I must admit to have been a little cautious about coming to this town of Greenpoint which is, as one person so eloquently put it, “Where hipsters go to die.” The town is mainly Polish, with many little Polish shops dotting the streets and signs that say “Polski Obiady,” offering a home cooked Polish meal. Polish seems to be the lingua franca on these streets, but there’s also a large contingent of Latinos and various Middle-Eastern cultures, especially in the northern corners. I regularly hear Spanish, Arabic, and Hebrew. But one cannot walk down the streets on a warm afternoon without noticing the large numbers of mostly white, mostly under 30 so-called hipsters.
Wikipedia defines “hipster” as “young, recently-settled urban middle class adults and older teenagers with interests in non-mainstream fashion and culture, particularly alternative music, indie rock, independent film, [and] magazines…” I find that definition a little too vague. To me, a hipster is someone who tries much too hard to be hip and/or ironic. You can readily tell hipsters by their ostentatious glasses, either of the 1950s NASA nerd variety (i.e. Ray Ban Wayfarers), or of the 1960s Carroll Burnett over-sized spectacles. That or their too-tight jeans, Converse All Stars, Adidas or some other brightly colored shoes. Pocahontas headbands for the women. And for the men, beards. Long Riker’s or Woodsman’s or Grisly Adams. (Seriously, wtf is with so many beards?) And a sense of entitlement. An enormous sense of entitlement. They deserve this world that their parents fucked up for them. (And they’re going to make it right by smoking roll-your-own cigarettes and looking superciliously down at you as you pass them by.) Most of them possess a holier-than-thou attitude which emanates, I think, from that immature place we all go through where we think we know everything there is to know about the world but really know nothing at all. I think hipsters have mastered this affectation and turned it into an art form. (It’s kind of like the self-delusion of Sarah Palin.)
I don’t hate hipsters entirely (though I do get a perverse joy reading Look At This Fucking Hipster.) I like living in a neighborhood not completely gentrified, that doesn’t have corporate-owned stores on every corner, that still has a record shop that sells real records and values the local coffee shop over lifeless Starbucks. I like the vibrancy of living in a town with lots of young people who don’t believe working at Goldman Sachs is the epitome of success, unlike my former home of Hoboken. But lately, maybe because I’ve been going out more, I’ve found myself looking more closely at this strange class of youth culture that arrived just after my time, or passed me by simply because I’m just not that hip.
I was at a party recently at a local bar where there was live music. The first performer, a banjo player, was talented but seemed to be playing the same song over and over again. None of the hundreds of hipsters crowing the bar’s large backyard batted an eye, it seemed. Hipster test: passed. Then came a Ska band. Fun and energetic. The hipsters were happy. Pass number two. Then the party moved inside, and a group of older men (maybe in their late 40s or early 50s) began playing classic rock standards. Creedence and Allman Brothers and the Kinks. And during one Allman Brothers song, while waiting in line to go to the bathroom I overheard a 20-something hipster decry the band. “What is this crap? This is my grandpa’s music!” he shouted. Crap? I thought. I was pretty drunk at this point, but the music was stirring me, and I said, “If you can’t appreciate this music, than you can’t appreciate rock and roll!” A man next to me nodded (in his 30s, possibly), but the objectionable hipster punched me in the shoulder (it was meant to be “buddy-like” but I thought it was a bit too hard; I wanted to hit him back), and then he went on bemoaning the band. Somebody had sinned and would pay for it. As he wailed on and the line slowly moved forward I noticed people fleeing the bar. In no time at all, the crowd had vanished.
Hipster test: failed.
I guess rocking out to live music covering some of the best guitar solos of all time is not as cool as, say, a banjo. With the latter, one is perceived to be avant-garde, edgy, different. But as soon as one resorts to something heard and known — well, that’s cause for abandonment, rejection. It’s too mainstream. And I think at this moment I finally understood then the motivating force behind hipsterdom. It’s a constant search to be perceived as just that: avant-garde, edgy, different. But it’s a moving target because trends move through hipsterdom at the speed of Twitter. What it ends up being is a culture devoid of substance, one that chases its tail in ever shrinking dervishes that at the end one is so dizzy and so lacking in meaning that all one can do is buy a MacBook and grow a beard.
I suppose people said this about the 90s grunge generation, and I have to admit I owned a few flannels and had my hair long for a time. They called us Generation X and told us we were good for nothing, pot-smoking slackers, that our music was too angry and our heroes suicidal nihilists. Perhaps they were right. I’ve considered that I’m just getting older, curmudgeonly, and saying the same damn thing everyone says about the successor generation. But man, you can’t honestly tell me that you can look at this without cringing*:
*Notice the lack of lenses. Soooo ironic.