I’ve recently been watching the Netflix reboot of Lost in Space, based in part on Josho’s recommendation. In this iteration of the show, the Robinson family are part of a mission from Earth to colonize a planet in the Alpha Centauri system, allowing certain members of the human race to escape the worsening effects of climate change on Earth and see blue skies again in another part of the galaxy.
In order to become part of this mission, applicants had to pass a series of tests designed to ensure that they were both physically capable, emotionally resilient, and generally useful enough to contribute to the colony. Not everyone became part of the mission by following the rules; and there seems to be some value given to artistry, as Penny Robinson’s place on the trip seems to be based on her desire to one day write a novel (unless the decision-makers recognized the invaluable contribution her snark makes to the mission and the show). Nevertheless, the aim was for the colony to represent the best of the best of the best.
The people of the planet Golgafrincham in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy had almost the opposite idea for their space colonization mission – or rather, their mission to rid themselves of a third of their population whom they believed to be useless. Having divided their people into the Thinkers – scientists, artists, and other high achievers – the Doers – people who made things – and everyone else – middle men, such as lawyers, hairdressers, and telephone sanitizers – the Golgafrinchans convinced the middlemen that their world was doomed, and sent them all off in an Arc Ship to crash-land onto a distant planet in the unfashionable western spiral arm of the galaxy.
The remaining Golgafrinchams stayed behind, their tales of doom a fiction concocted by the descendants of the Great Circling Poets of Arium. They lived rich, full, and happy lives until their actual doom came from a disease contracted from a dirty telephone – if this is one of the occasions on which The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is accurate.
The story of Golgafrincham reminds us that sometimes we don’t know who is going to be important, and we don’t really know that “the best of the best” will be all that good. In “Eulogy”, episode 6 of Lost in Space season one, Don West points out to Judy Robinson that while his cash-grabbing antics might come across as mercenary, his skill as a mechanic isn’t enough to get him a place in the colony. When the Resolute reaches the colony, all he will get is a ticket back to the dying Earth. And yet, his assistance in the survival of the stranded colonists is paramount, largely down to his practical experience of mechanics.
While the recent history of Earth suggests that telephone sanitizers might not have been as vital as they ended up being on Golgafrincham, over the longer term I would argue that hairdressers have played a substantial role. Throughout history, hair has been a vital way in which people have shaped their culture and their identity, from the “warrior’s beauty” of Bronze Age burials containing tweezers, razors, and mirrors alongside weapons to more recent trends in era defining hairstyles.
But how many hairdressers will have made it through the rigorous tests and training required to become part of the colonization mission in Lost in Space? If the value of a mechanic like Don West isn’t appreciated, would the artistry of hairdressing? Put simply: where could I get a haircut on Alpha Centauri?