Back in 1992, when I was a young twentysomething making more than minimum wage for the first time in my life as a legal secretary downtown (here comes a run-on sentence!), I lived in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago, which is where people like me (recent college grads from suburbia) went to rent studio apartments that were, typically, within spitting distance of a Starbucks. Then (and now still, I believe), it was derisively referred to as Yuppie-ville and, as if to prove the point home, an art-house cinema opened up on Clark Street and greeted us all on their marquee with the rather bold message: HEY YUPPIES! CHECK OUT OUR NEW SCREENS!
I wasn’t a yuppie, but I was surrounded by them and felt vaguely displaced. I was surrounded by the kind of people I didn’t associate much with in college: business, marketing, and accounting majors. You know, the kind of people who, in high school, read Cliff's Notes every time Shakespeare was taught in English class. I didn’t have much in common with them at the university, and I didn’t have much in common with them after I graduated. I’d come out of a Top 10 school with a useless degree (political science) and was biding my time before applying for law school (that was The Plan). But, in the meantime, I had a very reasonably priced studio ($450/month) near the Wellington Brown Line train station and felt safe there. My primary concerns were affordability and safety. Not much has changed since.
Mind you, this is when the whole Generation X/Grunge narrative became omnipresent in the media and the whole world was being told that people my age all spent their days writing poetry in coffee houses, chainsmoking cigarettes, wearing flannel shirts from the Salvation Army, sporting multicultural tattoos, piercing their noses/tongues/labias, and shooting heroin while listening to Nirvana on vinyl records. I’m pretty sure TIME magazine did a cover story on this because that’s what TIME magazine and its ilk do: they tell us who we are.
Clearly, the young people in Lakeview were oblivious to this cultural directive. They were too busy doing things like cultivating their fledgling careers, preparing for the GRE/LSAT/MCAT to further their young careers, working out at Bally’s, and buying hoodies at The Gap. In short, they were acting like adults.
Not that there weren’t young people who weren’t conforming to the Generation X stereotype. There were. Many had flocked to Bucktown/Wicker Park which, then, was a Polish/Latino community with some here-and-there gang activity, a smattering of greasy-spoon restaurants, numerous dive bars, and Mexican fruit stands. Very Studs Terkel. A few of my college friends shared an apartment there and while none of them had tattoos or shot heroin (as far as I know), they did have a penchant for cigarettes, black CBGB t-shirts, and strong coffee. You could pretty much count on the stale scent of marijuana if you ever happened to drop in.
Needless to say, my vaguely bohemian, proto-hipster friends were the harbingers of the swift and violent gentrification that would take place over the next ten to fifteen years. Walk down Milwaukee Avenue today and you will see all of the usual suspects: American Apparel, Urban Outfitters, Aldo, head shops selling European cigarettes, a Marc Jacobs store, edgy clothing boutiques with clever/ironic names I’m too lazy to Yelp, and a plethora of bars and eateries selling microbrews, wheatgrass, and organic hummus. A ton of vintage clothing boutiques. An ice cream shop titled, simply, Cream, that makes each ice cream to order with a dry ice nitrogen machine (seems unnecessarily arduous, but whatever). Also, some better-than-decent restaurants.
So this was the hood where the hipsters shopped, made their art, and imbibed. Not unlike Bucktown/Wicker Park where, today, many yuppies, who used to live in Lakeview in their twenties, are now in their thirties and forties and have moved in and bought charming, refurbished homes where they raise their above-average kids and purebreed Weimaraners.
Don’t get me wrong: there’s nothing inherently wrong with this and I’m no class warrior. Change happens and change is the only constant, etc. But lately it’s come to my attention that nobody really uses the term “yuppy” anymore because the word no longer has meaning. Why label someone a “young urban professional” (either pejoratively or otherwise) since there really shouldn’t be anything particularly remarkable about a young person wanting to be educated and professional and self-reliant and successful and all those things that, well, you know, an adult is supposed to be? This 20th century label seems rather churlish now that we’ve all come to recognize that not all yuppies work at Goldman Sachs or practice insider trading. For the most part, it would appear these are the members of society who contribute, or at least are not parasitic.
Which brings me to my next point: the backlash against hipsters. This has been going on for some time now and boy is it virulent (Google it yourself, I’m tired of making links). Personally, I remember becoming wary of hipsters back in the early 90s when I was folding my t-shirts at a public laundromat. It was then that I witnessed a recent college grad (I’m assuming) run into one of her peers and have the following exchange:
GIRL: Oh my God! Dude, you look so cool! (referring, apparently, to his nose ring)
GUY: Yeah, I just got it.
GIRL: Are you going to get more?
GUY: Definitely. I’m getting a stud for my tongue next.
GIRL: Awesome. Hey, check out my new tattoo. (Lifts up her sleeve.)
GUY: Oh wow. What’s it of?
GIRL: It’s Alice from Alice in Wonderland. When she meets a doormouse. I’m saving up for another one.
GUY: Do you know what it’s going to be?
GIRL: Yeah. Something in Sanskrit.
I mean, puke. It was straight out of REALITY BITES, except neither of them was nearly as good-looking as Winona Ryder and Ethan Hawke. Then they started talking about their newly shared interest in The Sex Pistols, having apparently just discovered punk rock in 1992 and feeling really clever about it. No doubt, they were listening to them on vinyl. I think at that point I went to get some quarters, exiting swiftly before the conversation turned to kitschy 70s-era metal lunch boxes and zines.
So, I think I have at least a vague understanding of why there is such a backlash against hipsters. I mean, I only get a little taste of it here and there because Chicago isn’t as cool and edgy as the coastal cities and being a fortysomething pretty much precludes me from exposure. Plus, I stay away from burgeoning neighborhoods like Ukrainian Village where, I hear, they are all now congregating (or is it Pilsen?). Naturally, my understanding does not compare to the understanding of this trenchantly funny anti-hipster blog which is written by and for native New Yorkers who are fed up with the hipster invasion upon their shores. Here’s the introduction:
This is a place to laugh at transplanted, annoying, ironic, out of place, piece of shit, pseudo creative and intellectual hipsters. You clueless wanna-be urban fucks aren’t fooling any of us real New Yorkers. You’ve accomplished nothing over the last decade but displaced hard working families, old time residents, and newly arrived immigrants who do not seek attention like you cocksuckers. Rents have doubled and tripled because of your desire to be some kind of urban pioneer. What a joke. Hipsters do not create anything new. They just recycle fashion and trends from the past three or four decades. You’re using Brooklyn as an extension of your fucking liberal arts college campuses. I hope every last one of you read this site then look in the mirror and say ” Shit the guy is right, I really am a stupid out of place fuck”.
I love crabbiness that when it’s done so well, it transcends whininess. Intrigued, I kept reading and here is a list I’ve been able to put together after a 30-minute scroll-through of www.diehipster.wordpress.com:
1. Hipsters are the latest example of the never-ending phenomena of (primarily) white middle-class kids trying to be as cool as black kids. This is so tiresome. It’s no less tiresome when middle-class Asian kids do it. (Okay, the blog did not say this as far as I know; this is just my own opinion and I’m pretty sure they would agree.)
2. Hipsters detest their bourgeois, suburban roots and culture … never mind that their middle-class (or downright rich) parents frequently fund their lifestyle (hence the term: trust-fund hipster). They often come from flyover states like Nebraska and Ohio, transplant themselves into New York City (specifically: Brooklyn), where they are able to live comfortably thanks to parental financial assistance while they pursue their interests (e.g., making bad art) and work as bike messengers/baristas/temps and whatnot. In the meantime, their parents have to resort to putting bumper stickers on their BMWs such as these.
3. Typically having useless liberal arts degrees (which they pursued for fun, not because it would ever lead to a job that would benefit society), they then try to become artists of some form … without applying to real art schools and getting real training. Then they produce bad art and make you see it.
(I have a vague appreciation of this. While visiting a friend in one of those coastal cities last decade, we dropped in on a flat-iron building where there was a mammoth art cooperative featuring some truly AWFUL art made by aging babyboomer hippies and trust-fund hipster types (as my friend Sean, a professional graphic designer, noted: “They clearly are relying financially on their parents because there is no way anybody is buying this stuff.”) This was where you would go if you were looking for derivative Keith Haring-inspired pop art, glossy photos of garden-variety drag queens at last year’s Gay Pride Parade, handmade jewelry boxes encrusted with vintage buttons and crucifixes, 1950s mannequins painted in Day-Glo colors, and ball-point-pen sketches of women’s pubic regions. I suppose these people would pride themselves as being a part of the Outsider Art fringe, but really, you would do better at an art therapy class in a city mental institution -- and having attended art therapy classes at both the city mental institution and a nearby mental health clinic, I strongly attest to this).
4. They don’t contribute to society in any way. As explained above, they majored in “fun” subjects for their own personal enjoyment (Film Studies, Gender Studies, Semiotics, etc.), without seeming to care that those subject areas don’t give them marketable skills to contribute to the real world. Many would argue that they contribute to “culture,” but even this is a fail. Much of hipster culture is based on recycling fashion/music/art from the past – not creating anything new. For example, the typical hipster uniform is decidedly retro: Elvis Costello-esque glasses paired with thift-store drainpipe trousers and a Bee Gees t-shirt bought off eBay.
5. They move into urban hoods and make no attempt to get to know the natives. They don’t know how to participate in the community because, having grown up in the suburbs, they’ve never been in one before. This is a MAJOR sticking point with the writers and readers of the blog. It makes skyrocketing rent even less palatable.
6. Many are self-absorbed and self-important man-children and Manic Pixie Dream Girls. It’s annoying. They don’t seem to want to grow up. Everybody’s working their ass off just trying to survive and look out for one another … but they seem determined to remain oblivious, zooming down the street on their vintage Schwinn bicycles and goofy headwear while listening to indie bands on their iPods.
And so on. The blog is so knowing and pointedly observant, you can’t help but empathize with these folks who just want to keep their communities down-to-earth, personable and affordable. It’s laugh-out-loud funny for sure, but there is a real sense of rage and sadness as well. One of the most common kinds of posts is Brooklyn/Not Brooklyn which, for example, may show a picture of The Old Brooklyn (a mom and pop pizza joint) and The Not Brooklyn (a pretentious “Euro” pizzeria with track lighting and organic basil). And then there’s another category called Today’s Hipster Beating; this is a typical entry:
Today I saw a bean sprout shaped, bearded transplant not looking for attention but walking his cat down Bedford Avenue on a leash made out of re-purposed local and sustainable Converse sneaker shoe laces. So I dragged him back to his $3000 a month studio and beat him half to death with his retro 1980′s eight D battery boombox. End of story.
Clearly, they know their subject. There’s even a category called Complete That Picture! wherein someone sends in a picture of a hipster. The photo is then cropped so that only part of the person is revealed. The instructions are as follows: To play this game you must complete this picture by describing the rest of his appearance among other things like name, age, occupation, hobbies, where he lives, where he’s actually from, and what’s in his bag. Needless to say, many of the responses are spot-on and deadly perceptive, as the following example from JAZ proves:
Rest of Appearance: Underdog cartoon t-shirt, black Buddy Holly glasses, tattoo sleeved stick arms, red pubic beard
xxxxOccupation: Barista – Ironic Ethan’s Ye Olde Brooklyn Soy Latte Collective
xxxxHobbies: Graffiti photographer & urban exploration,
xxxxLives now: N.7thSt., Williamsburg
xxxxIs actually from: Des Moines, Iowa
xxxxWhat’s in the bag?: Book of obscure French Literature that is too heavy for his twizzlers to hold, artisanal hummus, kickball schedule (his team plays the early game on Tuesday – 1:00PM), Rooftop Revolutionary Magazine, Buswick Rooftop Honey in a container repurposed from an old Penny Farthing transport case, Ethiopian fair trade cocoa and imported soy milk.
This may all seem a bit extreme and there were times when I thought it was maybe even entering scapegoat territory. Wasn't this just class envy? I mean, it’s just hipsters for Chrissakes! Personally, I find hipsters amusing and fun to watch (today's retro hipsters, not the GenX grungesters), as you can see by the numerous blog recommendations on this sidebar. Hipsters brighten up lackluster early morning commutes downtown on the train and such. And I always check out those zippy urban lifestyle publications like TIME OUT and RED EYE because they take pictures of random hipsters and ask them about their fashion choices. Vive la frivolite! I always say.
But I'm not inundated with hipsters in any way, so their quirkiness never outwears its welcome. They haven't discovered by neighborhood (yet). I don't have to deal directly with them on a daily basis, thus avoiding the whole familiarity-breeds-contempt phenomena. This became apparent as I continued to read the blog and its many comments. It didn't take long to realize that this is a legitimate cultural warfare situation, largely between native urbanites (of all ages) and invading suburbanites (so-called Millennials and Gen-Xers at the more recent end of the spectrum). Working class values v. Bourgeois values. As the F.A.Q. section explains:
… (Hipsters) know they are hopping over their white picket fences back in suburbia, pretending to be artists, and invading true working class parts of this country all in the name of a false sense of creativity and pseudo urban-ness. They are displacing normal non-attention seeking working people in a modern world. … Hipsters are doing all the things that have already been done in our cities in the past decades and delusionally thinking they discovered it all.
Lastly, this has been said millions of times on here already. Many New Yorkers will agree with me that we don’t hate all transplants. We don’t hate all people from the mid-west and west coast. I gladly welcome anyone that wants to come here and be a productive member of society. Want to work construction, fire, police, EMS, teacher, sales, administration, etc??? Be my guest. I don’t care where you’re from. It’s just easily distinguishable hipster transplants that I hate. The attention starved people that have made the word ‘creative’ meaningless.
Anyhoo, this is all food for thought. God bless native New Yorkers. If I were a documentary film maker, I’d know what my next subject would be. Perhaps Louis Alvarez and Andrew Kolker, who previously directed PEOPLE LIKE US, a documentary about class in American, are on it? Or perhaps this is already well documented, as the following Youtube clips demonstrate …
Come to Brooklyn!
Hipster Fashion on the street:
Gentleman’s rant against hipsters:
And, apparently, this is a problem in the U.K. as well: