January 2, 2012

The Hipster Dilemma

My whole world opened up yesterday. I finally learned the "new" meaning of the word "hipster..." I think.

"Hipster" is one of those vague slang words that could mean any number of things. Usually I don't care too much about the true meaning of a slang term (I say "true" loosely). I just hear new phrases, sometimes adopt them for my own and then throw them around for my own amusement.

This usually works for me--except that one time in 6th grade when I went around my classroom with a tea cup hook, hooking people's jean belt loops and crying out, "I'm a hooker!" to gales of classroom laughter. The more the class laughed, the more I did it. Mrs. Stanton, 6th grade teacher and understander of the term "hooker," put a quick and hard end to my fun.

I have since learned to be more discerning in my use of new, hip, urban vernacular...at least that which is new to me...and my days of hooking are over. But, in general, I still lean at least a little on the fast and loose side: if the words aren't filthy or gang terms that might get me beat up in a mall parking lot, well, they are fair game. Until recently.

Something has been really bugging me about this newish word, "hipster." Upon first hearing it a few years ago, it had the usual vauge charm and a lack of potentially ensuing violence required for my personal use, but I just couldn't throw it around.

My 18 and 20 year old sons were saying it, and I heard it from younger friends, but it was just too mysterious to use. For me, it would conjur up images of Austin Powers and the 60's swinging single crowd, or even actual jeans that fit on the hips, but these definitions didn't fit the contexts I was hearing it in. It was always used, well, sarcastically, as if it were a sort of insult. It was hardly a natural retort to someone's casual description of their Old Navy's.

Enter Nicole.

She is my twenty something, cool, young friend in the know. She has her intellectual finger on the pulse of all things urban, fresh, socially new, young and colloquial. Nicole is one of those people with not only a commanding knowledge of all things social, but one with an uncanny ability to read situations and people with freakish accuracy. In short, she should probably be a lawyer...or one to start a social revolution for the greater good. Whether she uses her powers for good or evil was never my concern. She is my avatar, my social guide to all things current. And she enlightened me yesterday like no other day.

We work together in the same dental office and yesterday we were cleaning instruments together and popping them into the sterilizer like some great sanitizing oven and I said, quite out of the blue, "Nicole, I saw this Youtube video yesterday. I was looking for the 'Vancouvria' video, which was hilarious, but then I saw this other one that caught my attention." I felt sheepish. I was either about to be so right or embarrassingly wrong.

She waited for me to go on. She stopped stuffing the sterilizer and put down a stainless steel cassette wrapped in blue paper. The instruments clinked inside.

She just looked at me. Crap. There was that reading people thing again.

"It was called, 'Confessions of a Hipster.' And it was really funny, I think." I felt unsure if I should laugh at it.

"Oh?" She was sort of smiling. Of course, she knew where this was going. She probably assumed that at my age, I had stopped learning new slang after "radical" and "awesome." She might have been right.

"Yeah. You know, I always thought of a hipster like Austin Powers, you know? Like a swinging single. But it's more like someone who thinks they are intellectually superior, isn't it?"

Nicole's smile broadened. She was reading my mind and she knew she was about to blow it apart. "You didn't know that?" Bigger smile--she was proud of me, I could tell. "Yeah that's like those people you know who talk about things they know you don't know enough of to respond or engage. And if you try, they just talk over you. I have friends like that." She went on, "I say, 'hey, I heard this great new band!' and they say, 'that is so over! Now it's this other band!' They work really hard at being able to show off."

Not just one light bulb went on over my head, but 10,000 gleaming beacons. I had just been given a category for the people I never previously had the words to describe.

I thought of a friend I saw recently at a party who exclaimed, "You know, I used to think, now why would anyone waste their time reading fiction, you know?" when someone brought up how much they liked their book club. She said it in a tone that said, "I am trying to make this sound like many of you will agree with me, but secretly I know that you will all instead really be feeling stupid for reading Little House on the Prairie and Harry Potter, and I will be the intellectual superior. Round one: me." She's a hipster!

I mentioned to another friend once that I enjoyed my church and she not only tsk tsk'd the idea, but gave me a Dark Ages lecture on the church followed by a very long story about how Christianity rose out of eastern Europe with the Zoroastrians and didn't I know how convoluted, yet quaint it all was? It was sooooo manmade. She is one who pulls out very specific information on classes from college that she knows you have not taken and talks louder and faster over you until you stop trying to respond and sit silently. She sits back, thinking she has outdone you. Round two? The hipster.

These thoughts all flew through my mind as I talked to Nicole that fateful day of sterilization in the dental office. How freeing. I used the word at least 6 times that day, thinking of sketch comedy from Portlandia that now had even funnier content. I wanted to run home and rewatch every episode. I thought of example after example in my own life...and how these people have been around for some time.

They are not usually the true nerdy folks (though they are certainly not exempt from the temptation to rule the world, or at least the conversation), no. The true hipsters are the ones who simply proclaim they are nerdy and oh, so proud of it. In short, they talk the talk, but don't walk the nerdy walk. Really, they are the overeducated--even if on the asinine--the socially too-aware and perhaps even the intellectually vain among us who seek to overpower others with information that makes no sense or that most of us do not use.

So the next time I am tempted to announce to my friends that I got a scalene triangle tattoo because equilateral triangle tattoos are simply not chaotic enough, I will think twice. About getting the tattoo in the first place.

Everyone knows that isosceles are the way to go. Two equal angles with only one odd man out are just enough chaos to maintain singularity. That makes me more ironic.

Doesn't it?

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