Monthly Archives: August 2008

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Skinny jeans don’t get caught in bicycle gears: In defense of the hipster

You’ve all been waiting with bated breath for me to respond to Douglas Haddow’s provocative Adbusters article about hipsters being the “dead end of western civilization.” Obviously western civilization will continue like a refrigerated cockroach in an atomic storm whether or not its youth wear skinny jeans. Western civilization will probably work for us into perpetuity, or until a meteor hits. But one must forgive Haddow’s (and Lorentzen’s) hyperbole thanks to our white collar convictions about journalism, patriotism, and an average editor’s circulation demands for a national magazine.

We all like to hate on what is fashionable. Fashion sucks, obviously . It’s a realm outside of our respectable “blue collar” tastes. And literati types are meant to be on top of things, especially inevitable backlashes against what is popular at any given moment. So I don’t blame Haddow for being mean to hipsters. Some of them deserve it. Some of them probably relish it. Some of them are convinced they’ll be young, hot, and threesomed forever. One day they’ll receive a wake-up call informing them that they’re actually incorrigible doofuses. And they’ll do that without the painful administration of front page stories when they die in a fixed gear bike collision.

It’s superficial to accuse people of superficiality when you base your analysis on superficial indicators. You go to an after-party, talk to a couple of fashionably insecure girls in their early 20s, look at a few late-night pictures, and suddenly you have a handle on what it means to be a hipster.

I wish I had a handle on what it means to be a hipster. I have hipster friends and family. I have at times aspired to be a hipster. And hipsters are sexy as hell. And they write editorials like this, making me sweat with their learned haircuts.

But there is life beyond haircuts. These hipsters are human beings with families and love affairs and hurt feelings. And who is to say that their world is less authentic because their style currently conforms to urban mainstream? There are only so many ways you can wear your shirt and your hair. I don’t see the harm in trying to stand out personally while capitulating to a stylistic homogeneity. It’s a lot easier than trying to create the new Steampunk. Think of all the money and energy that goes into that look, as opposed to buying a bicycle and a t-shirt from the Goodwill.

But I have some criticisms.

1) Wtf, hipsters? Why can’t you commit to a modern band, instead of always falling back on the t-shirt canon of the Rolling Stones, the New York Dolls, Led Zeppelin, the Ramones? Let’s take a risk every now and then. Wear a t-shirt that isn’t just a repackaged lack of controversy.

2) Don’t be scared off by all the older folks who pressure you to be someone important. You’ve got plenty of time. Relax. But don’t just take refuge in being a live hard, die young type. You’re worth more than that.

3) Don’t be afraid to love something in a non-ironic way.

4) Wear comfortable clothes, especially if you’re going dancing.

5) Question the use of fashion to get laid. It just attracts the wrong kind of element. Granted, you’re not good at sports, but find something that chicks will like just as much.

6) One thing I appreciated about Vice Magazine’s “Dos and Don’ts” was that the women the editors loved weren’t supermodel types. They were just cute girls with average bodies who knew their way around a pair of pants. Don’t cave to the fashion industry’s ideals concerning underweight girls with plump lips. You have the confidence to establish your own standards, even if they don’t belong on the billboards your style poachers try to feed back to you.

And thank you, hipsters, for making it cool to celebrate a diversity of music, fashion, ideas, and cultures. To some it might be stealing. To others it might be disseminating. You’re making the cultural panoply mainstream for the first time in all its unedited glory. And for the first time this is being done step by step under the desperate glare of the media.

So no wonder we* love to hate you. No wonder this dedicated microscope is painful for everyone involved. The fashionable ones have come to the crossroads where everyone is cross-examined, especially if you stand out. You’ve reached the line between being real and being false that we’re all trying to paw and navigate and decipher with teeth bared. At least we’re all united in diluting the boundaries of this line, making it harder to tell who is committed to what genuine dream. And at least trucker hats are no longer the barometer for cool. Although, to tell you the truth, I could use some kind of visor to protect me from this nonstop glare.

*And here I mix up my pronouns like Haddow, like a postmodern, like a person drunk on PBR.

A tent cathedral of surf babies

Yesterday we attended the “Billabong Girls Cascais Festival” – what the widespread local signage seemed to indicate would be a female pro surfing extravaganza. As I mentioned before, we were psyched to see some extreme competition in the rough and tumble waves of Portugal. Guincho Beach is known for its steep cliffs, its harsh winds, its endless and ever-changing sand dunes, and its fearless surfers. So we packed our backpacks with SPF 30 sunblock and cameras and prepared ourselves for an athletic spectacle.

When we arrived at the beach, the only people we saw in the choppy waves were wind surfers. But a tent city had been erected in the middle of the beach so I assumed that was the locus of both the Billabong tournament and the hot after-hours action (we’d heard that rock bands played nightly for the duration of the festival). We walked into the wind toward the back of the biggest tent where I was encouraged by the sound of loud music.

When we stepped inside the tent, I thought immediately that we had stumbled upon some secret adolescent rite of passage. Dozens of pre-teen girls held hands in a circle, singing together and performing what looked like belly dancing moves. No one under the tent was older than fourteen or had fewer than two X chromosomes. Pink backpacks and Billabong towels were piled in the sand under the tarp. The girls who weren’t dancing giggled, flung cups of water at each other, or practiced their moves in bathing suits on a stationary surfboard. I felt like we were intruding on some ancient menstruation ritual. “The red tent,” whispered the bbf. Then he dug out his camera.

A Portuguese beach bum wearing a VIP pass quickly hustled us out. “No,” he said. “Just the young ladies.” The event organizers in the merch tents glared at us as we trudged sheepishly away.

Apparently this Billabong event was less of a hardcore surf competition and more of a summer camp meant to instill confidence in pre-teen girls and to make adult American tourists feel like pervs.*

*In fairness to the festival, I think an actual surf tournament took place on the first day, but we had assumed that the major action would occur on the weekend, like church.