Mullet Mystery Collaboration is the subject of the 14-August ep of the “Decoder Ring” podcast from Slate.

mullet mystery collaboration

Mullet Mystery Collaboration

Last week’s ep of Slate’s “Decoder Ring” podcast discusses the “Mystery of the Mullet.” You know, “business in the front, party in the rear” from the 1980s. It’s a great listen for anyone who sported or maybe dated someone who wore their hair that way. We look back on the mullet, mostly with disdain. The discussion of the style’s (mostly derogatory) name is a study in social media research and collaboration.

Decoder Ring

If you’re not familiar with the Decoder Ring, it’s a podcast from Slate.com. Its subtitle is “Cracking cultural mysteries.” Previous episodes tackled subjects suck as “Rubber Duckie,” the robots at Chuck E. Cheese, and, the “Metrosexual.” What makes the pod fun is that host Willa Paskin and her producers take serious deep-dives into pop-culture nonsense. It turns out, there are neat stories behind the nonsense.

“Hockey Hair”

mullet mystery collaboration

“Modern Mullet” by Commons user Wordzandguitar

Which brings us to the hairstyle that came known to be the “mullet.” As Paskin and company point out, this ‘do became popular in the 1970s (arguably the first notable mullet-sporter was David Bowie), and went mainstream in the 1980s. Paskin tells the story of how the style didn’t have a name at the time, other than “hockey hair,” because a number of professional hockey players adopted it.

So, where does “mullet” come from? Decoder Ring tells the tale of now, of all entities, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), added the style as a definition of mullet, noting that the first occurrence of the term in this context came in 1994. 1994? That’s odd, because the popularity of business in the front, party in the rear, waned by the end of the 1980s. It’s a thing that got its name after it had come and gone.

Researching Redditors Revealed

the OED takes the addition of a new word seriously. So, when a new definition for mullet came front and center, the dictionary requested comment. The OED doesn’t just add a word, they ask what academics and the general public think about it. This was originally done through a newsletter, now, through their blog. The discussion of the proposed definition traveled into social media platforms. On Reddit, a Swede named Oskar Sigvardsson researched the subject. His posts drew others in, wondering, was the first time mullet-as-hairstyle appeared really as late as 1994? Another user asserted the term was seen in an Australian magazine in 1991. OED did their due diligence, and could not confirm the 1991 claim.

Paskin and company dug deeper. They discovered that the 1991 claim, and its supporting documentation, were fake. They were the production of a member of “Annoy Club,” a group of Reddit troublemakers. The charter (loose, of course) of Annoy Club was to jump into a discussion and argue against it, making things up, if necessary. It’s one of the purest forms of trolling. Again, listen to the pod, the story is fascinating.

Collaboration to social media poison

Paskin’s discussion with Sigvardsson about the Reddit collaboration, presents Reddit at its best. The platform emulates the old USENET forums. Unfortunately, Annoy Club is also a logical extension of those pre-web days. On-line collaboration always includes troublemakers. They appear in a wide range of subject areas. While there’s good stuff in many sub-reddits (specific topic areas), there’s always potential for someone from something like Annoy Club to appear.

Does that lower the value of social media collaboration? Not at all! Wear flame-retardant attire when you go in.

 

 

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