It has come to my attention that I donÕt know what the word hipster means. This wouldnÕt necessarily be of concern if it werenÕt for the fact that ÔtheyÕ are known for ruining neighborhoods and that someone apparently referred to me personally as an Ôauthentic hipster.Õ
My comments are likely in the context of San Francisco during my nearly 30-year tenure but Williamsburg, Brooklyn is an analog for sure. And to perhaps a lesser degree, everywhere else – those nuts from Columbine high school might qualify as individuals on a tract described below, should they have avoided their murderous rampage.
And then to list the characteristics of individuals who may be lumped in this hip box: ItÕs probably easy to fall to generalizations but I suppose weÕre mostly talking about younger people who may migrate to the city from somewhere else, drawn by the thrill of urbanity. It seems that cool native-born kids might be too ÔrealÕ to be hip and dork or brainy native kids might be just rich or sheltered. I suppose weÕd be mainly directed at those outsiders from families of some means, to the extent that they have esteem, or ambition. But not necessarily – one may only need feelings of invincibility or delusions of grandeur, or just a sense that it is necessary to go where the action is or to make oneÕs mark - as no one will see a mark in the forest or the desert. Or maybe it could be anyone.
When the eager youngster hits the street, running in the blighted districts where his allowance or the coffee-shop salary can cover the rent of his room, the previous inhabitants take notice, especially after the tipping point of a trend, the landowners, the business owners, the men hanging on the corners. Is there a ÔrealÕ world here? The lore suggests the eager young need to face this reality to find the lofty poetry they seem to know is out there, and in their hearts, a rather pathetic modern version of the coming of age ritual. These newbies, for the most part donÕt have an interest in assimilating, blending with the blue-collar working peoples with which they now live – theyÕre out for something more glamorous.
So a statement is to be made by this youngster, via the clothing choices for example. If youÕre going to separate yourself from the popular people you hated in high school when you hit the world at large, you may want to look like a drug addict or a Warhol factory cling-on or at least some variation from the fashion of the day. At the moment, kids around the corner from here are going in for an Orville Wright with pegged pants look: you know, some out of control beard or handlebar moustache, a suit vest but no jacket, black jeans tight at the ankles, 14th century hunting cap, with or without the feather, possibly some step forward (or backward) from the hedge-face, tattooed love-boy of some years back. 20 years ago it may have been bed-head hair, gas-station attendant jacket with incorrect nametag, wallet chain, ÔVansÕ type shoes or yet some other group of items. The fashion ÔindustryÕ is of course trained to extract the findings of these kids in the city, who can somehow continually find the old clothes that even the homeless pass up, to construct themselves as the new poster children for a next alternative lifestyle.
Other hip accoutrement made include: a flight case for your vinyl, a one-gear bicycle with a newly powder-coated stolen frame, a 70s Honda 125cc, an Iphone, a bag with a car buckle strap, or other various consumer products that I may have trouble understanding why they are any more ridiculous than the stuff any other group of consumers buy. OK, any moron who rides a 2-stroke motorcycle gets a special place in hell, in the unlikely event that I get to pass judgment.
If youÕve showered in the last week, your skin looks like you sleep indoors and youÕre likely under 30, then people will probably think you are rebellious rather than homeless. But then the first time I realized that kids who looked like math students were shooting heroin, I was truly surprised. They looked so together in somebodyÕs grandfatherÕs essentially unworn suit. Of course no one should ask me if a given tie goes with a certain coat as IÕm no judge in such matters. The fact is that clothes that people died in are cheap, and kids would rather not work and prefer to spend their parentÕs money on drugs than clothing – so the ÔthriftÕ store has great appeal. And if you donÕt care what anyone thinks about your appearance you can wear some pretty comfortable, albeit unpopular items. I mean if the aim is to be a squeaky wheel that gets oiled, youÕll want to squeak – and hopefully you can manage to avoid a job or a job interview.
In my approach of course IÕd like to stress a slightly more noble priority, that being: I prefer to render industries, especially completely needless ones like the fashion industry, powerless by ignoring them entirely. If I were a stronger man I could see my purpose in life be: to foil such poisonous societal influences at every opportunity. But alas I miss opportunity trying to keep my day job. Granted, I donÕt try very hard, and my lack of a career is reflected therein.
Anyway, look: Parents (though one could fault them for having them) only want the best for their children, and they canÕt be faulted for this. There is some evidence that a combination of parental positive reinforcement, the naturally self-centered youth and the fame-whore industry known as ÔentertainmentÕ, will always meld to form an army of young who will read Kerouac or whatever and be inspired to descend on the city to make something of themselves. And in a way, this is a cityÕs fuel and a necessary and normal situation that doesnÕt need justification. It would be absurd to propose we adopt a sure-to-fail policy, setting out to ban such migration. So weÕre talking more about what is an acceptable migrant. We can (or canÕt) admit that we need brown people to wash dishes and toilets, why canÕt we admit we need young suburbanites to make artistic rehash and write software for electronics we donÕt really need?
ItÕs not uncommon for migrants to face a certain hazing upon arrival. So the need for a derogatory term for such peoples may come from resentment within the city community of either hypocritical migrants of earlier periods (in which I certainly qualify) and/or by Ônatives.Õ We donÕt need to point out that whites in any American city are hypocritical in adopting a righteous native stance É Ébut then, I just did. So are we talking about territorialism? We can complain about too many people in the way, and I do on a daily basis, but we can also complain about a dying place with nothing to offer, vibrancy being something we want in a city. (Some of us think the tax base and a funding source for public transportation that is the high concentration of people in cities, is at least semi-functional - that is until the GOP succeeds in dismantling government.) So then we are talking about a matter of style. Apparently itÕs then acceptable for a city to absorb the people we like, people like us, people who make the right kind of noise, showing themselves off in a way we can appreciate.
It seems likely that a hipster is a young person who is annoying to the status quo. But not to the capitalists who donÕt mind collecting the parentsÕ rent checks, or the small business owners who sell beer or coffee at 400% mark up. A hipster is someone who arrives on the scene and is perceived to have it easy, appears not to be concerned with dead end or grueling work, and critically, presents themselves with a certain clownish flare of one sort or another that seems to say, IÕm not a blue-collar dud nor a white-collar stoogeÉ ÉI make my own rules, I have friends, I donÕt have a car that collects parking tickets. I appear to goof off all day yet IÕm participating in some sort of lucrative industry thatÕs not quite comprehensible or accessible to normal people.
Is it the case that the disgruntled party IÕve described here are those who are no longer privy to the that weird cultural drivel that inspires the young to charge out, demonstrating therein that they are not tired and jaded, a rare and valued commodity when youÕre older. An older person who attempts to be Ôwith itÕ may appear either pathetic or crazy. The young are still inexperienced enough to think life isnÕt just a slog, and this makes some feel like theyÕre missing something. But when an older one goes to a ÔhappeningÕ event itÕs hard to see the attraction or what the inspirational element is – usually some predictable racket coming from the media hardware, perhaps some clowns jumping around on a stage, some art-historical amnesia nailed to the walls, and some chemicals effecting the sensory organs of those partaking. The kids just somehow think they own it (and maybe they do), that the vomit and the heartbreak and the high and the content are all theirs. Every generation has something like this to which they can point when they say their parents donÕt understand.
IÕve here somehow described myself among others in later life rather than how it is that I personally could now or ever have been described as hip. I likely resist the narcissism required for a public analysis. IÕll try to be brief. IÕve faced resentment for appearing places a few times so I can probably address this for a moment.
When I lived among the (particularly) lower classes as a kid with no money, I was resented for being white or for seeming to have any income, for somehow being involved in doing something, anything – in other words, I may have seemed to have a future. I received some attention as a potential target for robbery, but for the most part, the reality of my resources was displayed realistically enough to make it unlikely that IÕd have piles of money or drugs. I was received by the previous generation of people in my chosen field with a combination of hatred and admiration; I was resented by insecure territorial assholes as motivated competition and yet encouraged by other people with an interest in exploiting my talents or at least my youthful energy. I did manage to escape with a few friends.
As to ruining the neighborhood, I have seen this in depth. There exists in cities at least one sword with two edges. One side is the general desire to have a decent, reasonably safe place to live in which the street doesnÕt smell like shit, where someone shooting up on the stoop is only occasional, where you can comfortably invite your parents over. In such a Ôhood, there might be some trees around, the shootings are contained to people you donÕt know. And then the sharp side of the blade, the one that attracts the capitalists – if a place becomes ÔniceÕ, people of means show up and itÕs all over for the working classes.
I suppose itÕs the tipping point that weÕre onto. Running parallel to the salivating ÔrealÕ estate interests is the grey area where kids appear in growing numbers, rents increase, ÔnightlifeÕ emerges, eventually drawing the suburbanites, drunk stockbrokers and other wankers on the prowl and then the place is Ôhip.Õ Like physics, certain phenomena are inevitable.
Do we now know what we are talking about? One is supposed to offer solutions when describing problems – have we described a problem?