Thursday, February 01, 2007

ETC: Hip Check

Oh my god. I am so fucking sick of the "hipster parenting" debate.* And yet I can't avoid it. It plagues me in my internet travels. (And, possibly, I'm deliberately poking that nerve a bit, too. Despite my saner instincts, I tend this way sometimes.)

I'm waiting for my copy of Alternadad to arrive, but when it does I anticipate enjoying it in the same way I enjoy Neal Pollack's blog. He talks about parenting in a way that speaks to me. It's funny. It's littered with poo stories, which, as you know, always go down well with me. But he also strikes poignant notes that never cloy, and he's not afraid to talk about messy taboo subjects like circumcision. And while you get the sense he considers himself a good parent -- an attitude some critics, strangely, take exception to, labelling it "smug" -- hey, good on him. These days, if the media is to be believed, the only acceptable way to be a parent is to be a dithering, second-guessing mess. And he seems to be somewhat honest about discussing his flaws, inasmuch as I can tell.

It's hard to imagine why anyone would take exception to any of these characteristics, but for some reason, Pollack seems to drive some people nuts. Of late, he's become the media whipping boy for an entire group of parents, the aforementioned "hipster parents." And, you know, whatever. People like to have other people to disparage. Also, it's great fun to write off an entire group of people as shallow if you don't ever question the irony of the fact that labelling and dismissing an entire group of people is a pretty shallow thing to do. I know. I've done it myself.

So the media judges parents. What else is new? And the general public judges parents. That's been going on for a while, too. No, what gets my goat -- and it gets my goat good; let me tell you, that goat is NOT happy -- is when parents judge other groups of parents. I mean, I can see the value in ganging up on folks who beat their children, or who sell their children into white slavery rings, or who, say, eat their children. All these things certainly should be frowned upon in any civilized culture, and I my very own self am prepared to give such a parent the scowling of a lifetime should one cross my path. But come on. Hipster parenting? For serious? I don't even know what the fuck that term means, and I've always sort of assumed that Pollack is being semi-ironic when he uses it. What exactly is a hipster? Please, someone educate me. Am I a hipster parent? I do have a fondness for cool shoes, after all. And eclectic music. And funny t-shirts. Should I be cultivating a more apologetic expression when I go out in public, should I encounter one of those hipster-parent haters? And for the love of all that's holy, don't we have more pressing issues to worry ourselves with?

To the best of my knowledge, the bulk of the "hipster" moniker -- and the seat of people's loathing -- seems to be predicated on the fact that Pollack doesn't hide the fact that he's a music snob and would prefer to cultivate his son's taste in directions that he, Pollack, likes. "Oh my god," people respond. "How dare he? He thinks he's so cool! What a douchebag!" (I am, of course, paraphrasing.) I'm glad reading isn't considered cool. If it were, I'd probably be sporting a big red "H" on my chest, too.

Here's part of a comment I wrote here, in response to this whole conflated issue:
The only thing that's remotely new in this artificially constructed parents-versus-parents kerfuffle is that, for a change, it's not pitting mothers against mothers, which the media [I'm looking at you, Salon] has been aggressively doing for decades in a transparent ploy to boost readership. Now fathers are in the mix. Hip-hip-fucking-hooray. How progressive. Did I say "progressive"? Whoops. I meant "boring."

Let me tell you something: if I hear/read the word "hipster" used in this smug, derogatory way one more time, I'm going to totally lose my cool. Jesus christ, people. Imagine if your kids could hear you. And yet you probably plan to preach tolerance at them some day. Nice work. Get a good head start on that.

Wear the clothes you want. Listen to the music you want. Read the books and magazines and websites you want. Be a little self-satisfied. IT'S OKAY. Be a hipster. Be a nerd. Be a badass. Don't take it all so friggin seriously. We can still get along. Did Breakfast Club teach us nothing? Somewhere, John Hughes is weeping silent tears because his entire ouevre was for naught.
(If nothing else, this issue has made me realize how much I really like standing on a soapbox. You can see for miles! On a sunny day, I can see my house!)

Perhaps I could understand this hipster-parent-hatin' better if I could understand what exactly the endgame is. Is it that people think that, somehow, being parented the hipster way will irretrievably screw up kids? Is it bad for the environment? The economy? What? If we stop the hipster parents from doing... well, whatever it is they do... will the world will be a better place? After we wrap that important job up, can we go back to worrying about child poverty and crack-addicted babies and the fact that our climate and the environment are going down the shitter? Or, more likely, will we find another part of our collective navel to explore?

Here's what it boils down to, for me. When someone writes a book, you critique the writing. If you don't, you do literature a disservice. When someone writes a memoir, that opens things up to where you can critique the person. You're in dodgier territory there, and your mileage will vary depending on how much you like to flay open real people who have real thoughts and feelings and motivations. But when someone writes a parenting memoir, then you're on iffy ground. Because calling someone a bad parent -- which is the perilous territory this whole hipster fracas is stumbling at the outskirts of -- well, where I'm from, them's fighting words.

Let me put it another way. If people were talking this shit about MY parenting? I'd be calling them out to the alley, and I'd be kicking their smart balls right up to the roof of their smart mouth.

*A debate that, I should point out, seems to be happening AMONG SO-CALLED HIPSTERS. Since when did Onion articles start dictating real life? Kee-rist on a clamshell.


Anonymous said...

Oh...oh no. If you're on Neal Pollack's team, we may have to break up.

(I can't speak for anyone else, but what bugs me about self-described hipster parents is the smugness -- especially in Pollack's case. "My kids are going to be tiny replications of my own hip self -- I'll even indoctrinate them into my own musical tastes the better for them to express my essence like living, breathing iPod skins!")

Tammy said...

"My kids are going to be tiny replications of my own hip self -- I'll even indoctrinate them into my own musical tastes the better for them to express my essence like living, breathing iPod skins!"

I guess I've never gotten that impression from reading Pollack's site, which I've been doing for a while now. To be honest, that argument has always seemed like a bit of a straw man (or straw hipster... ha!) that detractors bring up.

I can totally accept that a person might seem hipper-than-thou, but I just don't see where this extends to parenting. I mean, I can see where an expectant parent might have all these delusions about imposing their will and tastes on their offspring, but faced with the reality, most every parent I've ever read or talked to seems to accept the fact that kids are these crazy little contrarians (in other words, they're totally nuts) who do what they want. Sure, Pollack brags about the fact that his kid likes The Hives and Johnny Cash, but hey, I brag about the fact that Sam likes kiddie classics. And Pollack also concedes that his kid likes The Wiggles, just as I concede that Sam likes Thomas and Maisy and friggin' books about talking Nascar cars, may god have mercy on my soul.

But let's not break up! I got you something real purty for Valentine's Day!

Anonymous said...

I have no particular stake in this debate, although I've been following it (most of the anti-hipster stuff I've seen has been directed towards Steve Almond, however), but the complaint as I see it isn't so much about how they're raising their kids. It's about how every single piece they write is written from the point of view that they are the first parents in the history of parenting to a) not want their kids to become drones b) face all these cool parenting challenge and c) realize just how fulfilling it really is to be a parent.

In my best '80s voice: Gag me with a spoon.

With Neil Pollack everything has to be taken with a grain of salt simply because of the nature of most of his work, but with people like Steve Almond it's really, really difficult not to think of it as sanctimonious (or "sanctidaddious" as Gawker put it).

Anonymous said...

What August said! The issue to me isn't whatever choices the alternadad makes (though lord knows I feel free to judge them -- and the homeschooling wackos and creepy beauty-pageant moms and so on and so forth); it's the attitude.

(And Dopp, for the record, I hated Pollack before he had kids too.)

Anonymous said...

I just re-read Adam's excellent Grup article, linked in Dopp's post, and was reminded that hipster parenting is really just an extension of hipster-ism period. That is, this group of well-educated, financially-advantaged, authority-conscious people in their 30s and 40s who don't want to end up in middle management working way too hard and giving up their passions. They (including me) want to have a life that doesn't result in having to morph into this image of an adult that probably excludes being able to work part-time from the cafe down the street, or traveling a lot, or exploring alternative art, or whatever makes them happy.

And then throw kids in the mix. The next question becomes: can I be a decent parent without having to morph into this image of a parent that probably excludes the music, clothes, books and lifestyle I like? Obviously parenting involves a big change in lifestyle, but does it have to radically alter the things that make me me?

I haven't read Pollack's book and I don't know his website at all, but there are books and sites that I really enjoy reading that wade into this topic (including Dopp's). So, fine, you can not like Pollack or his tone or whatever, but I can't see any reason to be outraged that a book such as his is appealing to a lot of people (not that any of the commenters here are saying that).

Anonymous said...

Apart from being appalled at the hipster=monied urban classist garbage in the Grup article (which I read yesterday)... I was amused by the assumption that 'hipster' parents have little kids.

I have a fourteen year old... because not every university student who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant by that roommate with the mohawk and tattoos has an abortion. So my glimpse of the future is this: it doesn't matter a damn whether you are a hipster or not. You still have to parent. And your kids will eventually think you are an idiot with impaired fashion and music taste. Mine sneers at my docs, and approves of my stilettos. She tolerates my alterna-rock and obscure jazz with the same sigh, and then asks if we can please listen to some Justin Timberlake now. My toddlers were rocked to sleep with Kids in the Hall songs, and mock me for my fondness for old Star Trek. (ok, I'm actually a geek, not a hipster)

But they are unlikely to accept authority without questioning it. They know that I love them to pieces. There are times when they wish I would get a normal job, and we could have more money. (No one wears $100 jeans in our house, nevermind $500 jeans.) We figure it out as we go, and we're a family. I care about how my kids are doing. And they seem to be ok. They get decent marks in school, treat their friends reasonably well, question everything they see in media, and are good company. Sometimes they do the dishes, and I don't know how they manage to use all the towels.

Anonymous said...

As a non-hipster (I say that matter-of-factly) I frequently find "hipster parents" to usually be the least friendly and most smug parents in the room, so to speak. It's intimidating and their devotion to the material world is mind-boggling to me (Subaru, the finest in hemp wear and a fair trade coffee all in the right neighborhood.)

At 34 I have ceased to worry about impressing my peers with my taste in music or movies. My joy comes from raising my son (who loves R&B and YTV) and my work. I have also surrounded myself with lovely caring friends, some of whom can't dress themselves worth shit but who have hearts of good.

Anonymous said...

erm, i meant hearts of gold, but good works too :)