Department of Rhetoric and Writing

The University of Texas at Austin

If the Hipsters Don’t Die, the Dive Bar WIll

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I would wager that any statement I might make maligning the seemingly-growing group of people known as Hipsters would be met with nearly unanimous approbation.  Which works out well for my present purposes, as I’d like to state from the outset that I cannot stand Hipsters.  I’ve spent lots of time trying to figure out what it is about this group of people that could evoke such an impassioned response in an otherwise even-keeled individual.

And while a commentary on a group of people of any sort would come with a caveat that you are speaking generally, and that there are, of course, many exceptions to these stereotypes, I don’t think such a caveat is necessary- or even appropriate- when talking about the Hipster.  If there were a club restricted to individuals who always wore blue shirts, you wouldn’t be making an unfair overgeneralization by saying that everyone in that club wears blue shirts, right?  In other words, the Hipster defines his/herself by embracing the external trappings of a Hipster.  Hipsters have no soul or inherent being, they are simply the sum total of the Hipster activities and artifacts that they embrace and appropriate.

Normally, this Hipster nonsense is no big deal to me.  I mean, I get a little bummed out when I see some dude wearing a wool hat when it’s in the 90s because he thinks it completes the Hipster ensemble.  And I feel more pity than contempt when I see the gut of a guy in his mid-30s wearing an ironic Girl Scout t-shirt and talking about how there haven’t been any good bands since Joy Division.  If they care enough about their outward appearance to spend copious time making it look like they couldn’t care less about their outward appearance, that’s fine by me.  Every minute that Tristan spends trying to pick out the appropriately ironic cigarette holder is another minute that I don’t have to worry about him treating me like a superficial conformist while he makes my latte (for the moment, we’ll table the irony implicit in a guy who spent 30 minutes assembling his ensemble in order to look like every other Hipster treating someone else as a mindless drone simply because they tucked their shirt in).

But, like I said, I’ve never really been terribly bothered by the guy on the single-gear bike with the huge beard and resale-shop clothes.  They’re just searching for something, anything, that will make them feel like they have more to them than what they can see under their skinny jeans and 80s halter.  In other words, this culture defined by the appropriation of other cultures has always seemed more lame than harmful.

Until they decided to mess with my bars.

Personally, I’ve never felt particularly comfortable at the “classy” bars that my contemporaries frequent.  I prefer cans of beer to $7.00 cocktails with things like orange zest as an ingredient.  I’ve never had a romantic relationship that began in a bar end well, so the groups of attractive girls looking for guys to flirt with and pilfer drinks from doesn’t really compel me to frequent such places, either.  Never mind the fact that I’d generally rather wear what I happen to have on when I go out, rather than spend time engaged in a one-man wardrobe consult.

I’ve found a pleasant alternative to these places in the form of what would generally be referred to as a dive bar.

Let’s talk about the term “dive bar.”  For some, the term conjures up images of heath code nightmares wherein a sideways glance at the wrong person means a shiv to the ribs.  And, of course, such places are easy enough to find, and I suppose it be appropriate to place them in the “dive bar” category.  But those places are far from typical.  A dive bar is simply a pretension-free space where people are free to socialize (most dive bars can also be characterized by a group of hard-drinking regulars), or to sit alone at the bar without anybody bothering them or assuming the worst of them for being in a bar by themselves.  The clientele is predominantly male (as it tends to be at drinking establishments of all stripes).  Women who do come to such places can expect to be approached and hit on, but they can also generally tell a would-be suitor to go shove their proffered beer where the sun doesn’t shine, and they’ll be left alone from there.  These bars generally aren’t destination bars, they’re just around the corner from your place.  If your taking a taxi to a place that touts itself as a dive bar, you’re not going to a dive bar.

Are the men’s rooms less-than-savory?  Absolutely.  Are the laws regulating smoking indoors enforced on a selective basis?  Probably.  Are there a group of regulars making all kinds of noise and cussing a blue streak over at the pool table, not acknowledging your presence one way or the other?  I’d have to answer in the affirmative.  Is it possible that the gal behind the bar might not greet you with an ear-to-ear fake smile the first time you come in the joint?  You bet.  

But are those rowdy dudes going to call you by your name to come share their pitcher after you’ve spent a few evenings at the place.  It’s a sure bet.  Is that same bartender going to greet you with a sincere smile with your drink in hand before you have a chance to order it once you’ve been there a few times and demonstrated that you’re a normal human being on the same page as everybody else in the place.  You better believe it.  The true dive bar is no-frills and judgment-free.  It is unapologetic in its “diveness.”  If you want cleaner bathrooms, there are plenty of places in town that can accommodate you.  There is no pretension; what you see is what you get.  It is for all of these reasons that I feel so comfortable at most dive bars; it seems as though they’re one of the last remaining traces of authenticity in the culture in which we presently find ourselves.

It is also for all of these reasons that the Hipster invasion of such bars is so…distressing [I’m presently working hard to hold back the string of expletives that this subject makes me want to yell].  Hipsters are everything that a dive bar is not.  They lack substance and exude pretension.  Here’s the real rub: when a group of Hipsters minces into a dive bar, it’s not to “join the party.”  Instead, they see it as a chance to wallow with the unwashed masses.  They think it’s “quaint” that people could be so simple in their living that they would spend a Sunday afternoon watching a silly game of football.  They sip ironically at their PBR’s and survey the scene from an elevated distance, real cultural anthropologists “getting their hands dirty.”

Next week, they’ll come back with more of their Parliament-smoking friends, seeking their biggest appropriation of all.  They want the dive bar to be added to the list of external things of which their existence consists.  The dive bar has all of the true, unforced authenticity that they Hipsters try so hard to recreate (and, ironically, destroy in the process).

So, what’s a dive bar to do?  If it abides by its general modus operandi and treats the Hipsters just like anybody else, will it just be a matter of time before its soul is eviscerated by those who have no soul of their own?  If it throws them out upon their entry, are they not acting in a manner contrary to all of the tenants that have made them an authentic, judgment-free zone?  If they remove mainstream music from the jukebox, is that only going to add fuel to the Hipster fire (“I’m telling you Finley, this place was hilarious!  It was a bunch of rednecks drinking cheap beer and listening to crappy country music!”)?

I don’t know the answer.  All I do know is that it has become increasingly hard to abide by a dive bar code wherein books aren’t judged by their hipper-than-thou covers.




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