Jim Dowd and The Why Gloucester Is Hipster (and that’s not a bad thing) Rant
Jim Dowd submits-
I want to talk about an ugly word in the English language that’s come back into common usage. It’s a word that ends in “er” and is thrown around as a blanket descriptor to disparage a specific population of people. Usually it’s spat out of a passing car window or muttered under the breath as it becomes noticeable this group has taken over a favorite café or bar.
You hear it out for a beer with your once-cool uncle, the guy who dropped out of college in the seventies to follow The Grateful Dead. You assume he’s a tolerant dude, but as it turns out, oh no. He leans over to you and snarls through his Sam Adams, “Can you believe all the fukin’ hipsters in this place?”
Yes, I’m taking on the pejorative overuse of the word “hipster” which many of us knew before it got popular. For years it was a way to explain places like Brooklyn, Seattle, even our own Davis Square in Somerville. It described cities with large numbers of young people; places with organic art and music scenes and certain cultural touchstones like independent theatres, small coffee shops and used book and record stores. Those are the things that make a place “hipsterish” or as I call it “worth bothering to live in.”
But increasingly of late I hear more and more people hating on the actual members of this rather large and ill-defined sub-group, the hipsters themselves. They bash the hipsters’ choice of jeans (skinny) hipster’s facial hair (moustaches or beards) and the hipsters’ preferred form of transportation (fixed-gear bikes or “fixies”). It’s kind of relentless and a little bit lame considering many of us participated in the fashion apocalypses of the 70s and 80s. Hypocrisy aside, I’m not suggesting we avoid clowning hipsters because of some dumbass PC thing. The reason we can’t bash hipsters is, as the hipsters say, “Because Gloucester”.
Seriously gang, we are in no position to down hipsters seeing as Gloucester very simply is the most hipster town that’s ever existed on the face of the Earth. We make Portland Oregon look like frigging Wenham. Gloucester is so hipster we should have a giant fedora lowered onto the City Hall tower. So hipster that someone here driving a K-car wearing a silkscreened wolf sweatshirt with giant 80’s glasses ISN’T TRYING TO BE HISPTER. Let’s examine further, shall we?
Dive bars? Check. Thriving arts community? Check. Music scene that’s more than just a bunch of old dudes with ponytails playing three chord cover songs in lame bars? Check. Vintage vinyl outlet, bike shop, Thai food, sushi, indie bookstore, organic grocery, farmers’ market, coffee shops and other key elements of hiprfrastructure ? All check. Unapologetically gritty? Big fat checkity-check-check.
But most importantly the things that hipsters celebrate, the retro-style cultural items of the 70s and 80s never actually went away in Gloucester. Moustaches, for instance. We still got ‘em, unironically huge ones proudly sported by awesome Italian guys. Beat-up old cars and trucks from that era are still “in vogue” here; if “vogue” were translated to mean “I am keeping this POS running one more year, but only as an on-island.” Beyond appearances, for 400 years we’ve been a kind of “anything goes” culture. Everyone has permission to be a little nuts and oddballs of all stripes suffer no consequences. Far from it, being a whack job can be a badge of honor in “America’s Oddest Seaport”
Scroll up and down. A solid chunk of the stuff that gets celebrated on GMG is crazy-totes hipster. Photography, art, food, film, poetry and literature all = hipster. And I shouldn’t even need to point out that adults playing dodgeball in the winter is only slightly less hipster than donning a vest and joining Mumford and Sons as a back-up banjoist. You couldn’t invent a more hipster place if you tried, from historical art colony to ethnic identity to the fact that our key export is fishsticks, unarguably the most ironic food item ever produced.
“But what about the annoying skinny pants and the fixed-gear bikes?” In response to that complaint all I can ask is: Yell at clouds much? Because being vexed at other people’s fashion choices in no way makes you seem like the kind of person who would shout gibberish at the sky while shaking a cane, really.
The next criticism leveled at hipsters stems from the hallmark hipster “sarcastic and ironic attitude”. Look, every conference I go to for work is chock full of top strategists and analysts from business, science and the military. On the first slide of the presentations they give, we attendees are always informed that none of the old rules apply in the 21st century. They tell us that we simply don’t know what the new rules are yet. I won’t go off on a rail here, but young people already know this. They can tell that we, the responsible people who are supposedly running things, in fact have no fucking clue how to solve our problems when we even admit we have them. Irony and sarcasm then would therefore be what are called “emergent” properties.
I would further argue that the distinctly ironic bent to the hipster worldview is an entirely logical response to knowing they are being fed consistently incorrect and skewed information from the culture-at-large. Take a cold, hard look at the outdated assumptions we ask people to accept about everything from government to religion, from finances to the supposed benefits of consumer culture. Then look at the outcomes we’re experiencing. Sort of makes you want to drink cheap beer and listen to Death Cab, right?
But sarcastic or not, Gloucester fans and especially GMG readers should pray for a never-ending supply of Yo La Tengo-listening, four-barrel-espresso drinking tat-sleeved hipsters of the first order. If you love this town and what it represents you should get your ass down to Coolidge Corner and lay a trail of PBR tall boys and packs of American Sprit back here like a secret hobo trail. You know why? Because hipsters actually buy art. They spend seven bucks on coffee. The frequent both microbreweries and dive bars. They’re foodies but at the same time eat from taco trucks. Hipsters rent bikes, go to poetry readings and don’t get all pissy about a bunch of rotting fishing gear piled up on the waterfront. They instead post Instagrams of this gear with the caption “Spending a day at the seaside”.
For every groovy restaurant that cannot survive on locals alone the answer is some flavor of visiting hipster. Locals can only buy so many objects d’art, can support only so many coffeehouses and will attend only a set number of photo exhibitions. If we want to move toward a creative economy we have no choice but importing cultural consumers. Look at what hipsters have done for the emerging scenes in Salem and Beverly. Both are getting hipper, you can see previously broken down neighborhoods sporting new cafes and shops because instead of going to malls hipsters seek authentic local culture. We can argue about the cod population off the coast, but a land-based resource Gloucester still maintains in huge stocks is persons of authentic indigenous “color”, just read the police notes. We need to start capitalizing on it.
“Isn’t this gentrification?” No. It’s not gentrification. Gentrification is townhouses, Starbucks, lame chain restaurants like “Not Your Average Joe’s” (correction: It is) and dudes in khakis that list the primary attribute they look for in a city as “abundant parking.” Hipsters don’t mind the rough edges and Gloucester has plenty. If you harbor an unreasonable hate for bikes, art-school-dropout-glasses and anachronistic hairstyles, tolerating them will be a small price to pay for visitors who’ll come downtown and spend eighty bucks on coffee, pie and locally made/vintage consumer goods. That money stays in town.
In closing, I’ll relate a discussion I had with my Irish cousin Chris about the then thriving city of Dublin. I was complimenting him about what an amazing job they had done keeping a heavy Victorian feel while so many other European cities were modernist dullscapes of concrete and glass, completely lacking in character of any kind (I used to go to Frankfurt a lot). He looked at me like I was some kind of moron and said, “Well it wasn’t some kind of preservationist council at work, James. We were fekin’ poor.”
Gloucester is not poor, nor rich nor is it anything easily definable. But like Dublin one way or another we held onto our undeniably authentic selves while so many other places became emblanded. Therefore we should heartily embrace those who put the most value on us as we are today, not as how we would be if we…(insert pet project).
So though it’s not a mainstream thing to do, as a start I’m asking you that the next time someone with tattoos from out of town is taking pictures with an instamatic camera of the same kind you threw out of your mother’s attic twenty years ago, don’t sneer and pretend you’re some kind of “normal” person who isn’t “weird”. Instead go up and say, “Thank you”. You probably have more in common with them than you realize.
Because, to somebody, you my friend are a fukin’ hipster.