Writing and thinking about Daniel Bryan earlier this week got me considering hipsters in general. Hipsters get blamed for a lot of shit in our culture, and while some of it is deserved, despite being outwardly annoying, hipsters have made our culture so much more interesting in more ways than they’ve worsened it.
Being a hipster is only the most visible manifestation of our current cultural condition which is summarized by the following oxymoron: The subculture is mainstream, everything is subculture, there is no mainstream.
For those of you who haven’t already clicked the back button after reading that sentence that sounds like it should be delivered with too much earnestness by half by Morpheus from The Matrix movies, I appreciate it, and I’m going to go in the opposite direction of popular opinion and actually defend the hipster movement. That’s right, I’m sticking up for the ironic, insufferable, bearded, PBR-drinking faux-intellectual goofballs ruminating about Arcade Fire at the Ethiopian-Ecuadorian hybrid cuisine food truck in some gentrified part of town. Let’s get into it.
In addition to contextualizing Daniel Bryan in my own wrestling-soaked brain against the cultures in which he and Stone Cold Steve Austin came out of, one of the things that got me thinking about hipsters in a much more pointed way was “From Hip to Zip” an article from the Westword that lists 15 things hipsters have ruined.
Considering the Westword on its best days serves as agitprop for insecure people in their 20s, an article like this isn’t at all surprising or unusual. What’s dispiriting is the laziness of its list construction. Oh, so hipsters ruined cheap beers? Like Key Light, Natty Light, and about 50 others that are still cheap as shit and will get you drunk? No? Right. You mean, cheap “cool” beers like PBR or Hamm’s or Rainier or whatever the fuck else that still tastes like shit, but got spritzed with some magic zeitgeist juice for some reason. Ruined!
Flannel? Thrift stores? Brunch? Yes, all of these things are RUINED now because of evil hipsters. And tattoos are no longer describable using Marshall McLuhan! Oh the humanity! I wish I could go to brunch this weekend, but the goddamned hipsters up and ruined it. I CANNOT HAVE BRUNCH NOW.
I’m with the article on the issue of urban chicken farming, however, because urban people are not farmers and thus, should not undertake farming practices, but otherwise, give me a fucking break with this shit.
This article views the world through a narrow keyhole that extends from maybe RINO to Uptown, where the hipster quotient is highest, and, admittedly, most suffocating. When that’s your world, it’s easy to look at all these fucking people and seethe with disgust and annoyance and how in the blue hell are we talking about gluten-free, sustainably produced BEER? But when taken on balance with the rest of the world, the hipster revolution has paid dividends for us all.
In an article on my old website during the whole “Occupy” movement two years ago, I mercilessly eviscerated a longform thinkpiece about my generation that appeared in New York Magazine. While the article itself largely misses the point, it manages a few decent moments. For instance, this block of text:
It’s part of the American way to get a lot of self-worth from your job. Meanwhile, one of the reasons there aren’t enough of those jobs out there is that America no longer makes enough stuff. Young people feel that void, intrinsically… [We] have returned to our stuff-making ways, via pursuits easily mocked: the modern-day pickling, the obsessive Etsying, the flower-arranging classes, the knitting resurgence, the Kickstarter funds for art projects of no potential commercial value… [This] is a golden age for creativity and knowledge for their own sakes. Our pastimes have become our expressions of mastery, a substitute for the all-consuming career.
Everyone I know does something. Whether it’s woodworking, crochet, jewelry, photography, whatever, I argue that thanks to a small, glorious subset of dickheads unafraid to show the world whatever stupid thing they made with pride and bluster, they made it okay for the rest of us to follow suit and try something we might have done otherwise. Kristin and I made an IPA a couple of weeks ago. I’m working with my mom on fashioning my old punk t-shirts into a quilt. What the fuck? Who am I?
It’s telling that one of the icons of cool in this day and age is Ron Swanson. Picture Ron Swanson existing on a show in the 90s. You know why you can’t do it? Because a) it’s impossible to slot him in with the smirking urban snark that populated the TV dial throughout the decade; and b) he already existed, his name was Wilson, and he was Tim Taylor’s neighbor. Think about it. Outside of the penchant for quoting obscure philosophers, these two both dispense wizened advice to their harried compatriots and share a love of craft. Now think about how you viewed each of those characters. Wilson was odd, Ron Swanson is God.
I’d also argue that hipsters facilitate better dining. Even though they apparently ruined brunch, according to the Westword, our restaurant options are so much more interesting than they have been at any point in my young life. Kyle Kinane does a joke about how people who live in the shittiest, most boring parts of the country always say, “This here is God’s country. It’s the greatest place on earth.” And he never knows what the fuck they’re talking about. He lives in a city where there are “four totally decent Thai places within walking distance.” That’s more like heaven.
With a focus on the local, the creative, and the unusual, food is incredibly adventurous. There was a Vietnamese food cart outside Black Shirt Brewing one night, and it was delicious. Outside Caution Brewing (which has some Asian themed beers) sat Doner King one night, serving up German and Turkish food. One of my favorite things in the world right now is Venuzeulan arepas. The way people TALK about food is frequently insufferable, but would you rather this be the way of the world, or would you prefer another Michelob at Applebee’s?
I’ll grant that when hipsters go too far, they go WAY TOO FUCKING FAR, like this weirdo lady I saw in the Westword article:
But unless you’ve lost control of your reality button and find yourself with a big old timey sewing machine in the middle of a BMW dealership, or happen to be wearing a monocle, a fedora, and goddamn cargo shorts on top of a penny-farthing or some fucking thing, you’re not hurting anyone. You probably look like a goddamn idiot, but that’s certainly your prerogative.
And I think that’s one key element of understanding the hipster backlash. They look like shitheads. No argument here. But where I disagree is that people in their 20s have always been annoying. This is just the latest flavor. I’m reminded of Steve-O from SLC Punk ranting about the Anglophiles of the 80s proclaiming “anarchy in the UK” or mod kids asking if “you heard the new Smiths’ album, it’s fucking terrif!” What makes those idiots any better or worse than some dipshit with a handlebar mustache who’s wearing a t-shirt with a picture of a pet rock on it or whatever the fuck?
Nothing. And you know why? Because when you’re young, you’re inherently insecure. I’ve written about hipsters before, and what I decided then was that all these layers of misdirection are a shield to protect yourself against the uncertainty of the world and a defense mechanism against bullies, real or perceived. What was missing from that article is what that misdirection allows you (apart from self-preservation).
It allows you the cover to try anything you want. You can always write off your appearance as a joke, and when people can’t stop looking at your mustache or your weird ironic tattoo or the tea kettle cozy you’re wearing as a shoe for some unexplored reason, you then have space to take real risk. And that’s where we all benefit.
Attempting to break into, say, a beer market where Anheuser-Bush, Coors, and Miller dominate is undoubtedly risky, especially when what you seek to do is make ancient Belgian beers and hopped up palate wreckers the public may or may not be ready for. Wanting to open a restaurant that has no set menu, changes seasonally based on what can be grown locally, and combines previously thought uncombinable elements, is insane when you consider restaurants have razor thin margins, and it’d be so much easier just to buy frozen shit and keep your costs down. Creating art, getting crafty, building a fucking table out of beetle-kill trees – these are all propositions most likely to fail.
But when you give yourself the space to fail because most people have already written you off as an outlier, a degenerate, or a malcontent based on your appearance alone, failure becomes less scary because you’re allowed to do it on your own terms. And what we’ve found is that we value unique voices. We appreciate these crazy efforts.
There has never been a better time for beer, ever. Great restaurants spring up like mushrooms in the night, all of them with incredibly narrow focus and a bizarre niche. And people are creating like never before. Hipsters aren’t the only reason for this, of course, but having a culture where weird people can flourish certainly doesn’t hurt.
I’m hopeful this spirit lasts, although nothing good ever does. I had a discussion several years ago with my friend Keith about the economy and the reasons for the recession. We agreed the economy had contracted, and one of the key reasons was that shit that people had previously gotten paid for, classified advertising for instance, was now available for free on the internet. Jobs had been siphoned out of existence, and not yet filled with something else. I’d argue that’s not over yet.
And my suspicion is that we’re at a point where the crazy hipsters who will try anything will lead to that recovery. Breweries will continue to emerge until the market is saturated and public demand is satisfied. Entrepreneurial ideas will blossom and grow until they become the status quo and mainstream and money catch up. We will ride high. A lull will follow. A new movement will come after that. It’s the circle of life (and commerce).
But as it stands currently, we’re in a pretty fucking good place that likely will not last forever. So maybe cut hipsters a break. Even if they look like assholes.