Monday, October 18, 2010

Barber's Pole: Salvation For The Lamely Named


A long time ago I took a look at one of the white blue and red poles you see above, and I started asking around: "hey, what's that thing called? It's outside all the barber shops. Sometimes its spinning, sometimes it's not. Maybe they make them in multiple colors?" Ultimately I was always told some combination of "I dunno" or "who cares?" Well guess what, I care, that's who!

For some reason, the idea got planted in my head that it had some kind of clever name. It had to be some old-timey barbershop play on words. Or maybe something about all the colors and the way it spun. Or perhaps it was named after the region it was originally from.

One day, on the cusp of just biting the bullet and looking it up online (it was one of those not-so-rare instances where I cared but no quite enough to not wait around until someone told me what I wanted to know), someone finally offered up: "I think it's like, 'Barber's Pole,' or something. That's all it is." Time and time again I'd hear this, and every time I'd reject it, thinking there's NO WAY it would be called something that boring.

Turns out, I was wrong.

It is actually called a Barber's Pole. Welcome to snooze-ville, folks! What the heck happened? What went wrong? How could something so visually alluring have a less interesting name than the disgusting mush of meat by-products I served to my cat every day?

You'd think, given the name that it has, that the origin of the Barber's Pole was something fairly mundane. Like two brothers, one who dressed mostly in red (like Mario), and one who dressed mostly in blue (like...well, not Luigi, so let's say Ice Mario), took the sleeves of one of their shirts and wrapped it around a white pole one day to promote their new barber shop.

Meh, It's-a close enough.

But no! It's actually a much gorier story than that. From wikipedia:

"The origin of the red and white barber pole is associated with the service of bloodletting and was historically a representation of bloody bandages wrapped around a pole.[2] During medieval times, barbers performed surgery on customers, as well as tooth extractions. The original pole had a brass wash basin at the top (representing the vessel in which leeches were kept) and bottom (representing the basin that received the blood). The pole itself represents the staffthat the patient gripped during the procedure to encourage blood flow."

The red is supposed to be BLOOD! That's awesome! And the blue...well, the blue's apparently just to help us forget about the origin of the red (and to remind us of how much we love our country). But still! Why couldn't the pole's name have something to do with that? Also, check out this business:

"In some parts of Asia, a red, white and blue barber pole is used as a symbol for a brothel. While prostitution is illegal in many parts of Asia, laws against it are often not enforced to the degree that all public solicitations for it are eliminated. The barber's pole is used as a euphemistic way of advertising a brothel, thus reducing the likelihood of police intervention."

Whoa! Now we've got sex in there too! Sex and gore, people! Do I hear Hollywood knocking? 
Finally, there's the MAGIC element:


"The barberpole illusion is a visual illusion that reveals biases in the processing of visual motion in the human brain. When a diagonally-striped pole is rotated around its vertical axis (horizontally), it appears as though the stripes are moving in the direction of its vertical axis (downwards in the case of the animation to the right)."

Illusions! Pretty cool, huh? Those pretty, spinning colors, just spinning all the time...

Ahem. Ok, now stop staring at it and let's get down to business here. I'm officially REJECTING "The Barber's Pole" from this point forward. This incredible but unfortunately named object/device/symbol/metaphor for a penis NEEDS a better name. Luckily, I've spent enough time agonzing over my hero and all his fellow adventurer's names in video games over the years that I've developed a bit of a knack for this sort of thing. I've gone ahead and gotten a list going:

Salvation For The Lamely Named:
"Barber's Pole" 

"Hey, what's that thing over outside the barber shop?"
"That, oh, well that's a..."

Category #1 - Catchy Call Signs
1) Stratego Stick
2) Hypnotist's Halberd
3) Snipper's Sign
4) Cutter's Candy Cane 
5) Twirlybird's Tail

Category #2 - Ode to Dexter
6) Barber's Bloody Oath
7) Gripping Staff...of Death
8) Blood N' Barbicide
9) "It's raining blood! No wait, it's water now...OH GOD NO BLOOD AGAIN!"

Category #3 - Not-So-Secret Brothel 
10) The Two Head Special (eh? eh??)
11) "3H-er" - Whores, Haircuts and Hospitaliano
12) Service Pole (You see, the pole is your penis, and we will serve it)

Category #4 - AMERICA!!
13) Liberty Stick
14) America Pole
15) The 'Ol Guts 'N Glory
16) United States of Awesome Thing

Category #5 - Regional
17) Texas Tube
18) Pittsburgh Pole
19) San Diego Spinner

Category #6 - Miscellaneously Awesome
20) Rainbow Screwdriver
21) Mr. Spinny McGee
22) Acapella Group Signal
23) Stripper's Lament*

And finally...

24) "Beanie's Rod," named after the famed "Beanie Rodd, the Angelic Barber of Fleet Street," who for some reason no one ever decided to go to.

It's because I've made some deep CUTS in my pricing!

There ya go. Twenty four solid entries in the bid to rename the barber's pole. One for every hour of every sad day every barber in the country has to clench his fist in bitter regret over this missed opportunity. All of them, I would argue, a fitting replacement. Now then - feel free to vote on your favorite, or add your own, if you feel so inclined. 

As a side note, I personally had no idea I had so much barbershop related knowledge/bit making ability before I started writing this. So you know, minor victory on that front.

-Matt



*This and the last one are my two personal faves, if anyone's keeping score.

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