i love this article.
South By Southwest: Welcome To Hipster Nation
Our writer makes a disturbing discovery on his way to Austin, Texas: He’s a Hipster.
By James Montgomery
On The Record: Welcome To Hipster Nation. It’s Pretty Dumb Here.
Terminal 6 at John F. Kennedy International Airport is positively seething with irony right now, filled with guys and gals who are all trying very hard to look like they’re not trying very hard at all. Everyone is headed down to Austin, Texas, for South by Southwest, and everywhere you look, there is stubble, matted hair, tattered and unwashed denim, big glasses (prescription and otherwise), scuffed loafers, ratty cardigans, crooked collars, Day-Glo tights, headbands and all manner of American Apparel-inspired lunacy.
Generally speaking, everyone here either looks, a) homeless; b) mentally challenged; or c) both. Which means that I am officially jealous of all of them. Because no matter how ridiculous they all look, they also look totally great, like emaciated, unwashed models in $1,200 jeans, fresh from shooting heroin into their eyeballs or visiting some designer-sneaker boutique in Japan or making out with each other or taking photos of some band that I’ve never heard of. They are the standard-bearers of Hipster Nation, which is as much a state as it is a state of mind, one I cannot begin to comprehend, despite the fact that I desperately want to.
No matter how much I try to deny it, I am envious of everyone here, which makes me realize a couple of things about myself. First and foremost, I am rather petty, sort of shallow and really judgmental. But secondly — and most importantly — I am exactly like all these people. I am a Hipster, and I am awful.
Come to think of it, this same thing tends to happen to me every March, when I leave my Brooklyn enclave and head south to Texas for SXSW. I am usually fine until I get to JFK, and head to Terminal 6 (the JetBlue hub, which makes sense, because JetBlue is totally the Hipster airline. Not only do they have a New York Times channel and Terra Blues chips and an official sommelier, but on my flight Tuesday, they were actually showing “Juno”). There, I start to notice all the glasses and the thrift-store clothes and the skinny girls and even skinnier guys. And all the iPods and iPhones and MacBook Pros. And I realize that I am not alone. I am not even unique. I am just another Hipster.
From there, it only gets worse. The flight down to Austin is like a white-earbud bonanza, everyone hammering away on Macs or reading some interior-design magazine like Dwell. I want to hate them all, only I am doing the exact same thing (also, I am legitimately considering spending $900 on an organic-cotton duvet cover). If the plane were to crash, several graphic-design firms would certainly be forced to close up shop, and countless blogs would go unblogged.
Once SXSW gets rolling, every BBQ joint and ironic dive bar from Cesar Chavez to San Jacinto is crawling with dudes who look exactly like me. Sixth Street teems with skinny jeans and ironic mustaches and girls in tights and cowboy boots. Every band playing in every venue looks exactly the same: all unshaven and unwashed and unspeakably white (honestly, when Ghostface played SXSW in 2006, I wanted to ask him if he was lost and needed directions). For a week, Austin is overrun by Hipster Nation. We swallow the town up like a swarm of locusts in really dumb costumes, unapologetically stripping it bare of everything before buzzing back to Williamsburg or Portland or Silver Lake or Baltimore (or wherever the “new” Williamsburg/Portland/Silver Lake/Baltimore is … Tampa, maybe?).
In the midst of this, I inevitably have some sort of Hipster Panic, because I don’t want to be like these people — only I fear it might be too late. I am writing this column on my iBook G4 (I’m retro), while listening to Paul Simon’s Graceland on my iPod (I only bought it because I really like the Vampire Weekend record). I own both a cell phone and a BlackBerry, and I’m on them constantly, which means that I’m really considering buying an iPhone. I am wearing thrift-store loafers and skinny jeans from Top Shop, a white V-neck T-shirt and an old Army jacket. My hair isn’t combed, my face is unshaven. I have a gold Casio digital watch on my wrist, which my wife bought for me at a shop on Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn. On two occasions, Leslie Feist has told me she owns the same timepiece.
This week in Austin, I will attend parties thrown by Scion, Vice magazine, Levis, eMusic, PureVolume, The Onion, Rhapsody and The Fader, to name just a few. All of them are organized by companies/publications that realize that I am nothing more than a member of a rather desirable demographic — one with disposable income to burn on disposable crap, and one that cherishes research-group buzzwords like “authenticity” and “individualism” — and, as such, each party is carefully designed to gain maximum exposure in decidedly unthreatening, totally authentic forums (“The Ting Tings killed it at the Levis/Fader Fort! And they had PBR and carne-asada tacos too!” raves HoodiesAndGlasses.Blogspot.com).
And that’s what probably makes me the saddest of all … not the fact that my “scene” has been corrupted by the corporations (it’s not 1989, man. These days, the idea of selling out seems positively antiquated), but rather that no one I know seems to realize this. There’s an inherent sense of “the individual” in Hipster Nation, only it’s not very difficult to see — whether it’s down in Austin for SXSW or at Lollapalooza or in a commercial for iPod Nanos — that there are no individuals anymore. We all think, look, act and consume in exactly the same way. We are all a target market. We all listen to the same sh–ty bands, display the same sh–ty attitudes, wear the same sh–ty clothes and read the same sh–ty blogs. We’re no different, really, than the mindless sheep we poke fun at for going to Nickelback shows or shopping at Abercrombie & Fitch, despite how superior we’d like to think we are (and at least they support artists they like by actually buying their albums).
So basically, it’s all a colossal waste of time. All of it. Hipster Nation sucks. We should all go build something with our hands or move to the suburbs or dig a ditch or vote Republican or something like that (and do these things without the faintest trace of irony), because at least that way, we’d be somewhat different, because we’d be contributing something. Being cool is pretty much pointless. And that realization is going to be the Jiminy Cricket that I carry with me all week down at SXSW, whether I’m furiously blogging about the Jay Reatard show I just went to or trying on complimentary pairs of Levis and Pumas. I will rage against the machine, overthrow the nation, burn my Mac. I will make a difference … someday. In the meantime, maybe I’ll just write an angry blog about it all. Or perhaps Twitter the revolution. Have my friend do up a sweet logo from home. Throw a fundraiser that Beach House and the Black Kids will play. You know, get “viral” with it …
this is a phenomenal article for so many reasons. it nails the whole idea, the whole culture of the indie hipsters so perfectly. and it’s always been a movement that’s turned me off so much. there’s just something about it that i don’t like. the whole culture is based on the idea of not blending in, not conforming to what society wants, not becoming cliqueish. and it’s become exactly what it originally deplored. the indie hipsters have their own language, their own music, their own clothes, their own subculture. it’s amazing. you can spot them on the street. that’s exactly what the whole movement started against. i guess that’s why i don’t like. it’s so arrogantly exclusive and at the same time it’s so easy to become a part of it.
it’s always seemed competitive to me, in a completely unspoken way. if you don’t know about this new hip band or this cool art house movie director, you aren’t as in. you have to love “ok computer”, vans, wes anderson (and not just love, but really Get his movies), american apparel, wayne coyne, mac, square-rimmed glasses, jack kerouac, and skinny jeans. it is it’s own culture now, and these kids are all the same, just like all the frat boys and sorority girls are the same, just like all the college freshmen who love really black rap are the same, just like all the theater geeks and band members and glee club singers are the same, just like all the hot topic shoppers are the same. the problem with the indie hipsters is that they don’t seem to get this. i get the feeling that they think they’re above social groups, they’ve found a way to transcend all that hokum and be their own person. but they’ve done exactly the opposite. they’ve created their own very specific subculture. and they’ve managed to clique themselves off far worse than all those other groups. the hipsters are so unapproachable because they look down on everybody else for “conforming”, for falling into these social groups.
it’s frustrating too because the hipsters seem so specific about what they like. and they laugh at you if you like something else, something mainstream. now let me be the first to say, i think nickelback sucks, and i hate hot topic. i’m not even a huge american eagle or aeropostale fan (i do like aeropostales jeans though). but i understand their merit. i understand that nickelback’s music means something to some people, some people just like t-shirts with cheesy little logos like a dinosaur and the words “never forget” or a shirt with some classic throwback logo, like with an old school NES controller on it or something. i get that. i personally do not ascribe to it, i think it’s all pretty dumb, but at the very least i understand that other people like it, and they’re entitled to their own belief about their material world. but the hipsters are bad about it. not only do they hate nickelback, they hate nickelback fans. they’re so arrogant. a long time ago i read an article in spin magazine about lenny kravitz, and lenny and the interviewer were at some club somewhere and lenny saw john mayer dancing and he went over and they talked for a moment, and the interviewer follows up with this:
“Who’s that?” I shout over the din.
“That’s John Mayer,” Kravitz shouts back.
I recognize the name and know that he’s famous, but I’m not sure why. “Is he a musician?” I shout.
“Yeah, he’s a great guitar player.”
honestly, who works as a reporter for a music magazine and doesn’t know who john mayer is? it’s written in such a subtle, pompous way. i know i’m a bit biased because it’s john mayer, but in general, once the hipster nation deem someone unimportant or irrelevant, that’s how they will always be looked at by the hipsters. in the case of john mayer, the hipsters think wonderland was an awful song, and as soon as it was reinforced by daughters, that was the nail in their john mayer coffin. he is no longer a talented musician to them, and never really will be. it’s things like this that bug me about them.
the other thing that bugs me about them is that they’re so arrogant about what they like, what they are into, when in reality, a lot of their stuff just plain sucks. the latest thing to be lauded by the hipsters (and granted, by everybody else too) is the movie juno. it’s the story of a 16 year old girl who gets pregnant and decides to give the baby up for adoption. the hipsters love it because it’s full of sharp wit and critical acclaim and the main character loves iggy and the stooges. and it has the most hipsterish soundtrack i’ve heard in a long time.
but let me start with the movie. i don’t know what it is about it, i didn’t like it all that much. it just seemed too contrived. nobody talks like that, that fast or quick witted. nobody says “honest to blog”, and i wouldn’t find it funny if someone did. it’s like they talk like the gilmore girls, except with an hour and a half of film, you don’t have enough time to really invest in the characters like you can with gilmore girls. the only thing that saved this movie for me was bleeker, played by the incomparable michael cera. this young guy is the hottest new scene stealer in hollywood. every time he shows up in juno, the film gets sweeter and funnier and better. but other than that, i give it a shrug of the shoulders. it’s just not that funny. and it might’ve carried some emotional weight for me had there not been the mildly creepy sideplot of the older musician/husband. or if there had been more michael cera. more of his relationship with juno would’ve made the teary hospital bed scene at the end so much better. but honestly, what 16 year old girl exists like juno? it’s too hard to believe. yet all these hipsters loved it. the best movie of the year they said. whatever. maybe it wasn’t the movie itself that i disliked so much, but rather all the acclaim it received. nominated for best picture? are you kidding me? the academy could’ve potentially put juno in a class among other films such as the sound of music, the sting, the godfather parts I & II, annie hall, braveheart, schindler’s list, forrest gump, etc.? juno, the smart mouth knocked up 16 year old? i don’t think so. it was a decent movie, but nowhere near this calibur.
and the soundtrack. yikes. it was getting high marks from critics left and right and it shot to #1 on the itunes download top ten albums. why? who knows. word of mouth, the hipsters not wanting to get left out of the loop i guess. no hipster wants to be the last hipster to be “in” on the hot new hipster trend. but about the soundtrack itself, there are a few good songs on it, but overall, it’s dominated by this kimya dawson woman. where in the world did she come from with her lyrics that don’t rhyme? from her songs on the soundtrack, she just sounds like a singer who can’t really sing. her music is simplistic, and not in the good way. it’s like there’s nothing there. it sounds so vacant to me. and her lyrics. i don’t think i have a problem with lyrics that don’t rhyme, but it bugs me when it’s so obvious. if you can disguise the fact that your lyrics don’t rhyme with the way they blend into the melody and music, then great. but if you’re singing in your almost-talking voice words like:
“i took the polariod down in my room
i’m pretty sure you have a new girlfriend
it’s not as if i don’t like you
it just makes me sad whenever i see it.”
ok now there is a difference between having conversational lyrics (see any song written by ben folds) and just having words that should be spoken rather than sung. just bugs me. and legit, the rest of that song that i just quoted isn’t nearly as bad as that one verse, but overall i just don’t like the way her songs sound. they’ve got a lot of this kind of feeling. doesn’t sit well in the ears.
to be fair, i only gave the soundtrack one legitimate listen, aside from hearing it during the movie. once really isn’t enough to get what all the hipsters got, so i’m probably talking mainly out of my butt. but it just didn’t appeal to me. and a lot of their culture doesn’t appeal to me, which is probably why i dislike it so much. but who am i? just a guy who’d like to think he can’t be pigeon-holed into a certain culture group, but obviously i can. i wear the same clothes and loads of other college kids and listen to the same music and watch the same shows. social cliques are such a weird thing. nobody thinks they want to be in one but inevitably, everybody falls into some social category. and that’s life. so why am i calling this one group out? cause i had a few extra minutes and a chip on my shoulder about some kids who think they’re better than other kids? basically. i will say one thing though. i am really looking forward to the day my second kid turns 15 and i can start wearing whatever i want because i’m a middle aged dad. no one holds them culturally accountable for anything. what a great way to live.