I fancy myself open-minded and easygoing, which is why I was disturbed at my behavior last week when a pair of cyclists, riding side-by-side, blocked a lane of traffic and slowed my car to a speed that fell between trotting and brisk skipping. I laid on the horn, something I normally wouldn’t do, while my passenger, a generally subdued gentlemen and an avid cyclist himself, yelled at them to get out of the way.
It was only the next day that I realized the reason for my aggressive behavior. I was annoyed with these two because they were grown men wearing cut-off skinny jeans, espadrilles, fedoras (instead of bicycle helmets), and - I’m guessing - T-shirts that were dripping with irony, most likely sporting an iron-on transfer of Natalie from “The Facts of Life.’’
In other words, they were hipsters.
Even if you haven’t heard the term hipster (perhaps your last name is Van Winkle and you’ve been napping comfortably for a few years), it is a subculture that has been well-documented, but lately has faced an increasing amount of scorn. Mocking hipsters has become a national sport, and it looks like I’ve finally found a sport that I’m interested in following.
Hipster culture involves a certain degree of smugness, along with required material goods including a wardrobe of Kanye West sunglasses, American Apparel leggings, and fertility-challenging skinny jeans. So it’s with a particular amount of glee that the anti-hipster movement has blossomed. The idea of mocking hipsters started six years ago when Robert Lanham penned “The Hipster Handbook,’’ in which he offered insightful clues to help readers determine if they were hipsters, such as: “Your hair looks best unwashed, and you position your head on the pillow at night in a way that will really maximize your cowlicks’’; “You have one Republican friend whom you always describe as being your ‘one Republican friend’ ’’; and “You carry a shoulder strap messenger bag and have at one time or another worn horn-rimmed or Elvis Costello-style glasses.’’
“I think if you asked me in 2003 if hipster subculture would still be around in 2009, I would have said no,’’ says Lanham from his home in New York, otherwise known as hipster ground zero. “But now I think the hipster is an enduring new archetype. Kind of like the hippie was. They go in and out of fashion, but I think we’re stuck with the hipster.’’
The good-natured hipster ribbing of yore became increasingly malicious in recent months. This spring, a website, Look at This [Expletive] Hipster, took off and will soon become a book. It’s author, comedian Joe Mande, sent me an e-mail explaining that he has taken a hipster vow of silence until the book is released. The site has gained notoriety thanks in part to reader-submitted photos paired with riotously funny captions. My favorite shows a man in a purple hoodie sitting with his laptop at a picnic table. The caption reads: “Hey, can you grab me a tofu dog? I’m kind of busy live-blogging this picnic.’’
The hipster backlash is particularly vicious in New York, where entire hamlets have become overrun with Urban Outfitted kids ironically dressed as Zack Morris and listening to Grizzly Bear on their iPods while sipping cups of fair trade coffee. Closer to home, the hipster phenomenon is more like the pigeon problem in Central Square: Eventually you stop noticing them unless a flock surrounds you.
The question, of course, is why are people suddenly turning nasty on these gentle, vegan, bike-riding kids in the Johnny Cupcakes T-shirts, suspenders, and vintage L.A. Gear high-tops? It’s the same reason why my hair is going prematurely gray and boomers will be working full-time to age 75 - the economy. Back in the capricious days of Fantasia Barrino and “Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights,’’ people didn’t mind these ironic Peter Pans extending their youth by leeching off their parents and gentrifying entire neighborhoods. Now, their antics seem, well, annoying. And this comes from a man who used to cram himself into skinny jeans until a friend gently told him that his legs looked like sticks of celery.
“Think of it as hipster fatigue,’’ Lanham says in a genial yet defeated tone. “A lot of people thought it would have its heyday and go away. But now it seems we’ll need to learn to live with the hipsters.’’
Christopher Muther can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.