Atlantic Cities

The Non-Evolution of The New York Times #HipsterRead

The Non-Evolution of The New York Times #HipsterRead
nytimes.com

This week, The New York Times updated its astonishingly exhaustive hipster canon – this time, a middle-aged reporter embeds in Brooklyn, camouflaged in a $225 plaid jacquard shirt! – with a 2,000-word Henry Alford story and multimedia gallery most enjoyable for the magnificent correction that was promptly appended:

An earlier version of this article referred incorrectly to the products sold at By Brooklyn. The store does not sell dandelion and burdock soda, lovage soda syrup, and Early Bird granola “gathered in Brooklyn.”

Alford's piece is, at minimum, an amusing read in a schadenfreude kind of way (skip to the best part on Page 3, when he visits a used bookstore that barters books for wine and tea... and offers in exchange for whatever they'll give him a collection of Ronald Reagan speeches, a book from 1993 on the health care crisis, and another on comedy in the Third Reich). As with most hipster reportage, we're torn between mocking the author's amazement at the characters he encounters and mocking those characters themselves.

But the frame for this story – a classic of The New York Times hipster genre – is beyond bewildering. "O, bohemia!" Alford writes. "There are several ways to react to a culture quake." You can gawk at it from a distance. You can put it on a pedestal. Or, as Alford chooses, you can go all-in with a table in a $69 Knife Skills class. The hitch, of course, is that the Times has been reacting to this "culture quake" for a solid decade now.

To conduct our own counter-anthropology, we thought we'd foray into the newspaper's archives with the same wide-eyed wonder as its Style writers venturing into Williamsburg (warning: we're doing this so you don't have to; it is virtually impossible to truly acquaint yourself with the Times' full complement of hipster coverage before the paywall kicks in).

A quick search of the word "hipster" in the Times online archives turns up 16,600 results. We also tried narrowing that universe to include "beard" (398 results), "tattoo" (421), and "grass-fed" (46). We thought we might discover something about the evolution of the Times' approach to its favorite counterculture. But, in fact, the evolution has really been no evolution at all, so much as the perpetual rehashing of the same non-angles with an ever-renewed sense of awe.

Consider, for instance, this 2012 story about summering hipsters overrunning Montauk:

While this all began several years ago, this summer has seen a considerable, if anecdotal, spike in visitors, and there is a growing sense the town is hitting a tipping point.

And this story from just the year before about summering hipsters overrunning the Rockaways:

Over the last few summers, this sandy and pockmarked peninsula has become an unlikely hangout for young, artsy types who make their home in Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan. Arriving by single-gear bicycle, Zipcar and the occasional skateboard, they’ve turned the once- neglected beach community into an anti-Hamptons, where polo games and Champagne galas have been replaced by bungalow barbecues and piña coladas at old Irish pubs. “The boardwalk is the new Bedford Avenue,” said Mr. Kaye, 34, referring to the cafe-clogged commercial spine of Williamsburg.

Here, from February of this year, we have hipsters colonizing the suburbs along the Hudson River (the "we'll-never-leave-Brooklyn" types actually do!):

You no longer have to take the L train to experience this slice of cosmopolitan bohemia. Instead, you’ll find it along the Metro-North Railroad, roughly 25 miles north of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in the suburb of Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y.

Two years prior, The Times published a story headlined "Williamsburg on the Hudson" about the very same discovery:

Call it the Brooklynization of the Hudson Valley, the steady hipness creep with its locavore cuisine, its Williamsburgian bars, its Gyrotonic exercise, feng shui consultants and deep clay art therapy and, most of all, its recent arrivals from New York City.

As far back as 2004, we have yet more doleful stories about the end of the party in Williamsburg as its hipsters grow up and move out:

Todd Fatjo has moved out, and Williamsburg may never be the same.

New York neighborhoods do not announce their sea changes. There is no news release or banner draped across the street. Sometimes there is just a certain guy, and a thing that guy does, and before you know it the neighborhood has made one of those subtle shifts, the sort that keep New York City fascinating.

Meet the hipster beard, in 2004, in its very first summer in the city:

On the streets of the city’s hipster-heavy neighborhoods, trends usually have a shelf life similar to that of sushi. But one fad has lingered for months. That would be the beard, which began sprouting on the faces of many an indie rocker and indie rock fan toward the end of last year. The trend reached a tipping point in the spring, at which time Urbandictionary.com defined a “Riker” (named for a character on “Star Trek”) as “a Williamsburg or Lower East Side hipster with a beard.”

And here that same beard pops up again as a novel phenomenon in the year 2012:

NOT since Walt Whitman edited The Brooklyn Daily Eagle has the borough’s beard-to-man ratio been this high.

Whether it’s the artisanal food movement, which has young men looking like turn-of-the-last-century farmers, or the heritage fashion look, which has them dressing like they’re on a deer hunt, the common signifier is a mountain-man beard. Soon men won’t be allowed into the Brooklyn Flea or on the L train without at least three days’ stubble.

We do give the Times credit for a a handful of angles so original we don't believe they've ever been replicated:

In 2003, they city's interns were starting to look like hipsters!

In 2005, hipsters went nuts for Hanukkah!

In 2007, their ranks began to swell to include... librarians!

By 2009, in addition to beards, hipsters were starting to grow barely perceptible potbellies!

In 2012, Mao became a hipster icon. So did Martha Stewart.

Finally, last May, some hipsters started getting awkwardly old to the point where they were in danger of falling off of skateboards and hurting themselves.

As best as we can tell, this whole obsession began in the early 2000s, before which, most of the mentions of hipsters in the newspaper's archives came in the obituaries of hipsters of another era. Since then, we're not sure all of this accumulated hipster content adds up to a very interesting picture (hipsters refuse to leave Brooklyn, unless they do, for the suburbs, or the summer, at which point they will wear their beards to other places where they will also hope to find craft beer).

But, then again, maybe we've brought this on ourselves, we who are apparently addicted to derision. As of this writing, the most emailed story in the last two days from The New York Times homepage? "How I Became a Hipster."

Emily Badger is a former staff writer at The Atlantic Cities based in Washington, D.C. She now writes for The Washington Post. All posts »

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