“This might sound like kind of an asshole thing to say, but do you guys know you’re Hipsters, or is it an accident?”
I have some confidence that I could do my entire senior thesis on the above sentence, except I’m not a senior. But the instant I hit 65. Hah.
So okay, let’s pick it apart. The aggressor’s remark was divided largely into two key components:
1) a declarative preamble or disclaimer of sorts: ““This might sound like kind of an asshole thing to say, but”
2) an accusation in the form of a rhetorical question: “do you guys know you’re Hipsters, or is it an accident?”
Stop me here if you disagree. Or, since that’s impossible, just leave a comment below.
Both of these components represent specific bad habits exhibited by human beings far and wide, but let’s look at the first component first.
Sometimes you watch a movie or something, and before the movie comes on, you get a disclaimer: “Warning: The following movie contains graphic images of folks bein’ butchered ‘n shit. Oh yeah and profanity. Lots o’ that!”
Well, I mean basically like that.
I suppose the objective here is two-fold: it advises the viewer that they might not want to see what they’re about to, in which case they may leave or close their eyes at their own discretion; it also lifts the burden of liability from the movie-showing entity, allowing it to conduct its role unfettered by legality. Hey neat, and all that cost was a screen of text.
People will often emulate this in real life when they are speaking to someone face to face. There are a number of differences here, though. One is that, since conversation is an active rather than passive activity and its activation contingent on two separately sentient parties, the disclaimee has little recourse in the event that he or she wishes to bow out and avoid the awaiting content.
To show the difference, let’s imagine you’re sitting down in front of a movie, and the following message appears on screen: “Warning: The following movie contains assholes and asshole things being said. Viewer discretion is advised.”
If I, as someone with only marginal and wavering interest in hearing asshole things being said, might easily duck out at this point, and depending on the location, even manage to obtain a refund. “Let’s go buy a tapa instead,” I would say.
What’s the Plan B when an actual real-life asshole disclaims me in person? To cover my ears and sing “Beyond the Sea”? If I tried to walk away, he could easily follow me, and since he’s already a confirmed asshole, he very well might. Where, pray tell, is the refund scenario here, people?? My only escape, as far as I can tell, would have been to explode with violence and “shut him off.” A small part of me, I will admit, wishes I had.
The other difference, of course, is that he has no legal liability, insofar as he is protected by the Constitution. As such, the disclaimer becomes a mere warning. “You are about to be offended. Just stand still for a moment.” It also raises the question, though, “If you know this, why are you proceeding?” And therein lies the problem with disclaiming one’s own behavior. Rather than freeing a person of guilt, it incriminates him or her further–“I know I’m doing the wrong thing, and I want you to know that I know.”
So then there was component 2. To recap: “do you guys know you’re Hipsters, or is it an accident?”
The first thing that disturbs me here is that he said “you guys.” I looked around and confirmed that there were no other guys, which meant he was placing me into a perceived category of people. I think we can assume the category was “Hipster.” I confirmed verbally that he reached this conclusion because I was wearing a shirt with a V-shaped neckhole and a hat that I like, I think typically referred to as a “slouch beanie.” A quick Google Images search reveals a gallery of such hats being adorned by human beings of all walks of life, from pretty women (this is seemingly the majority) to infants, to tattooed white men, to infants, to pop sensation Rihanna. It can be deduced that the hat is fairly versatile, though it may also be worth noting that I don’t see any images of Asian males wearing one. Yesterday’s aggressor, however, wasn’t an Asian male, so maybe it’s not worth noting.
As for the V-neck, it has come to my attention over the last year or two that there is an irrational disdain in pockets of America for the V-shaped neckhole. I think they are more flattering on thin, long-necked men than are U-shaped neckholes (as a man not often complimented on his appearance, I have at least once been complimented profusely on my neck, so I suppose it’s what they would call my “chaamu pointo (charm point)” in Japan), so I own two such shirts.
The question lingering in my mind is how these two factors led within forty mere seconds to the confident conclusion that I could be identified as a “Hipster.”
I realize now that the answer lies in determining what is meant by the word to begin with. When I first heard the word in 2005 from my brother (the one who gave me the hat), he was using it to refer to San Francisco scenesters who were known to have a condescending view of people less familiar with a given scene or pop cultural phenomenon than were they. The idea was, they strove to be “hip” just for the sake of lording the status over others, rather than taking a genuine interest in things. This was why the word had a negative connotation, and the prevalence of this attitude in cosmopolitan cities like San Francisco was why my brother was the only one I knew who ever used this word, he being the only one I knew in such a city at the time.
The thing is, slang tends to do this thing where it trickles down from urban centers into the suburbs, where it gets twisted and transformed by people removed from the context that originally validated the existence of the term. Eventually it finds its way into mainstream culture, even falling into the hands of Hank Watercooler and Barbara von Soccermom, where of course it then dies.
This is the inevitable progression of language, which, as we know, is a shapeshifting beast. That’s fine. It seems to me that the term “Hipster” has now come to refer simply and plainly to a style of fashion. What actually defines this style seems to be vague and vary from one person’s perception to another.* Whatever the case, it now seems to be something that can be identified solely by a person’s outward appearance, rather than their attitude or affiliation with a community.
So wait. . . what’s the common thread again?
This in turn begs the question, “What is the fucking problem still?” If the word no longer carries the connotation of a bad attitude, then why is this worth putting your entire day’s plans on hold and backtracking to initiate this conversation? The only explanation I can muster is that the word does still bear its original negative connotation, but that “Ken” and many people like him are content to label others with this negative word based solely on how they look. Well hey, speaking of words with an ugly connotation, here’s an apt one: PREJUDICE. Let alone the fact that, if we recall that the original problem with Hipsters was that they were condescending toward others based on superficial affiliations, there’s an obvious hypocrisy in deriding someone for being a Hipster based solely on his hat and neckhole. It’s no different than labeling a white person racist simply by virtue of his being white.
And this is the biggest problem. Human beings suffer from an insane propensity for offensive defense. If you were of my generation and ever went to public school, you probably heard people bitch about how stuck-up and exclusive wearers of Abercrombie & Fitch clothing were about ten times as frequently as you actually encountered someone who fit that description. You know who was actually being stuck-up and exclusive? The people making drastic judgment calls about the content of others’ character based on sweaters and shit. Fucking sweaters.
Meanwhile, Ken for all his self-assuredness was dressed in what I must observe was a particularly canned look–much moreso than the random assortment I had thrown on that morning in my nightmare daze. Like I said previously, he wore an outfit I’ve seen over and over exclusively in California, so much in fact that I’ve accepted it as a norm that transcends expression. Flat-brimmed ball cap, oversized sports jersey (a “dress” shirt, in a manner of speaking (because you see it looks like a dress hahaha)), jersey shorts.
Some close approximations I found on Google.
When I first started seeing this, it struck me as an attempt to look thuggish, except it seemed to be common attire for overweight, complacent men in the suburbs, so I wondered if it was just that the local thugs had all been pacified by In-n-Out Burger. Eventually I concluded that it was probably just considered normal clothing in these parts, having, like slang, been diluted and removed from its initial urban context.
Clothing will inevitably leave one impression or another on those who gaze upon it, but it is up to the beholder to submit to or resist his or her innate prejudices. I could just as easily have been the aggressor that day, turning back to ask our friend Ken if it was or was not, in fact, nothin’ but a G thang. The difference, I think, is that I’m not content to be an asshole, even to someone who looks different than I look.
Meanwhile, in my reflection upon this incident I realize that in the last year, over which my dressing habits have remained constant and I’ve only bought new clothes to replace identical ones that have worn out, I have been labeled a nerd, a geek, a “dudebro,” a cancer patient, and now a Hipster. If these critics would just read my blog, they would know that none of these terms adequately encapsulate my raging neuroses.
The moral of it all? “Come on, Ken.”
*It probably bears mentioning that most of the components of my outfit during the incident were purchased several years ago in Japan, where “Hipster” isn’t a thing. I bought them because I thought they complimented my natural features. This, it turns out, is why people in much of the first world buy the clothes they buy. The hat, too, was a replacement for a nearly identical hat purchased in Japan.