Mohawks and Media

While I am delighted to see Curiosity in Gale Crater at last, I need to write about the real media story of the month. Bobak Ferdowsi, JPL’s mohawked mission controller, watched some data arrive from Mars. I won’t even provide a link because you should already know about him.

Why is this guy so freaking awesome, all of a sudden? I’m trying to list the different ways in which it was a whopping great win:

– Punk hair at work! Hell yeah!
– Science + Mohawks = Awesome with a capital A.
– The mohawk had stars and possibly stripes. Broadcast to the whole world!
– Awesome for Persian-Americans, especially if they have really Persian names.
– He can do anything with his hair, they’re driving Curiosity around from an office.
– Engineering is suddenly cool? There’s a conspiracy theory for you amateurs.

But the greatest win of all: It seems nobody did intend that mohawk to be anything other than a cute workplace prank during an international broadcast. The Internet just decided that this mohawk guy was worth talking about, so they talked about him. SpaceX couldn’t have bought the same kind of attention for their recent mission. We’re at an important point here – institutions with the ability to manufacture popularity are going extinct.

Even crazier, mohawk guy is now a legitimate sex symbol, though it doesn’t look like he was ever interested in being one. Sorry, Bobak. Society has always been a strange beast, and it does all sorts of weird, troubling shit like this. Now the Internet is systematically breaking down all the barriers that used to preclude this kind of impulsive, even dangerous behavior. This is fantastic news on the one hand, because it means that success will be harder to cheat and existing oligarchies will lose influence. On the other hand, it’s a bit like taking a toddler out of his crib and handing him a block of kitchen knives. So we should probably be a bit more careful about the things we say and do. Bobak was, and that turned out to be a very good idea.

For me, John Q. Anonymous, it might seem a bit Orwellian, or at least annoying. But there is a promising future in store when the global community spontaneously celebrates integrity and competence – they might even be sexy someday. I’ll drink to that.

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