Tag Archives: hipsters

Can a Hipster Love Sports?

Someone recently asked me if I had a chapter in my book about hipsters and sports. I don’t, but I think a chapter could definitely be written about it. And I think it would be interesting.

Hipsters like a lot of good things: good food, drink, clothes, music, movies, books, etc. By and large, they have fantastic taste.

But for some reason, hipsters aren’t that wild about sports.

It’s unclear exactly why sports (and I’m mainly talking about popular American sports) are so anathema to the average hipster. Perhaps they perceive sports as some sort of low-culture bourgeois pastime, or a malevolent technocratic tool of the WASP-filled hegemony. Or maybe it’s just that sports (with the exception of horse-racing and maybe golf) are so sporty and gauche. Perhaps it is the outmoded undercurrents of nationalism, traditional gender roles and barbaric competitiveness that turns off the hipster. Perhaps it is the cheerleaders.

Whatever it is, I think it’s hugely unfortunate. I am a hipster who loves sports, and I wish there were more of us out there. I love listening to Animal Collective and being snobby about microbrews, but I also love college basketball and I pretty much put my life on hold for a few weeks in March on account of that. I prefer arugula to iceberg, Manchego to Velveeta, and Terrence Malick to Tony Scott, but I also routinely spend entire Sundays watching NFL games on TV. Does that make me an oxymoronic snob? I don’t think so.

Contrary to popular hipster belief, an amazing baseball game can be just as life affirming as an Arcade Fire concert.

Hipsters these days do enjoy some sports. Bocce ball is hot right now, for example. And biking and mountain climbing have always been hipster-friendly. Some hipsters also can tolerate sailing, especially if it means they can wear Marc Jacobs’ latest sailor-inspired clothes along with Ray-Bans and windswept hair. Most of them appreciate recess lawn games like Red Rover and water balloon toss as well. But unless they are at a Superbowl party with a sardonically enormous amount of beer and homemade guacamole, hipsters could do without most other sports.

And it’s a true shame. I challenge every hipster who reads this to take another look at sports. Start following a team this football season. Root for a college basketball team this winter. Dare to attend a baseball game and actually pay attention!

It might not be as fun as loitering around a record store or reading Goethe, but sports can add something to your life.

Introducing the Poorgeoisie


When I was in New York City earlier this year, I took some pictures of a person lying on a couch on a sidewalk in the East Village. I wasn’t sure if he was a hipster or a homeless person. This question has come up numerous times in my hipster field research over the last couple years, and it’s definitely becoming harder to tell the difference. Apparently the homeless look is hotter than ever. Actually, I first noticed the trend a few years ago in L.A. and wrote a post on my blog entitled “Derelict Chic” back in 2007.

Recently I read an article from Details that summarized and analyzed the trend quite nicely. The piece, “How Looking Poor Became the New Status Symbol,” puts the emerging class of wanna-look-poor hipsters under the microscope and coins them “the poorgeoisie.” In the article, author Steven Kandell suggests that while the poorgeoisie is largely in rebellion against the Wall Street, Reaganite yuppie set, they’re ultimately just as consumer minded. I recommend reading the whole thing, but here are some excerpts from the article:

While Wall Street’s hedge-funders have become whipping boys, those who have mastered the art of inconspicuous consumption are living as large as ever. But they’re not easy to spot, resembling, as they do, Trotskyite grad students—a look that doesn’t come cheap: $300 Acne jeans, $175 hand-stitched guayabera shirt, $150 mussed haircut with beard trim (not too short, please). This brand of consumerism escapes condemnation—it’s okay to be a capitalist pig as long as you’re the sort who roots around in your organic garden for truffles.

… Just because the cultural moment is dominated by bloodlust for the heads of AIG executives doesn’t mean public sentiment has turned against the accumulation of material possessions—it’s just that the material in question is likely to be double-brushed flannel. And that’s the advantage guys who look like Devendra Banhart have over guys who look like Patrick Bateman: The poorgeois are in cultural camouflage, blending in perfectly with a landscape full of genuine privation. The fact that their accoutrements may cost more than many suits is their secret pride.

Kandell goes on in the article to elaborate on the notion of “inconspicuous consumption” and “under the radar rich,” which is the form of materialism these hipsters prefer (i.e. materialism that buys only local produce, handmade clothes, hybrid cars, and anything that offsets a consumerist carbon footprint). But this is nothing particularly new. We all know that while hipsters may be a “special sort” of capitalist, they are capitalists nonetheless.

Kandell’s most insightful stuff comes at the end of the article when he describes the philosophy that underpins the poorgeois lifestyle in Brooklyn, Silver Lake, and Portland as being “almost indistinguishable from the justifications of an I-banker who drives a Maserati and wears a bespoke suit: that quality, craftsmanship, and rareness are worth paying top dollar for.”

Kandell is right on in saying that the current hipster consumer sensibility privileges anything that is “a throwback to pre-industrial times, when regular folks actually knew how to make things with their hands.” Hipsters love things that are homemade or handmade. Things like hand-carved wooden jewelry, self-cured meats, and home-grown vegetables. They also love things that are old and vintage: antique tables, grandmother’s dresses, 60s sunglasses. And Kandell also picks up on the current 20s-era speakeasy rage, which fits nicely into the new big-spending-and-yet-inconspicuous-hipster trend: “Good-bye, $300 worth of bottle-service vodka in the back corner of a velvet-rope warehouse; hello, $300 worth of single-malt-and-Chartreuse Depression-era cocktails mixed by a mustachioed dude wearing an arm garter.” It’s SO true. I’ve seen this in person and its exactly as Kandell describes—down to the arm garter.

Of course, on one level none of this is really new. Thorstein Veblen wrote all about this stuff back in 1899 with his book, The Theory of the Leisure Class. Even back then in the Victorian era, Veblen picked up on the fact that the fashionable classes found authentic or hand-made things desirable while mass-produced, machine-made products were deemed unsightly and pedestrian.

“The ground of the superiority of hand-wrought good, therefore, is a certain margin of crudeness. This margin must never be so wide as to show bunging workmanship, since that would be evidence of low cost, nor so narrow as to suggest the ideal precision attained only by the machine, for that would be evidence of low cost… The objection to machine products is often formulated as an objection to the commonness of such goods. What is common is within the (pecuniary) reach of many people. Its consumption is therefore not honorific, since it does not serve the purpose of a favourable invidious comparison with other consumers. Hence the consumption, or even the sight of such goods, is inseparable from an odious suggestion of the lower levels of human life, and one comes away from their contemplation with a pervading sense of meanness that is extremely distasteful and depressing to a person of sensibility.”

How true Veblen’s words are even today! Though the Victorian aristocrats he was writing about likely would faint at the prospect of dressing like a destitute vagrant, they share many other attributes with the contemporary poorgeoisie hipsters. Both seek things that are rare and hard-to-find (and thus inaccessible to the mainstream masses); both avoid the “common” things that are mass produced and mass consumed by people with negligible taste (things like McDonalds, Wal-Mart, and pleated slacks). And though the Victorian aristocrat was a lot more conspicuous than the more socially conscious “I can only spend $30 on a cocktail in the secret speakeasy darkness where no homeless person or starving child will see me” hipster, both are in the business of finding and accumulating (or imbibing) high quality things.

So before hipsters start decrying the audacious, materialistic lives of their suburban hedge fund foes, they should probably take a look at themselves and audit their own consumptive habits.

A New York City Blur


“Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect, and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die.” -E.M. Forster (Howards End)

“Only connect.” That is the epigraph to E.M. Forster’s Howards End—a book I have not actually read, but which I have on my list. “Only connect” is a sort of life mantra for a friend I had dinner with in Brooklyn last night, and in thinking about what I could say about my NYC experiences over the past few days, the phrase kept coming up. “Only connect.”

I try to live my life in this way. Making connections, tying things together, seeing how all the pieces fit and how my geometry class in high school ties in to things like enjoying hot dogs and playing jump rope. But while living in this “only connect” way is totally exhilarating, it can also be pretty exhausting. The world is just so expansive and overwhelming and broad and diverse. The more that I travel, the more I recognize that this is so.

The last 48 hours in New York City have been something of a blur, overflowing with thoughts and observances and conversations and good food. I’m too tired now to try to process it all, so I’m afraid the following is not going to do justice to Mr. Forster’s sage epigraph advice. Instead, I’ll just sketch out a few things that have been memorable. There will be time for connecting the dots in a few days. For now, some brief, unconnected thoughts.

-New York City has felt decidedly unreal and almost dream-like for me on this trip. Maybe it’s because I arrived here on Sunday morning (having taken a redeye and slept only 3 hours) and then proceeded to visit 3 churches (sitting through the services) and have lunch in Greenwich Village with one person and dinner in Williamsburg with another. It was a foggy blur, but it was great. I will write more about these churches later (as in months later…).

-Talking about modernism, postmodernism, and the phenomenology of hipster fashion while eating arepas in a restaurant full of hipsters is a total trip. Especially when you’re delirious from lack of sleep.

-Standing on the platform of the M train in Brooklyn during a thunderstorm suddenly made me think of all the summers of my life.

-New York City feels like the most American place on earth. For this reason: everyone walks around with a confident sense of upward mobility. Whether this is evidenced in knockoff Coach purses, hipster Raybans, iPhones or Diesel skinny jeans, the effect is the same. NYC is a place where status (or status aspiration) is worn on one’s person.

-Food is going to be a theme of my trip. I travel in such a way that my money does not go to accommodations (I stay in hostels and am happy to do so) but to food. I don’t think there’s a better way to experience the pleasures of a foreign environment than through food. Some food highlights of the day: Rhubarb scone for breakfast at an amazing diner in Brooklyn; family style Italian (with my family) at Carmine’s on the Upper West Side; blueberry/creamcheese/shortbread dessert at Magnolia Bakery in Midtown; Ukrainian split pea soup and a good pinot noir at Veselka in the East Village. Oh and yesterday: the Caracas Arepa Bar in Williamsburg was AMAZING.

-Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg Brooklyn has the most hipsters per square inch than anywhere on earth (apart from fleeting events like Coachella). My camera could not snap pictures fast enough.

-Gentrification is fascinating. And so is the way that it ties in to so many things: class, race, organic food, Animal Collective, public housing, politics, Bob Dylan, the Internet, skinny jeans rolled up to shin length, and menus that change daily.

-I’m flying to London tomorrow night and will commence my week at C.S. Lewis’ house on Wednesday. Until then!

The Rise of the Ironic Class


I have an article in the May/June issue of Relevant magazine entitled “The Rise of the Ironic Class,” which takes a look at why my generation is such an ironic one, what it means for our relationships, for communication, etc…

You can read the whole article here (the picture above is from the article’s title page), but here is a little excerpt:

It’s no secret: our generation—let’s very roughly say those of us currently between the ages of 15 and 40—is very, very ironic. That is, we look at the world, especially pop culture, through a highly sarcastic, “you’ve got to be joking, right?” lens. More self-aware and media savvy than ever, we are a growing class of ironists who speak in terms of pastiche, in Internet bits and pop culture bites, film quotes and song lyrics and “oh no she didn’t!” tabloid tomfoolery. We look the stupidity of culture in the face and kiss it—embracing The O.C. and drinking swill like Pabst because, well, because no one expected it and it doesn’t mean anything anyway.

There are reasons for our embrace of irony. We grew up in a world where earnestness failed us. Cold Wars were waged very sincerely, ideologies were bandied about with the best of intentions. Our parents married and divorced in all earnestness, and wide swaths of American homes were devastated by the sort of domestic disharmony that shattered any pretension of white-picket fence perfection. Meanwhile, we grew up in a constant orgasm of advertising and brand messaging. The conglomerates cornered the markets, the ad agencies figured us out, and MTV sucked our souls dry. But we also became savvy, and with the Internet and all the wiki-democratization it offered, it became easier to see through the charades of various culture industries and power-wielding hegemonies. Flaws were exposed, seedy schemes revealed amid the formerly shrouded machinations of “the man.” Nothing was sacred anymore, and all was ridiculous. (Read the rest…)

Is Christianity Cool?

This is the title of chapter one of the book I am writing, and it’s the underlying question of the whole thing. I don’t expect to answer it definitively in the book, but it’s a question that begs to be explored, because it’s a question that is at least latently present in all the major movements and expressions of contemporary Christianity.

It’s a very complex question, to be sure. The book I am writing will treat it as such, and will not approach it in any sort of bifurcated, black-and-white manner. But that it is a complex question does not mean we should avoid talking about it and considering the very profound implications of the issues surrounding whatever answer we might give. Part of the problem in Christianity for the last several decades, I think, is that we’ve been unwilling to not only ask these questions but to wrestle seriously with them.

And so: Is Christianity Cool? In some ways it’s the leading question of our time, as evangelicals desperately try to keep their faith relevant in a rapidly changing culture. And most probably this question isn’t being explicitly asked, because to ask if something is cool automatically negates its coolness. Everyone who is or has ever been hip knows that coolness isn’t ever analyzed or spoken of in any way by those who possess it. Coolness is understood. It is mystery. It is contagious. And that last word is the key for many—especially those looking to sell something—seeking to tap into hip potential. Bridled cool is an economic cashcow. Translated to Christianity, cool is the currency whereby we must dispense the Gospel.

It is enormously interesting to me that we are so attracted and desirous of this thing called “cool,” but what is more intriguing to me is how exactly the search and adoption of coolness affects our lives. Is our longing to be fashionable, hip, stylish, and “ahead” of our peers benign? Or, if not, how does it affect our personhood (and, by extension, our Christianity) for good or ill?

The relative goodness or badness in the nature of “cool” is of utmost importance. Being stylish/trendy is certainly our society’s highest value, so the question we must ask as Christians is this: can we sustain integrity and substance in a world so driven by packaging? Must every work, every person, every message that seeks mass acceptance be form-fitted to the hieroglyphics of hip? Are the purposes and/or effects of cool compatible with those of Christianity? If we assume that “cool” necessarily connotes the notion of being elite, privileged, and somehow better than the masses, how can we reconcile the idea of “cool” with the idea of Christianity, which seems to beckon us away from self-aggrandizement of any and all kind?

Many will answer that making the church “cool” is simply a means to an end—a utilitarian approach to spreading the Gospel in a world where cool is the most efficient conduit of communication and transaction. If it is true that our culture today is most effectively reached through the channels of cool, does this mean Christianity’s message must be styled as such? What does this look like, and are there any alternatives? How does the Christian navigate in this climate without reducing the faith to an easy-to-swallow, hip-friendly phenomenon? Is the church’s future helped or hindered by an assimilation to cultural whims and fads?

We can all agree that the ultimate purpose of the church on earth is, as C.S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity, “nothing else but to draw men into Christ.” But the challenging question is this: to what extent do we assume that men are drawn to Christ by the style in which He is presented to them? In other words, as the messengers of the gospel, are we to let the message speak for itself or must we jazz it up or package it in such a way that it is salient to the masses?

It is certainly appropriate that “packaging” is at the forefront of many church discussions today. In a world so obviously obsessed with style as a gateway to substance, we are right in viewing this as an important issue. But what are we losing when we start to sell Jesus as the ultimate in cool commodities?

Here’s another wrinkle: there are two very distinct categories of “hip” in today’s world: 1) The natural hip, and 2) The marketed hip. What I am speaking of above—about Christianity harnessing the horses of hip to help spread the message—is definitely the latter. When it’s about using cool to spread a message, it’s not naturally cool. Cool can never be authentic if it is a self-conscious activity (some might say, then, it is never authentic…).

But the majority of Christian hipsterdom is self-consciously so. This includes the churches that have candles everywhere and serve micro-brewed beer and cognac at potlucks to attract the rebellious young hipsters. These are the youth pastors who emphasize how God is all over things like The Sopranos, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and of course, U2. These are the Christians who like to speak of Jesus as a hippie countercultural activist who was a Che-esque revolutionary, and who probably would have smoked pot and listened to Radiohead were he on earth today. Essentially, this is a Christianity that bends over backward to be incredibly cool.

But in some instances, hip Christianity has been an organic phenomenon (that is, it hasn’t consciously striven to adopt some trend or characteristic of cool from the larger culture, but rather it has been a “first generation” cool that sets the trends of the larger culture and appears “cool” without really trying). Examples might be Daniel Smith (of the band Danielson Famile) or Sufjan Stevens—truly original artists who have embodied a certain strand of “indie/arthouse” style and subsequently launched many other talented, original Christian artists. I also think of people like Shane Claiborne, who—in efforts to live the humble life among the poor and downtrodden, Mother Theresa-style—has inadvertently framed Christianity in a “radical,” “progressive,” cool light.

Lest it sound like I am praising the Sufjans of the world and criticizing the, um, Toby Macs, let me just say: I’m not totally convinced that these “more authentic” Christian hipsters are substantively different than the inauthentic kind. At the end of the day, cool is cool—whether painstakingly strived for or halfway stumbled-upon.

And so there are many questions, many complexities. I haven’t got it all figured out. But I welcome your feedback.

I’m writing the book not to position myself as some sort of expert or to make some audacious claim about anything, but because I love Christianity and the church. I want to see her thrive, expand, and be all that she can be in the world. I want to see the cause of Christ advanced and nut muddled up. And this topic—the relationship of the church to the notion of “cool”—strikes me as a vitally important topic that needs to be addressed with tenderness, nuance, and–when appropriate–constructive rebuke. I hope to spark some necessary conversations, discourse, and soul-searching. And I don’t care if it’s all hopelessly uncool.

Hipsters Getting Married

I saw Rachel Getting Married over the weekend, and really enjoyed it. It features a performance by Anne Hathaway that more than meets its billing, as well as some remarkable supporting performances from Debra Winger and Rosemarie DeWitt (in the title role). The movie is artfully made and certainly Jonathan Demme’s best directorial effort since Silence of the Lambs.

But the thing I like most about this movie is its commitment to hipster realism. It has an almost ethnographic-like attention to the details and culture of hipster, which I—as a person who is currently writing a book about hipsters—readily appreciated.

The movie is about a wedding—the marriage between Rachel (a pasty white woman in her early thirties) and Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe), who is black and an uber-hip musician. As the film’s wedding weekend unfolds, the two families mix and mingle like one big happy hipster reunion, with no racial unease to be found. Race is never acknowledged in the film, nor is it ever hinted at that this wedding is in any way stylistically unorthodox.

The wedding is India-themed, in part and parcel. The bride and bridesmaids wear saris and the groom and groomsmen wear kurtas, and there is a sitar player. Oh, and the cake is in the shape of an Indian elephant. The rest of the wedding is a diverse hodge-podge of other cultures and traditions, with eclectic backyard decorations, red meat on the Barbie for food, and a wild assortment of music/dancing all through the night.

The music is really where the film hits the nail on the hipster head. It is eclectic with a capital E. Dozens of Sidney’s bohemian musician friends are bumming around the house during the entire wedding weekend, jamming to jazz and folk and whatever they feel like. A drums-and-guitar emo punk plays a Hendrix-style wedding processional. Sidney sings Neil Young’s “Unknown Legend” for his wedding vow. There is hip hop, an African drum collective, a jazz trumpeter, and an androgynous DJ for everything in between. And that’s only what I can remember.

In the N.Y. Times, A.O. Scott lauded the way that Rachel “gathers races, traditions and generations in a pleasing display of genteel multiculturalism,” all the while painting a “faithful and affectionate” picture of blue-state America. It’s an apt description, certainly, but I would substitute “blue-state America” with “hipster-state America.”

The people partying with gleeful, postmodern abandon (when they are not embroiled in family drama and emotional catharsis) are the very essence of hipsterdom today. It’s about pastiche, de-contextualized pop commodities, “subversive” stylistic fusion, and non-committal, consumer-oriented multiculturalism.

The whole thing reminded me of this article I read recently on PopMatters.com, in which Erik Hinton writes this:

The rise of the hipster signals our waning ability to experience the other. The world at large is quickly losing touch with alterity. As a result, we are losing the capacity to create meaning. The shallow virtual reality of hipsterdom—the world remade as simply an empty aggregate of trendy bands and silly clothing—is merely the first indication of this.

Hinton goes on to point out, quite correctly, that the hipster’s tendency to collapse and collect bits and pieces of all culture and boil it up in one “totally unique” persona stew, ultimately creates a void of meaning wherein cultural distinction and difference is lost. For example, as hipsters become more and more identified by the styles and tastes they accumulate, they lose their own sense of identity. “Who am I?” gets lost in the more pressing hipster question: “what bands, brands, and quirky styles do I like?”

As Hinton continues:

…our lists of particulars become the whole of our personalities. This is why we see that kid at parties dressed like Hunter S. Thompson and break-dancing with gold chains around his neck, the girl reading Byron, wearing a Siouxsie T-shirt and hanging out at the bike shop… The hipster is no more than a conscious manipulation of the freedom to live these piecemeal identities, comfortable in the awareness that identity can be constructed out of any bands, clothing, cheap, regionally esoteric beer, and inane micro-fiction that pleases. The hipster is a pastiche of old and new culture, free from the limits of meaning or the constraints of authentic identity.

Given this, it is appropriate, I think, that the characters in Rachel (with the exception of the three aforementioned female leads) seemed rather hard to pin down. They were gloriously complicated in a hipster/stylized/quirky-is-good sort of way, but I didn’t get a real definite sense of who they really were.

Which is the problem of hipsterdom in general: there is an ironic loss of unique identity (alterity, difference, etc) in the all-consuming desire to fashion a “unique,” rebellious identity. It’s about getting lost in style and subversion, and forgetting that skinny jeans and Parliament cigarettes can only go so far in setting us apart.