Fedoras, Libertarians, and Russell Edson

FedoraI have one final article relating to yesterday’s brouhaha, but this one has nothing to do with David Weigel. I was having a nice conversation with Abenomix, and I happened to note that the grainy photo he uses (of himself I assume) would look like Sam Spade if you added a fedora. He tweeted back, “whereas I am certain it was not your intention to insult me, you did just manage to.” I immediately assumed it was the Sam Spade reference but it wasn’t. After a few more tweets, I learned from Matt Christman that, “Fedora = Bad.” When I asked for clarification, I was told, “Fedoras have become the online talisman of a certain strain of man-babyish libertarian white guy.”

I had no idea! I did, however, note that “libertarian implies man-babyish white guy.” But I can totally see this. What the bow-tie was to George Will and Tucker Carlson, the fedora has become to a younger generation. There is a slight problem, however. I went out looking for libertarians wearing fedoras and found that many of them were not wearing fedoras. Part of the problem is that people have started calling just about any similar hat a fedora. Both the Homburg and some styles of pork pie hat are misidentified as fedora. As you can see, I like hats. And it’s not just old style hats or western hats. Some Islamic followers wear the most gorgeous kufi caps. And it isn’t just men’s hats, either. Women are never as beautiful as when they wear hats. Hats are great!

But this revelation that libertarians (Abenomix brilliantly calls them “libertaryans”) are using fedoras as cultural signifiers is of great concern. And I can see why it is. Undoubtedly, they look back on what they consider the good old days when men were Humphrey Bogart and women were manipulative deceivers who get their comeuppance like Mary Astor. It also signals a kind of Eurocentrism. I don’t doubt that it is an intellectual response to the baseball caps worn by those “idiots” who don’t understand the libertarian utopia that awaits them if only they will wake up—and an anti-religious response to the growing popularity of kufi caps. (See my articles: The Atheist Libertarian Connection, Libertarianism Incompatible With Atheism, and Are There Libertarian Atheists?)

Russell EdsonThe facts of my life are that I almost never where any of my old fashioned hats. When I was younger, I was a bit of a dandy. Now I just don’t care. In fact, worse than that; mostly I wear badly damaged and worn baseball caps and the occasional communist workers’ hat. (I’m well aware that libertarians might soon start wearing them ironically.) But I still love the old hats and especially the fedora. But my love for the hats does not stem from old movies that I love. (Or more modern ones; see my thoughts on Miller’s Crossing.) It comes from a poet I discovered when I first went to college: Russell Edson.

Edson was (sadly, he died earlier this year) what I will call a surrealist poet. But I don’t know of anyone else who calls him this. No one is sure what to make of his work other than that it is brilliant and wonderful and beautiful. But the thing is, Edson had this thing about hats, most especially fedoras. When I first read him, I didn’t even know what a fedora was, so I had to look it up. And thus was born my love not just of fedoras but of all hats. Here is one of those poems from what was probably the first of his books I read, The Very Thing that Happens. This is “Someone”:

A man put a fedora on a cabbage, oh please be somebody I know.
Now who it is, as the brim is low, he cannot tell, but someone is certainly someone.
Someone, who are you?
Someone says nothing.
One and cabbage and now the moon. Round things are not unavailable in a square room.
The moon comes wearing a crown of clouds, worn too low to know who it is.

Or let us consider this much more recent poem, “Let Us Consider”:

Let us consider the farmer who makes his straw hat his
sweetheart; or the old woman who makes a floor lamp her son;
or the young woman who has set herself the task of scraping
her shadow off a wall….

  Let us consider the old woman who wore smoked cows’
tongues for shoes and walked a meadow gathering cow chips
in her apron; or a mirror grown dark with age that was given
to a blind man who spent his nights looking into it, which
saddened his mother, that her son should be so lost in
vanity….

  Let us consider the man who fried roses for his dinner,
whose kitchen smelled like a burning rose garden; or the man
who disguised himself as a moth and ate his overcoat, and for
dessert served himself a chilled fedora….

My first reaction to the fact that libertarians had grabbed the fedora as a cultural signifier was more or less Bush the Elder’s, “This will not stand, this aggression against hats and poetry and all that is good.” But I’m not up for a pointless fight. In its way, it’s nice that libertarians have latched onto the fedora. It’s the most charming thing about them. And maybe Russell Edson predicted this: who is that fedora wearing cabbage? Why it’s the next Libertarian presidential candidate!

3 thoughts on “Fedoras, Libertarians, and Russell Edson

  1. Your post got me excited about Russell Edson and I’m going to go look up his work, like now. I loved those poems excerpts! I have a feeling I’m really going to like his work. I can’t wait to read more.

  2. @Kristen – Oh yeah! I think he was the first poet I ever really got into. I also recommend William Carpenter. They have a very similar sensibility.

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