If something hip happens in a city and an employee of Atlantic Media is not there to see it, is the city still hip? There were a lot of reasons to be frustrated by Atlantic Wire writer Rebecca Greenfield’s September pronouncement that D.C. “is not hip and it never will be”—not to mention the (actually somewhat reasonable) contention of Slate’s Matthew Yglesias that D.C. is the “anti-Berlin,” a Forbes list of cool neighborhoods citing H Street NE’s nightime population of “Politico hipsters,” and the deployment of the hashtag #hipDC by the local pop-up events company VerdeHouse. The most obvious gripe? All of these people are squares.
Bloggers are not hip. Forbes magazine is not hip. Anyone making a hashtag containing the word “hip” is not hip. Alt-weekly writers penning takedowns of false hipness claims are not hip. But the essential worthlessness of these arguments does nothing to chasten the apoplexy they inevitably yield on Twitter (which is, to be sure, also not hip).
These arguments tend to be both sloppy and insidious. Who decides what’s hip? What is your definition of “hipster?” How much hipness makes a city hip? If there’s not enough, does the hipness that exists still count? Why is hipness a virtue? Inevitably, no one can say what hipness means, beyond a set of signifiers suggesting it has something to do with youth, whiteness, an inchoate cultural savviness, and a desire to live cheaply or at least appear to do so.
Take this view, and clearly hipness matters in its absence—while the cultural vibes of less young, less white, less savvy, and less poor (or less rich) populations mean, well, something less.
To make it all worse, the defenders of local hipness are no better than the detractors. Yglesias’ blog post yielded a litany of earnest, defensive rebuttals insisting that, yes, D.C. is hip. When VerdeHouse asked locals to identify what makes D.C. hip using the #hipDC hashtag, suggestions included the heft of the local theater scene, people who drink from kegs and change the world, the president of the United States, houseboats, and the Library of Congress. With the possible exception of houseboats, none of these things is hip, by most any definition—a leitmotif Greenfield seized upon in another hipness post.
There’s nothing wrong with talking about what kinds of people live in a city, and why, and what that means. So it’s hard to make art full-time in D.C.—that’s an important thing to discuss. But hipness-trolling? Not hip.