On Williamsburg

I’ve been meaning to organize my thoughts on this topic for a few weeks now (for anyone reading this that doesn’t already know, yes, I’m back in New York), but I’ve been devoting entirely too much time to playing Scrabble on Facebook with Shelley.

My first venture into Williamsburg was to find some guitar shops[1] I’d read about. I’d heard a great deal about the area as a haven for indie rock hipsters (which is to say, I watched this), and after finding my way around Bedford Street’s book vendors and amazing record store[2], I was actually impressed to find a neighborhood apparently dedicated to things I like. Admittedly my evaluation was surface-level, as I didn’t actually interact with any of the region’s denizens. I did not “make the scene” as the youngsters no longer say.

From the long view, Williamsburg seems to be a rather nifty enclave populated almost entirely by people in clever t-shirts. What’s not to like? Bars full of twentysomethings, a park full of kickball enthusiasts…books, records, guitars. I felt like the Bee Girl at the end of the Blind Melon video.

However, I have a tendency to see the best in any given person or situation. I often miss people’s flaws. Or at least I don’t see anything worth complaining about. It’s entirely likely that the average Williamsburg citizen is as shallow and status-seeking as the Manhattan social climbers of the capital S society set so well documented by Clay Felker’s New York magazine. If that’s the case, then it’s just another flight in the spiral staircase of irony that hipsters invariably construct. In attempting (or at least appearing to attempt) to opt out of fashion by shopping at thrift stores, and to opt out of popular music by listening exclusively to self-consciously unpopular music[3], indie rockers paint themselves into a cultural corner: can any lifestyle founded on obscurism authentically grow? If so, would it not be populated entirely by mutants?

At some point, inauthentic aping is inherent in the growth of any subculture. I’m reminded again of that quotation from Eric Hoffer that says that every cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and degenerates into a racket. Clearly indie rock hipsters have been a business for some time now. You can buy ironic thrift store knockoff t-shirts for $30 at Park Plaza Mall in Little Rock, and CBGB t-shirts at Hot Topic. The racket period has apparently set in now that you can buy those same knockoff shirts at Goodwill in Williamsburg for $2. If irony were gravitational, Williamsburg would be a Black Hole.

Still, the frosted side for the kid in me stops and says, “quit thinking.” Maybe it’s OK to enjoy this cast of Fellini-esque characters in studiously ratty tight jeans. Clearly I’ve joined them to some degree. I like odd t-shirts, Pabst, Chuck Taylors, and I carry an army surplus satchel, but I draw the line at tight jeans, ironic moustaches, stubble and Parliament Lights. I also listen to Winger unironically[4]. Thus I have no credibility in anyone’s eyes, really, but my own. But mine are the only ones that matter to me.

1.) One of which recently sold me my new Les Paul.
2.) Where I bought a great CD of orchestral music from the Seattle World’s Fair.
3.) And becoming insufferable critics of anything on a major label, while promoting an endless series of crummy bands like so many Emperors with No Clothes who become just as disposable as anything Top 40. The constant search for the Next Hippest Band Ever That You’re Not Cool Enough to Know About invariably breeds the same cycle of disposability as the pursuit of the Next Hottest Bland Pop Star. When Vampire Weekend’s 2nd album comes out, will anyone care?
4.) Perhaps the next stop on the Circus of Irony tour is the legitimization of 80’s metal, but I doubt it. Posers built on irony can’t accept posers built on hairspray. They’d have to stop taking themselves seriously to do it.

One thought on “On Williamsburg”

  1. good post! i always found it odd/hypocritical that most hipsters (i met, anyway) were quite anti-consumerist/anti-corporation, but most smoked cigarettes. never made a lick of sense to me….

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