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The Hipsters are a Riot

The civil disturbance that occurred in Seattle over the past weekend has been described as a “hipster riot,” and the term seems delightfully apt. We’re kicking ourselves for not having secured the domain rights to hipsterriot.com, because it might just be the next big trend.
What happened in Seattle didn’t get nearly the attention paid to the riots in Baltimore, and some will suggest this is because the racist media prefer to publicize the violent rampages of oppressed black youths rather than admit that relatively pampered white youths are capable of the same sort of misbehavior, but our long experience of white guilt-ridden reporters suggests otherwise. Baltimore was more likely a bigger deal because the destruction was greater, with the Seattle rioters barely managing 16 arrests and three wounded police officers and a few burned-out automobiles and smashed storefronts before a rather robust show of law enforcement put an end to it, and such low-level rioting has been such a routine occurrence in Seattle since the big riot outside the World Trade Organization meeting back in ’99 that the city might as well mention it in the Chamber of Commerce brochures as proof of it’s cutting-edge hipster appeal. Still, we suspect it’s mainly because the white guilt-ridden reporters would rather make excuses for oppressed black youths with some plausible complaints about their police department run by their notoriously corrupt city than try to explain a relatively pampered bunch of white boys acting up on behalf of more government and calling themselves “anarchists.” This probably also explains the disproportionate attention paid to the two the riots by the president and other politicians, all of whom seem to have lost their knack for spotting the next big trend.
While a whopping 96 percent of Americans are bracing themselves for yet another long, hot summer of race rioting, we’re also anticipating an accompanying trend of hipster rioting. There’s a seemingly endless supply of hipsters these days, after all, even here in Wichita. We can remember a time in the late ’70s when the entire local hipster community could easily fit into The Cedar Lounge for an Embarrassment-Inevitable double-bill and barely violate the fire code, but these days there’s enough of them to sustain a dozen coffee shops spread clear from the far-east side to the far-west side as well as another dozen or so bars where there are more “alternative” bands playing than there the sorts of bands that they’re an alternative to, and judging by all the similarly unpressed and hirsute actors in the television commercials they’re apparently a major market across the country. Persuading them to riot shouldn’t be any harder than persuading them to get tattooed or grow lumberjack beards or buy all those electronic gizmos that so engross them in the local hipster establishments.
Rioting is the latest black youth craze, for one thing, and the hipsters have been following the lead of the ghettos at least since Norman Mailer was writing “The White Negro: Superficial Reflections on the Hipster” way back in the ’50s. The hipster rioters in Seattle added the black rioters’ complaints about the police to their own catalogue of complaints, and they have plenty more of their own. The young hipsters bear a large share of the nation’s one trillion dollar student loan debt, and will eventually be asked to chip on the federal government’s $17 trillion of debt, and it’s not as if the robust 0.2 percent growth rate in the Gross Domestic Product is going to provide the kinds of lucrative jobs that will help pay for it all, and the inevitable defense cuts will only encourage the Islamic radicals who don’t seem to cotton to even the hipsters with beards, and sooner or later even the most up-to-date hipsters will find themselves offending somebody with an organized grievance group, but of course none of that will be the reasons for the rioting. Instead they’ll find some corporation doing something they don’t like, or some church holding to it’s long-held notions about sexual morality, or some job-creating free trade agreement that’s still in effect, or they’ll notice that some highly productive square is getting paid more than they are, or some other last vestige of the old capitalist economic system, and they’ll riot for some big-government solution in the name of “anarchy.” It makes no more sense than their young black counterparts burning down their own neighborhoods demanding more of the same old big government solutions that made those areas so flammable, but riots needn’t make sense.
Perhaps some sense will eventually be imposed on the hipsters, as it has been on the owner of San Francisco comic book store who proudly supported the city’s generous increase in the minimum wage until it had passed and he realized that he would need to come up with an additional $80,000 in revenue keep his business afloat. The picture of his staff that appeared in The National Review’s rather hilarious account of his travails shows a stereotypically hip group of soon-to-be-unemployed youngsters standing around their obligatorily bearded boss, and although they look to be nice enough people we can’t help but think they’ve got it coming. Their city prides itself on its progressive and tolerant and hipper-than-thou attitudes, and is one of the most racially segregated and economically exclusive and intellectually rigid and easily ridiculed places in the country as a result, and we can’t help think it has a few riots coming as well.
If the hipsters were the ruggedly individualistic non-conformists they claim to be they’d be demanding less government, a less rigid enforcement of the latest social strictures, and they’d probably stop to wonder why they’re all getting tattooed and growing lumberjack beards buying the latest electronic gizmos. They probably wouldn’t be rioting, either, and if they were they’d be able to provide some more cogent explanation for it. We recall Marlon Brando’s leather-jacketed biker thug in “The Wild Ones” being asked what he was rebelling against, and mumbling “Whattaya got?” in response, and that made more sense and strikes us as far hipper than the big-government anarchy that those Seattle hipsters are going on about.

— Bud Norman

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Reflections on a Winter’s Night

Christmas was a happily low-key affair around here. With no family nearby and the streets treacherously icy we were content to stay mostly inside, enjoying the solitude and old recording of the Duke Ellington Orchestra’s swingin’ rendition of “The Nutcracker Suite.”
There’s something to be said for such a Christmas. We ventured out to hear a couple of songs by the hillbilly band that was playing at Kirby’s Beer Store, where a few of the hipster kids kindly pushed our light and rear-wheel-driven vehicle out of the ice-covered parking lot, and we had a couple of heartfelt telephone conversations with some longtime friends, but there was nothing to do that entailed the slightest stress. The schedule allowed for plenty of rumination, on matters ranging from the personal to the political, and the spirit of the day provided a welcome hopefulness.
All the personal stuff will remain personal, as is our wont, but it might interest a reader to know that we even found reason to be hopeful about the political. We are skeptical of the claims of an economic recovery and expect that the imminent enforcement of the Dodd-Frank bill and all the other recent regulations will outweigh whatever entrepreneurial spirit the private sector can muster, quite sure that the Obamacare news will grow even worse, and don’t expect any good to come of America’s clumsy relations with the rest of the world, but we do sense that Americans are becoming so discontent with it all that they’re ready to consider the hard measures that are the only alternative. They’re gradually growing wise to the notion that just a bit more government and a little more guidance by the elites is is all that’s needed, at least, so there is at least an opening for any articulate conservatives who might make the case for letting us unwashed masses work things out for ourselves.
Perhaps no such articulate conservatives will emerge, and maybe the Republicans’ internecine squabbles will rescue a Democratic party despite its manifest failures, but it now seems possible to hope otherwise. It might be nothing more than Christmas spirit, or the passing of the winter solstice and the certainty that days are growing imperceptibly but inexorably longer into an inevitable summer, but even in these dark and cold and icy days there’s still hope.

— Bud Norman

Pomp, Circumstance, and Tyranny

The last time we were asked to address a commencement ceremony was way back in ’77, when our high school graduating class bestowed the honor. All we can remember of the speech are the jokes, the most obvious of which went over well enough, but we’re quite sure that even at such a tender age we weren’t so very stupid as to tell people not to fear tyranny.
That was the advice President Barack Obama offered to the graduates of Ohio State University on Sunday. After warming up the crowd with a few jokes of his own, mostly about football and other topics of local interest, Obama eased into his theme of citizenship. Much of it was typical commencement address fare, full of highfalutin and inoffensively vague statements about participating and persevering and so forth, and much of it was a typical Obama stump speech, extolling the many wonders of big government and such rhetorical flourishes as the Founders leaving us “the tools to do big things and important things together that we could not possibly do alone.” What caught our attention, however, was the typical swipe at the president’s critics.
“Unfortunately, you’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems; some of these same voices also doing their best to gum up the works,” Obama said. “They’ll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices. Because what they suggest is that our brave and creative and unique experiment in self-rule is somehow just a sham with which we can’t be trusted.”
The president did not name these critics, although his audience was surely curious to know. Despite a steady diet of talk radio, conservative news outlets, and the company of fellow right-wingers, we can’t think of anyone who argues that democracy should be replaced and rule entrusted to some enlightened elite. We used to hear such talk often from our liberal friends, but that was back when a Republican was in the White House and we suspect those are not the people Obama was talking about.
There are plenty of people who argue that the government is becoming increasingly separated from the people, that it is sometimes sinister and at the root of many problems, and they make a strong case for gumming up the works, but we have never heard them say that the people can’t be trusted. We believe that certain individual rights should be constitutionally protected from the proper will, so perhaps the president meant us, but the Founders also gave us that tool and we expect that even Obama will be eager to use it when the topics of homosexual rights and abortion come back around.
If tyranny isn’t lurking around the corner, it is only because this country has traditionally been on guard against it. Immutable human nature compels those in power in to seek more power, and only the resistance of a stubbornly independent people can’t prevent them from doing so. Obama has not proved an exception to this rule of history, and it is hoped that even a stadium full of college-educated twenty-somethings will be wary.

— Bud Norman

A Post-Romantic Valentine’s Day

People still fall in love, we suppose, but our modern culture seems to have lost the knack for it.
This is an age of hanging out, hook-ups, and cohabitation, when subsidized contraception is considered an entitlement, abortion on demand is deemed a civilizational necessity, and yet baby mammas and baby daddies somehow abound. Notions of romance and marriage and happily ever after are now widely regarded as quaintly old-fashioned, if not a dangerous relic of our repressively patriarchal past, and what’s left of the time-honored traditions of courtship are constantly interrupted by text messages.
Anecdotal evidence of this is so abundant that one cannot avoid it no matter how hard one tries to steer the party conversations to more pleasant topics, and all of the statistics from the social sciences and the advice columns of the more fashionable publications provide further confirmation. One notices it when scanning the radio dial or flipping through the television channels, too, as the senses are assaulted by all the jarring jeremiads against romance.
The biggest hit song in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War wasn’t a triumphant military march or a celebratory boogie-woogie but the quietly wistful yearning of “It’s Been a Long, Long Time,” done by a brooding Bing Crosby with the spare accompaniment of Les Paul’s elegant trio, but the anthem of today is a spiteful ditty with an unprintable title that was released to the underage crowd as “Forget You,” done with the full synthetic studio treatment by someone called Cee-Lo. Instead of Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse “Dancing in the Dark” through an idyllic Central Park, we now have crunking. Instead of “Casablanca” or “Stella Dallas,” where true love is expressed through heartbreaking acts of selflessness, we have endless “chick flicks” that countenance love only as an act of self-realization.
Some would argue that the hyper-romantic pop culture of the past was unrealistic, and perhaps they have a point. Hearing Johnny Mathis sing “Misty” always made us feel a bit earthbound, for instance, as even in the most love-addled moments of our youth we always knew our hat from our glove. This is probably a good thing, because one would look damned foolish wearing his gloves on his head with his hat wrapped around his hands, but even so we are still left wondering what it might feel like to be so fully enraptured. American culture used to nurture such romantic aspirations, rather than ridicule them, and at its best it could summon a far more realistic attitude than is found in contemporary music yet still be romantic. There’s a classic pop song that weds an ingeniously simple melody by Jerome Kern to Oscar Hammerstein’s plainspoken lyrics about a couple who marry, raise a family, then grow old together, all the time content to be known only as “The Folks Who Live on the Hill,” and it’s sadly difficult to imagine anyone in today’s celebrity-crazed and status-seeking culture settling for such a humble existence.
The consequences of such progress are found in the sad stories we regularly hear from friends and scant acquaintances, and can be seen on the bored faces of the bar patrons as they check their cellular telephones while trying to charm their way to another hook-up, but they can also be felt elsewhere in our civic life. Marital status is now one of the most reliable predictors of how people will vote, with the unmarried showing a marked preference for a big government that will provide the security and sense of belonging that have traditionally been found in marriage and family, and all of those Republican speeches about how the national debt will be passed on to the next generation are unlikely to persuade the childless single who is more interested in government-paid birth control. True love forever and ever might be fanciful, but it’s not nearly so unrealistic as the belief that a society raised by baby daddies and baby mommas will ever be as successful as one raised by husbands and wives.
Yet people still fall in love, we suppose, and perhaps some of them will even get married and raise children and be pleased to be known as the folks who live on the hill. We have no gift for song or cinema or poetry to encourage this tendency, but we will wish all of our readers a most happy Valentine’s Day.

— Bud Norman