South By Southwest: Welcome To Hipster Nation, In Bigger Than The Sound

Our writer makes a disturbing discovery on his way to Austin, Texas: He's a Hipster.

On The Record: Welcome To Hipster Nation. It's Pretty Dumb Here.

Terminal 6 at John F. Kennedy International Airport is positively seething with irony right now, filled with guys and gals who are all trying very hard to look like they're not trying very hard at all. Everyone is headed down to Austin, Texas, for South by Southwest, and everywhere you look, there is stubble, matted hair, tattered and unwashed denim, big glasses (prescription and otherwise), scuffed loafers, ratty cardigans, crooked collars, Day-Glo tights, headbands and all manner of American Apparel-inspired lunacy.

(For 'round-the-clock South by Southwest coverage, including our chat with R.E.M., head to the MTV Newsroom blog.)

Generally speaking, everyone here either looks, a) homeless; b) mentally challenged; or c) both. Which means that I am officially jealous of all of them. Because no matter how ridiculous they all look, they also look totally great, like emaciated, unwashed models in $1,200 jeans, fresh from shooting heroin into their eyeballs or visiting some designer-sneaker boutique in Japan or making out with each other or taking photos of some band that I've never heard of. They are the standard-bearers of Hipster Nation, which is as much a state as it is a state of mind, one I cannot begin to comprehend, despite the fact that I desperately want to.

No matter how much I try to deny it, I am envious of everyone here, which makes me realize a couple of things about myself. First and foremost, I am rather petty, sort of shallow and really judgmental. But secondly — and most importantly — I am exactly like all these people. I am a Hipster, and I am awful.

Come to think of it, this same thing tends to happen to me every March, when I leave my Brooklyn enclave and head south to Texas for SXSW. I am usually fine until I get to JFK, and head to Terminal 6 (the JetBlue hub, which makes sense, because JetBlue is totally the Hipster airline. Not only do they have a New York Times channel and Terra Blues chips and an official sommelier, but on my flight Tuesday, they were actually showing "Juno"). There, I start to notice all the glasses and the thrift-store clothes and the skinny girls and even skinnier guys. And all the iPods and iPhones and MacBook Pros. And I realize that I am not alone. I am not even unique. I am just another Hipster.

From there, it only gets worse. The flight down to Austin is like a white-earbud bonanza, everyone hammering away on Macs or reading some interior-design magazine like Dwell. I want to hate them all, only I am doing the exact same thing (also, I am legitimately considering spending $900 on an organic-cotton duvet cover). If the plane were to crash, several graphic-design firms would certainly be forced to close up shop, and countless blogs would go unblogged.

Once SXSW gets rolling, every BBQ joint and ironic dive bar from Cesar Chavez to San Jacinto is crawling with dudes who look exactly like me. Sixth Street teems with skinny jeans and ironic mustaches and girls in tights and cowboy boots. Every band playing in every venue looks exactly the same: all unshaven and unwashed and unspeakably white (honestly, when Ghostface played SXSW in 2006, I wanted to ask him if he was lost and needed directions). For a week, Austin is overrun by Hipster Nation. We swallow the town up like a swarm of locusts in really dumb costumes, unapologetically stripping it bare of everything before buzzing back to Williamsburg or Portland or Silver Lake or Baltimore (or wherever the "new" Williamsburg/Portland/Silver Lake/Baltimore is ... Tampa, maybe?).

In the midst of this, I inevitably have some sort of Hipster Panic, because I don't want to be like these people — only I fear it might be too late. I am writing this column on my iBook G4 (I'm retro), while listening to Paul Simon's Graceland on my iPod (I only bought it because I really like the Vampire Weekend record). I own both a cell phone and a BlackBerry, and I'm on them constantly, which means that I'm really considering buying an iPhone. I am wearing thrift-store loafers and skinny jeans from Top Shop, a white V-neck T-shirt and an old Army jacket. My hair isn't combed, my face is unshaven. I have a gold Casio digital watch on my wrist, which my wife bought for me at a shop on Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn. On two occasions, Leslie Feist has told me she owns the same timepiece.

This week in Austin, I will attend parties thrown by Scion, Vice magazine, Levis, eMusic, PureVolume, The Onion, Rhapsody and The Fader, to name just a few. All of them are organized by companies/publications that realize that I am nothing more than a member of a rather desirable demographic — one with disposable income to burn on disposable crap, and one that cherishes research-group buzzwords like "authenticity" and "individualism" — and, as such, each party is carefully designed to gain maximum exposure in decidedly unthreatening, totally authentic forums ("The Ting Tings killed it at the Levis/Fader Fort! And they had PBR and carne-asada tacos too!" raves

And that's what probably makes me the saddest of all ... not the fact that my "scene" has been corrupted by the corporations (it's not 1989, man. These days, the idea of selling out seems positively antiquated), but rather that no one I know seems to realize this. There's an inherent sense of "the individual" in Hipster Nation, only it's not very difficult to see — whether it's down in Austin for SXSW or at Lollapalooza or in a commercial for iPod Nanos — that there are no individuals anymore. We all think, look, act and consume in exactly the same way. We are all a target market. We all listen to the same sh--ty bands, display the same sh--ty attitudes, wear the same sh--ty clothes and read the same sh--ty blogs. We're no different, really, than the mindless sheep we poke fun at for going to Nickelback shows or shopping at Abercrombie & Fitch, despite how superior we'd like to think we are (and at least they support artists they like by actually buying their albums).

So basically, it's all a colossal waste of time. All of it. Hipster Nation sucks. We should all go build something with our hands or move to the suburbs or dig a ditch or vote Republican or something like that (and do these things without the faintest trace of irony), because at least that way, we'd be somewhat different, because we'd be contributing something. Being cool is pretty much pointless. And that realization is going to be the Jiminy Cricket that I carry with me all week down at SXSW, whether I'm furiously blogging about the Jay Reatard show I just went to or trying on complimentary pairs of Levis and Pumas. I will rage against the machine, overthrow the nation, burn my Mac. I will make a difference ... someday. In the meantime, maybe I'll just write an angry blog about it all. Or perhaps Twitter the revolution. Have my friend do up a sweet logo from home. Throw a fundraiser that Beach House and the Black Kids will play. You know, get "viral" with it ...

B-Sides: Other Stories I'm Following This Week

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