In Burkina, there was no such thing as true American hip. We all idolized what we called “(H)ip-(h)op americain,” but that in no way resembled anything I’d ever known to be “cool” in America, so I usually just humoured my “hip” Burkinabe counterparts when they asked my advise by responding in conformance with an image of cool that existed only in my most color deaf dreams. Strangely (and perhaps as a result of prolonged anti-malarial drug use), these dreams corresponded nicely with what could be found in the local market-place.
Since returning home, I have occasionally wondered at several new vocab terms appearing on the internet and other vernacular scenes, but after a while, I realised these are probably just part of a new (non-imagined) American Hip.
Hipster, DubStep, Zef-Side, Android, Little Monsters, Angry Birds, Kindle, Brony, etc…
There are more.
The other day, I sat and thought about how strange it all is. Labels mostly. Strange, boxy, labels. Normally the conversation goes a little something like this:
Person 1: Hey…where’d you get that shirt?
Me: Umm, Burkina Faso. In West Africa.
1: It’s pretty thread-bare, think you could get me one like that?
M: It started a bit thread-bare. BF’s a bit hotter and it helps not to have heavy shirt weights. And no. I’m not returning to BF just for your shirt, and shipping costs money.
1: Man, my shirt’s only thread-bare cause I ran it through the wash a bunch of times with bleach and then hung it in the sun to dry for several days. BF’s so hip.
M: Ok. Right…
Person 2: I noticed you mention Zef Side in your list of new vocab.
M: Uh huh. Words I don’t really know anything about.
2: Die Antwoord uses that occasionally.
M: I know. That’s where I heard the word.
2: OMG, U KNO ABOUT DI ANTWURD? (starts citing all sorts of obscure music that I of course don’t know)
Person 3: I see that you ride a bike.
M: Yup. It gets me from point A to point B.
3: You must care a lot about the environment!
Persons 1, 2, and 3 have formed opinions and applied labels that I can say are partially correct, and frequently miss the point. And the list goes on, from liking solar (and other renewable) energy to wishing we could minimize waste in packaging, to caring about womens’ ability to determine their own reproductive rights.
At some point, having eclectic (or mainstream) knowledge, styles, opinions, or even economically originated social behavior is bound to give us a label. In some cases, claiming not to know what that label is (even if we don’t) is only confirmation of its truth. So we collect these titles. Hipster. Hippie. Leftist. Superhero. Etc. Sometimes we live by them. In a way, it’s a ‘new-age much-less-dangerous’ version of the Salem Witch Trials. Just try to prove to me you are not a hipster!*
In a way, it’s still dangerous. Someone labelled “Super-hero” that self-identifies with a Super-villian feels misunderstood and may determine to be all the more villainous in the future. While hippie generally means non-conformist with the norm, it has all sorts of other connotations that may or may not be accurate.
At this point, it seems like I’m winding up to preach, and I admit that you’re right. The message, however, is not to avoid labeling, but rather to be less worried about living up to the labels applied to you. Every time I have returned state-side, there have been new trends (with corresponding labels), and surprising numbers that have jumped into the deep end of said trends. This creates sadly comical situations where everyone is an “individualist” expressing themselves in precisely the same way (down to their clothing tags). It’s kinda lame.
To combat this, I would like to recommend some things that will not be found at Hot Topic, Gap, or other trend-setter locations, but are still totally worth your time:
The World Below by Kelsey Pince. Recently released. It’s a fun read and she’s a great person.
Famous Art. Look up your nearest institute. Turns out there’s a lot more out there than post-modern and Reality TV.
Peace Corps. You graduated from college and haven’t yet had your spirit crushed? Put your silly optimism to the test by trying to do something useful in the developing world.
Biking. Nature. Biking in Nature! Small trips are so much more fun when you’ve got time to enjoy them.
NFN. Good people rocking it hard.
Your local library. Good books. Computer stations. Friendly people. Free.
-if you’re looking for custom graphic design or original art-work, send me a line with your name, prefered contact, and what you’re interested in to firstname.lastname@example.org, thx-
*logically one cannot prove a negative