File this under: essays no one would publish that I still think are genius!
In the summer of 2003, I was in between my freshman and sophomore years of college, living in a dorm near Union Square and mostly forwarding the calls from my internship at a hugely popular television show to my cell phone so I could spend the day watching skateboarders do tricks in the park and eating Tasi-D-Lite. A friend––I won’t name her, because I’d be throwing her under the bus alongside myself––planned for us to trek out to Williamsburg, which was then being touted as the untapped cool neighborhood. Here’s the part where I out myself: we both owned a novelty book called The Hipster Handbook, and proclaimed that by summer’s end, we, too, would be hipsters. One bright Sunday, we took the L out to Bedford Avenue, got out, and strolled around. We found naught but three shuffling Satmars, ugly, squat buildings, a Hispanic deli, and four slim, pale dudes sporting little glasses and sneers and hawking iced coffee. We stayed for about 45 minutes, then got bored and went back to Manhattan.
Fast-forward ten years to today, at which point it seems obvious that the hipster isn’t going anywhere. It’s not even fun to kvetch about hipsters anymore; that got old around 2010, after a bevvy of writers in publications from the Utne Reader to New York to Rolling Stone weighed in on how annoying and pretentious these American-Spirits-smoking, Grizzly-Bear-loving snarky motherf*^)ers were. What is interesting, however, is examining the definition of hipster and how it has changed over the years. The characterization has gone, to simplify, from vague to vaguer. In 2010, we all knew that hipster-ism had something to do with disaffection, cheap beer, and the most populous of the outer boroughs, but that was as close to a strict definition one could get. Now, in 2013, we are even further from the comprehensive delineation of hipster than we were three years ago. Sustainable foodie culture, DIY-ism and Mommy Blogging have all been integrated into hipster culture the way that flour is folded into organic cake batter. Now, if you live in Brooklyn and are under 40 (or appear to be) you are a hipster. That is, people believe you to be a hipster if you possess those two criteria, despite your penchant for baggy jeans over skinny, and being labeled a hipster by others is one surefire sign that you are a hipster. (Denying you’re a hipster is another.) Whereas I, for example, would not have qualified as a hipster when I was in college ten years ago, technically now I am diagnosable, despite some very un-hip aspects to my personality (examples include being facially animated, loathing indie rock and not really caring when someone assumes I am a hipster.)
In the beginning, G-d created Adam, and Adam was a human. When Eve was fashioned, then we had to use a folk taxonomy to distinguish between types of humans: man, and woman. Soon, there were many tribes, and then it was important to differentiate the descendents of Shem, Ham, Noah, and Japheth (a hipster name if I ever saw one.) Like then, we now find ourselves in a position where we have to classify species of hipsters within the already-defined genus. These species include but are not limited to the following:
Fripsters: hybrid of frat boy and hipster. Tend to enjoy craft beers, smoked meat, and consuming said at bars where at least one television is playing a sporting event
Yupsters: hybrid of yuppie and hipster (Some use yipster, but I use it only as the diminutive––a tiny yupster.) Gravitate toward the most-buzzed about locavore restaurant in Bushwick, make six figures working at corporate law firms.
Hipburbans: Former Brooklynites who have relocated to Beacon, Newburgh, or similar Hudson Valley towns to restore old houses and brew barley wine.
Hip-Hopster: Favors over-sized glasses, kitsch fake gold and old school hip-hop.
But there is one type of hipster that has not been given its appellative due. Ladies and gentlemen, may I (and Dov Charney) present to you the hipsid (alternate spellings: chipsid, chipssid, hipssid.) You see these hipsids all throughout your familiar hipster Brooklyn haunts: biking in Prospect Park with tzizit swaying in the breeze, drinking beer at Franklin Park on a shidduch date, ornoshing on gourmet pizza at Basil Restaurant (featured in the Times!) They tend to live on the Prospect Heights/Crown Heights border, so as to be within walking distance of the Franklin Avenue bar scene and Ahavas Yisroel. They make funny viral videos about facial hair, write tznius fashion blogs, organize skirt swaps, cook elaborate meals with herbs grown in their garden, and clear out warehouses to launch impromptu art exhibitions. But while the hipsid is into alternative music (preferably live), ironically bright footwear, and organic foodie-ism, unlike his lawless counterpart, the hipsid will only indulge in halachically-sound versions of these things. Whereas a hipster will listen to indie rock (or whatever it is they/we like) regardless of the performer’s gender, a hipsid dude will make sure the singer isn’t a lady, citing the doctrine of kol isha. The female hipsid will decorate herself with colorful bangles or a pop of print, but she certainly won’t bare tattooed shoulders by donning baby doll dresses, or wear pants, let alone ones that are strategically torn. Like hipsters, hipsids flout some rules, but cling fast to other symbols of conformity and tradition. When I saw the all-female Bulletproof Stockings perform, for example, the audience was made up solely of chicks, but the band’s drummer wore bright crimson lipstick, despite the fact that the color red is generally not so kosher in the Hasidic world. And while the streets of hipsters Williamsburg are jam-packed on Friday nights with kids lighting cigarettes and spliffs on street corners, the hipsid remains at home, around a different type of lit monument to separation and specialness.
Writers and cultural pundits have, for a while, danced around the idea of the hipsid, but most have noted the humorous disparity between the two groups, rather than recognizing that in fact an entirely new hybrid was being born, not through cross-fertilization but rather a process that involves gentrification, cultural globalization, and the calculated growth of the Chabad Lubavitch movement, which likely seduces more hipsters toward Judaism than any other institution. Back in 2008, writer Alyssa Pinsker published an article in the New York Press about dating a “Hipster Hassid.” She described the hipsid scene perfectly––at a concert, the revelers included “everyone from jappy trustafarians to drunk Hassids in yarmulkes”––but didn’t give the movement a name. More recently, Sara Trappler Spielman invited us to “Meet the New Baal Teshuvah Artists of Brooklyn” via her article in Tablet Magazine, but this wasn’t an overview of hipsid culture (nor, to be fair, did she peg it that way) because many hipsids are cool-ifying themselves by moving off the path rather than closer toward it. (The not-so-secret secret Thursday night gathering Chulent, for example, is a hub of hipsid-dom, and a lot of regulars there are refugees from more stringent forms of observance.) The closest anyone has come to naming this group is when the well-known blog Hipster or Hassid? twice called men whose portraits they featured “chipsters,” which would have been excellent had they been implying we pronounce it gutturally, but I fear that term has already been taken.
Now that we have classified and recognized the hipsid, you may ask yourself: so what? What is the point of this ethnography? I must confess that it has little to do with making a contribution to the anthropological world and more with my own ego. You see, I love hipsids. I attend their art shows, follow their blogs and eat their homemade almond-parsley hummus. They’re like hipsters, only friendlier and more Torah-literate. I want to be forever bound to them. Years from now, freshman anthropology students will be writing shitty papers on the sub-populations of New York City, and they will be forced to cite me as the first demographer of hipsids. Isn’t all announcement of discovery, in some sense, a claim to ownership? Like HaShem declared to Jacob, I say to the hipsid, “I have called you by name, you are mine.” (Oy, I’ve lost control of my metaphor.)
World, meet Hipsid. Hipsid, World. I have the feeling this is the start of a beautiful relationship.