Friday, July 19, 2024

Caroline Ellison, a government witness and the former chief executive of Alameda Research (the trading arm of Mr. Bankman-Fried’s empire) and Mr. Bankman-Fried’s former girlfriend, testified in court that “he said he thought his hair had been very valuable.” Ever since an early job at the Wall Street firm Jane Street, Ms. Ellison testified, “he thought he had gotten higher bonuses because of his hair and that it was an important part of FTX’s narrative and image.”

(It is possible to see Ms. Ellison as the Delilah of this particular story. Not just because of her personal relationship with Mr. Bankman-Fried, but because, in her testimony, she may not have cut his locks herself, but she certainly cut him down to size.)

Other FTX employees apparently thought his hair was important enough to him, Mr. Lewis writes, that when they were working with the architects hired to design the new headquarters in the Bahamas and imagining what he would want, one of only three things they came up with was that the side of the building “evoke his unruly hair.”

Mr. Lewis also writes that Mr. Bankman-Fried admitted having “general disdain” for the importance of “physical attractiveness.” When he landed on the Forbes billionaires list, that disdain looked like strength: It meant he was focused on his big ideas. Later, of course, it looked like a warning sign: If he was that careless with his own appearance, maybe he was that careless with your money. But either way, the interpretation was in the eye of the beholder.

Is it his fault we were silly enough to fall for the look and the windfall we thought it promised? After Elizabeth Holmes and her black turtleneck, we should have known better. Yet, as Anthony Scaramucci, who bought Mr. Bankman-Fried a suit when he took him on a fund-raising trip to the Middle East weeks before FTX’s implosion, told Business Insider, he thought Mr. Bankman-Fried “was the Mark Zuckerberg of crypto.” And Mr. Scaramucci thought that, Insider wrote, because “the Meta C.E.O. walked around Davos in a hoodie and T-shirt,” and Mr. Bankman-Fried walked around all the time in wrinkled cargo shorts and a T-shirt.

But then came the comeuppance and then came the haircut.

Shearing hair has long been a means of punishment for men and women. Hair, and all the ways we manipulate it, is so connected to identity — to sexual allure, health and self-expression — that it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of hair in 23 states. Precisely because of that, its cutting can represent dehumanization, as it did during World War II when the French shaved the heads of collaborators, and as it does, partly, in the prison system. In many religions, the sacrifice of hair can signal penitence.

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