Steven Tyler’s hair is not just a rat’s nest – it’s a bird’s nest too. Steven’s stylist, Stephanie Pohl, didn’t start the trend of bonding rooster feathers to human hair, but the attention that the American Idol host has received for his clucking curls, rooster ringlets, or poultry pelo is resulting an enormous demand for these feathers, worldwide. According to an InStyle feature on Tyler’s hair, in addition to the feather, Stephanie also mentions a “raccoon tail” she uses in Steven’s hair and says, “Every few weeks I change out the feathers and bond new ones into his hair. The feathers stay in until I remove them.” In a strange twist, fly-fisherman who typically use these feathers as lures, are suffering from a sudden rise in demand outside of the fishing world. Good for fish, bad for roosters who are typically killed and tossed in the trash after the feathers are “harvested”.
On a deeper level, the recent obsession among rock-stars, hipsters and fashionistas with indigenous and native people’s aesthetics in general – from hair extensions and jewelry made from feathers to Navajo prints, fur, shearling, and fox-tail key-chains to full on feather headdresses – speaks of a large-scale desire to commune with nature and animals. People want to embrace the aesthetic of being wild, free, a nature warrior, and one with wild nature. The intention of this trend is good – after all, we did evolve over millions of years in nature with animals, but in a modern consumer culture, where horrible production processes are hidden and obscured by advertising and sleek PR, the relationship we have to the birds whose feathers are ripped out couldn’t be further from one that honors them or represents any legitimate connection to wild nature. It is a contradiction. I would go as far as saying that this aesthetic appropriation isn’t just a lie, but because of its insincerity or ability to live up to what it claims to represent (communion with nature), it is an incredibly perverted appropriation of traditional native and indigenous people’s aesthetics. It does to animals exactly the opposite of what it intends to visually represent:
The Audubon Society was started because of the harm caused to birds used for hats in the Millinery trade, sometimes leading to extinction – but Audubon does not seem interested in issues regarding domesticated birds, even through the cruel trend mirrors their own inception.
“There something that’s worse than extinction for these animals and that’s endless proliferation,” said Karen Davis of UPC (United Poultry Concerns).
The roosters used for these saddle-feathers have been bred over generations to develop long, colorful feathers. According to Jenny Brown of the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary, the feather plucking process is incredibly painful, and certain feathers, called “blood- feathers”, will bleed when plucked. And according to Global Animal:
“Whiting Farms in western Colorado is the world’s largest producer of fly tying feathers. There, the roosters are given only a year to live while their saddle feathers grow as long as possible. (Research varies, but when they aren’t killed for their plumage, roosters can naturally live to be 10-15 years old.) Once the feathers are deemed satisfactory, the rooster is slaughtered, and his feathers plucked. His lifeless body is then thrown out for compost; Thomas Whiting, the company founder (via the Orange County Register), claims that, ”They aren’t good for anything else.” The Whiting Farms website boasts that “over 125,000 total birds (were) harvested in 2000.””
According to TimesUnion.com,
… they used to go for $50 per saddle, now the price is up to an astounding $500!” Fisherman simply can’t compete. According to an article on eccorazi.com, It’s gotten so out of hand that at least one farm in Western Colorado is now killing up to 1,500 roosters per week just for their backside “saddle” feathers. Here is a portion of a piece in the Seattle Times where they explain that the animals usually do not survive the plucking process: “At Whiting Farms Inc., in western Colorado, one of the world’s largest producers of fly tying feathers, the roosters live about a year while their saddle feathers — the ones on the bird’s backside and the most popular for hair extensions — grow as long as possible. Then the animal is euthanized.” At this time, I cannot not find their definition of “euthanized”…
The demand for these feather is out of control, and fishing store like caddisflyshop.com are cashing in, infuriating fisherman and animal advocates alike. This image from their blog, earlier this year, shows a recent delivery of the feathers, and the writer says:
Deal with it folks, we fly tyers are a dot on the international consumer market for feathers. The days of easy access to dyed blue grizzly saddles, dyed purple grizzly saddles, and dyed anything grizzly saddles could be over for several years.
Whenever an evil, like animal cruelty, is redefined as an aesthetic object (in this case, the feather hair extension) its moral qualities vanish. The pretty feather (an isolated aesthetic) is seen as a good, not an evil. According to philosopher Lars Svendsen, this is called aesthetic irrationality. The fashion industry (as well as the culinary industry) is saturated with aesthetic irrationality, where “textiles” that are far removed from production processes are justified based only on their perceived “good” as pleasurable and beautiful objects with an empty history that is filled in by marketing and advertising campaigns that lie to make profits.