On hipsters, hoodrats, and fitting in

Posted by @ 1:26 pm on September 3rd, 2010

If it’s one thing hipsters hate, it’s being called a hipster. A couple weeks ago, I met this very nice hipster guy who told me a great story about how he was accused of being a hipster, and he was totally pissed, told the guy who called him a hipster that not all white guys who have tattoos are hipsters, which is true. However, a white guy with tattoos who wears vintage clothes who is vegan who rides a fixie, well, nope, the shoe doesn’t fit.

But the truth of it is that I’m guilty of calling people hipsters out of jealousy. I mean, I don’t have the style to be a hipster, nor do I have the money or general sensibility. My taste in music is about five years late, and that’s a generous estimation. I mean, I rarely intend to say the word in a derogatory way. It’s a compliment undercut with jealousy, which makes it sound like an insult, sure, but I’m not fooled.

Yesterday, Reynard started a conversation about the word hoodrat, which is funny in its own way, because the stated definition of hoodrat seemed to imply that a hoodrat is just a hipster of another color, maybe a specific geographic location based on socioeconomics.

Except, except, I just looked it up. Surprise, it’s not in the OED. But the top ten or so definitions on Urban Dictionary (valid source of information, I know I know) says that a hoodrat is generally gendered female, one of a promiscuous sort, one who likes to engage in promiscuous activity. (Not necessary Urban Dictionary’s word choice, obviously.)

I always thought (wrongly) that a hoodrat was someone who affects ghetto, irrelevant of his or her ghetto experience. My nephew, for instance, I’ve on more than one occasion called a hoodrat. He affects like he’s from the “hood,” even though the closest he’s come to any “hood” is his gated neighborhood, which is a hood in itself, given that hood is short for neighborhood. His once perfect grammar has shifted to some bastardized south Texas ebonics, and his pants quite literally start at his knees. (Fuck: I sound like some old grandma.) But it takes hard work to be a suburban hood. (Note: I’m using “hood” instead of “hoodrat” from here on out, because ultimately, he’s performing “hood” as opposed to “hoodrat” which is a ghetto girl with a certain sexual disposition. It’s interesting how these terms have become interchangeable, how a bunch of ostensibly privileged people—myself included—have misappropriated it, redefining it, etc.) It takes effort and money, a conscious subversion of a language you’ve grown up speaking, to affect like you’ve had a different upbringing. I mean, it’s a guise. That, and his amazing shoe collection, his amazing hat collection, all for the purposes of fulfilling the role of hood.

And here, I’ll draw my connection between affecting hipster and affecting hood. Both roles—and let’s be clear here that these are roles to be acted and enacted, forced and reinforced—require a certain amount of liquidity of finances. (Think here of the episode of The Wire were one of the cops goes undercover, goes into “the hood,” which in this instance means the projects, which is not where many of my nephew’s hoodrat friends live.) It costs money to dress and act the way they do. Both roles require great attention to detail. The worst thing that can happen to either hipster or hood (Note: Isn’t it funny that hipsters wear hoodies? It’s all too fitting in the context of this discussion!) is to be revealed as “normal.” Because ultimately, it’s like we’re still in middle school. Except the popular kids who used to be preppy—good god I remember stealing my brother’s Polo shirts, jesus, the 80s, what an embarrassment—are now hipsters, and with the same cultural capital. You get what I mean. It’s like we’re all still so insecure we have to role-play in order to feel accepted, like dressing a certain way or other automatically gives us credence, instant popularity. I wonder if I wouldn’t be better off going back to my Magic cards or my theatre geeks.

Of course, I’m only speaking about people who affect these roles, but I’d argue that even people who do live in the very real projects work to fulfill their role as hood. They buy clothes they think will allow them to fit in, listen to music that will allow them to fit in, etc. And of course, even people who live in Williamsburg or Montreal (note: I think that you must be a beautiful hipster to live in Montreal, they won’t let you in otherwise, maybe as a tourist, but jesus, the most beautiful, put-together people I’ve ever seen in one place!) have to buy clothes that will allow them to fit in, find the most indie music to give them their music cred, be vegan to a pained fault, etc.

All this being said, I’ll admit again: part of this critique comes from a place of jealousy. Even to affect hipster or hood is to find instant community, instant acceptance. Even if it comes from a space of insecurity, at least they find acceptance. Probably, this doesn’t even make sense. Probably, I should just get back to work now.

One last thing: I propose to get rid of the term hipster altogether. Let’s resurrect the dandy!

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