muscular hair capable of Olympian feats of strength. Imagine barroom meets whereby participants match their hair the way arm-wrestlers currently do it, struggling to pull curls and dips across the table until the other cries Uncle! The very notion is the antithesis of Romance; running one's fingers through the gorgeous locks of a girl's hair no longer seems agreeable when those locks are capable of throwing one across a room. And teasing such hair promises to land one in the hospital with serious fractures. Who needs hair strong enough to carry furniture, anyway?

Another silly brand name is Thermosilk. I cannot speak for everyone, but given a choice I must pass on any hygienic product that suggests pouring hot worm excretions on my head.

Then there is Pantene. I do not consider it pleasing to wear underclothes on my scalp, but if it tickles your fancy you go straight along. In this same vein, a line of shampoo advertises to the effect that its use promotes sexual adventures of a most desirable fashion; their television ads depict showering users who achieve orgasmic heights just by the merest application of this product upon their skulls. Naturally, this commercial aroused my Skeptical suspicious, so -- in the interest of Science, you understand -- I rushed out to purchase and sample this aphrodisiac. I might have known, but the shampoo left me cold. Worse, it left my wife cold too. I fed the stuff to the toilet bowl, where I judged it belonged.

Standing in the shampoo aisle, I noticed an old standard -- Suave. But search as I might, I could locate no Debonair. This seems a most glaring omission, but I appear to be the first to notice it.

Another brand promises hair that is "smooth,” or “manageable,” which I confess are pleasant enough oaths for a shampoo to make. But do other brands produce jagged or bumpy or hill-dotted or pock-marked hair; or hair that misbehaves in public and must be stood in the corner until it learns better? Perhaps using those other products encourages hair that is rude to strangers, kicks kittens and accomplishes other dastardly deeds. This picture unsettled me so drastically that I bought a case of the stuff. My hair must have been well behaved already, for use of the brand did not improve its disposition much.

Infusium-23 marks an attempt to wiggle high-tech miracles into the picture. However, I cannot puzzle out what is being infused, now does anyone seem willing to answer what became of the previous 22. Perhaps they were recipes for failure, in which case I cannot trust a chemist who needs 23 tries to get shampoo to do something desirable.

Other products claim to be useful for other deficiencies quite aside from dirty scalp hair. Typically, these inhabit the kingdoms of Conditioners and Treatments, and purport not only to produce healthy hair (when was the last time hair caught flu or pneumonia?) in the ordinary places but also at the less usual addresses: armpits, knuckles and belly button hair appear on the list, as does the curly crop adorning our private real estate. Imagine silky-smooth, soft, supple, angel-fine harvests in those regions! Why, if these products worked as claimed they might bankrupt the underpants and cosmetic wax industries entirely. The vexing thing about them is that they claim to alleviate dry and brittle hair (when your hair snaps like celery, conditioner simply does not answer), situations caused by "permanents and blow drying". Curiously enough, the manufacturers of these conditioners also make the permanents, as a general thing. I sense a swindle, but your mileage may vary.

Innumerable products claiming to be "all natural" herbal recipes do not inspire me, either. A glance at their labels belies their claims, listing trimonoglycoacetylbutylstrearatepolyphosphorsaccaride or several such words apparently coined by a German chemist with a year of Latin or Greek under his belt. Do these contain even one herb by which to justify the earthy title? If there is one, it must be such a precious secret that even the manufacturers do not know what it is.

The ultimate damnfoolishness in shampoo must be Daily Defense. I have neither seen nor heard of statistics on violence against hair, but apparently this has become such a widespread problem that the shampoo industry devotes an entire product line to its solution. What mugger attempts to steal hair, and by what label does one address him? Hair-mugger? Tress-rogue? Wig-robber? Coif-brigand? Do-pirate? None of these gives satisfaction. Imagine you are walking down the street, attending your affairs, when from the shadows a shifty-eyed character pounces and demands, "Gimme your hair!" Why, consumers who patronize a lesser shampoo have no answer but sudden baldness. They must surrender at once and hope a wig-shop stands round the next corner. Contrariwise, cautious citizens are prepared, being customers of Daily Defense, and are able to fend off the attack. The product label does not make it clear how this defense is manifested; whether through electronic security devices, small arms and ammunition, or some less direct means, one cannot discern. All we can know must be inferred from the brand name, which clearly implies that a locks-looter must stand in chains before the judge. If I could convince myself that hair-theft presented a genuine problem, I would use that shampoo myself. But it seems a trifle fantastic, maybe.

No, I shall not succumb to these insidious marketing schemes. I entrust my hair, what of it has not yet abandoned my scalp for destinations unknown, to plain old Head & Shoulders. Here is shampoo that knows its place, that does not pretend to be something it is not. This name imparts what the customer needs to know, and it does not fool around in the telling of it but gets right at the heart of the matter. Head & Shoulders, manifestly, cleans hair and does the usual job of it, but also keeps those unsightly detritus specks of scalp off our shoulders. It is honest. It is forthright. It is honorable. I cannot do business with a product which tries to defraud me; so much the worse when it is something mundane and unassuming as shampoo. Give me a cake of soap, if you must, but spare me the adjectives and campaign speeches, if you please.

The story above is a satire or parody. It is entirely fictitious.

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