I can’t help thinking I’m falling for some meta-textual “I know you think you know what I think you know I mean” post-grad hipster prank, but nonetheless the sheer unreasoning vituperation over at DieHipster.com has got me in its thrall.
DieHipster, in case you haven’t stumbled upon it yet, purports to be a place for “real” New Yorkers to vent their frustration (and their homicidal fantasies) on the ever-growing influx of relatively well-heeled young people who are supposedly driving up rents, lowering the tone, and inflicting shameful indecencies like bicycle lanes on this once-proud city.
Having grown up on the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum, I know what it’s like to simultaneously resent and envy those who are better off than me. If I’m not careful, I can still work myself up into a teeth-grinding rage at the students who, during my first month at college, made fun of my very un-stylish shoes (well, they were very stylish among the hoodlums, greasers and no-goodniks I’d hung around with up to that point, but not, apparently, with the budding scions of the bourgeoisie at a second-tier state college) and urged me to ditch them in favor of the penny loafers that they all wore.
Without even getting into aesthetics (I thought they and their penny loafers were completely dorky), I pointed out that the 15 or 20 bucks it would cost for a new pair of shoes (needless to say, this was a long time ago) was way beyond my reach, at which point they redoubled their teasing. “Oh come on, now, don’t try to tell us that you can’t even spare 20 dollars for a new pair of shoes,” was the gist of their argument, and when I said, quite truthfully, that I couldn’t come up with 20 dollars even if the alternative was going barefoot, let alone simply for the sake of making a fashion statement, they ridiculed me for days afterward on the grounds that I had to be lying. Nobody, in their estimation, could be that poor. And if I was, what did I think I was doing in college anyway?
And while I’ve been reasonably fortunate in life, to the point where, like most Americans, I have more shoes than I could possibly wear and am almost but not quite satisfied with any of them, I can still feel a little grumpy when some kid from NYU can afford 50 grand for tuition AND a nice apartment in the Village. Or when a bunch of 20-somethings treat Williamsburg as post-graduate sleepaway camp rather than a place where people actually live and work. One night I watched three such douchebags take turns jumping onto a metal sidewalk door and laughing hysterically at the loud noise it made, oblivious to the fact that it was 2:30 in the morning and they were directly beneath the windows of several apartments where people, one assumes, might be trying to get some rest before having to get up for work in the morning.
That being said, DieHipster.com is WAY over the top in its reaction to Brooklyn’s most visible newcomers. If it’s meant as a joke, it can be pretty funny; if it’s meant to be even slightly serious, it’s kind of disturbing, especially the “today’s hipster beating” section, in which contributors fantasize (at least I hope they’re fantasizing) about wreaking mega-violence on “emaciated,” “scraggly-bearded,” and “pasty-white” interlopers.
There’s a strong current of nativism running through all this; the biggest objection to hipsters, apart from their fashion faux-pas, self-absorbed behavior, and having too much of daddy’s money, seems to be that they’re not “from here.” Practically nobody is, of course; New York has always been a city of immigrants, both foreign and domestic, but this particular obsession over who was born here and who recently arrived from Ohio, etc. (for some reason the Midwest seems to most rankle these would-be hipster-bashers) is evocative of the 19th century Know-Nothing movement.
The same charge has been made – justly, I think – toward the Tea Party movement, which, while it targets different villains (at least I can’t imagine Sarah Palin & Co. having given much thought to the problem posed by the Brooklyn hipster), shares some common ground with the hipster-haters: both are driven by fear and jealousy into clinging to a past that even they in their hearts must know was never all that great in the first place.
Example: DieHipster rages against bicycle lanes and an experimental program to introduce Paris-style rental bikes to New York, as though the only people who would benefit from it are the newcomers, as though “real” New Yorkers would never want or enjoy the opportunity to ride bikes in safety. Frankly, I can’t imagine that anyone with half a functioning brain thinks that there’s anything remotely desirable about old school New York traffic, when every square inch of street and sometimes sidewalks as well was given over to aggressive, pollution-spewing automobile drivers. But hey, if there’s a chance the hipsters might like something, these ugys are against it.
Similarly, someone gets himself worked up into an apoplectic rage at the sight of this “pathetic little hipster douche who is sewing a doll on the L Train was sent to me late yesterday by somebody. Imagine a man moving to a city like New York with its’ reputation and all and trying to sew a doll in public??? This is pussification at it’s finest right here.”
Okay, I don’t know how to sew, and even if I did, I doubt I’d be inclined to sew a rag doll on the subway. But the fact that someone feels free to do so is awesome. Does the anti-“pussification” writer genuinely think New York was a better place when people had to constantly be on guard against random assaults from thugs imposing their idea of appropriately macho public conduct? If he does, I’m pretty sure he hasn’t been around New York as long as I have, and I say that as someone who’s not a New York native at all, and in fact hails from the dreaded Midwest.
Most of my life has been spent in places other than New York, but even when I wasn’t living here, I regularly spent time here, and I’ve had a chance to observe this city in various shapes and forms for 46 years now. Anyone who maintains that New York was better when crime was sky-high and the streets were ruled by the most obnoxious and aggressive probably wasn’t here. In fact, some of the most annoying adherents to this theory are the newly-arrived hipsters (“Man, if only it was like the old days, when rents were cheap and the city still had an edge.” The reason rents were cheap, doofus brain, was that nobody with much sense wanted to live here).
I’m still inclined to think this whole DieHipster thing is itself a hipster put-on, if only because for all its railing against “non-job having” hipsters, contributors seem to have plenty of time themselves to trawl the streets and subways taking photos and compiling commentaries about anyone offending their sensibilities. This whole fixation on “hanging around in coffee shops” instead of commuting into the salt mines like “normal” people is pretty retrograde itself; anyone tech-savvy enough to put together a website knows that productive and lucrative business is as likely to be conducted in a coffee shop as it is in a traditional office or factory. Maybe more so, when you consider all the wasteful and destructive crap churned out by “respectable” businesses, or the devastating consequences of Wall Street chicanery.
Lastly, I’m not so sure the allegedly much put-upon “natives” have suffered so much as a result of the hipster influx – at least not those intelligent and industrious enough to take advantage of changing demographics. My neighborhood alone must contain hundreds of working class Italians transformed into real estate millionaires, and the same is certainly true of the Poles of Greenpoint. The gang of 20-somethings who hung out in front of my old house have never had to have jobs, drive expensive new cars, and have endless amounts of time to make noise, vandalize people’s property, and generally make an unpleasant nuisance of themselves, yet they’re not hipsters, they’re “natives” whose parents have gotten rich in the real estate boom.
Does any of this matter, anyway? People will keep coming to New York as long as it holds out the promise of a better, richer, more exciting life, and people who got here last week or last year or last century will keep bitching about it. It was ever thus, and New York keeps keeping on – better, in my opinion, than ever.