Bennies go home, hipsters go to bed

The New York Times over the past two weeks blew up the spot of two linguistic terms many of us in the two-state area hold in various levels of esteem. The two discussions of the words are related, as one reflects a pointed and targeted slight at a specific group, and one has been stretched like an rubber band around a stack of newspapers and no longer has any shape or functionality.

1) Hipster. In a much twote-about internal discussion, the Grey Lady noted that the term has been beaten to an unironic pulp by the paper of record, where it appeared 250 times in the past year. Quoth the standards editor:

In any case, hipster’s second life as hip slang seems to have lost its freshness. And with so many appearances, I’m not sure how precise a meaning it conveys. It may still be useful occasionally, but let’s look for alternatives and try to give it some rest.

You hear that hipsters? Your freshness is gone!

2) Benny. Long a somewhat secret code among locals, the rise of the latest MTV pseudo reality Seaside-Heights-based crap storm (and there have been several already) has taken the term into the mainstream. Long held as a particularly biting derogatory term for a certain brand of petulant North Jersey/New York tourist, “benny” is about as violent a verbal slam you can levy on a passerby on the boardwalk (even the term “Jersey Shore” triggers shockwaves of naseau among the folks from the beach areas, so much so that my friend Kenny, upon hearing it uttered by a should-know-better local, would routinely correct said person, that only stupid bennies called it “the shore” and that they would have to eat by themselves at this mall Burger King to think about what they’ve done for awhile. That was 1996, btw). Our friend Jen’s brother ran a rather successful pre-internet viral campaign around a site called Go Home Bennies (kindred sites still exist).

Not that I’m ever the first person to rise to defend New Jersey, but to break it down here:

This is not a benny:

Mike Lumbo, owner, Right Coast surf shop, general decent human

THESE are bennies:

pointy haired, fried cheeseball-eating bar brawler bros

According to the internet, this is the cast of Jersey Shore, though to be honest, I have no idea if that’s true, because this crowd looks exactly like every other group of people on the boardwalk, every year, ever. You could swap out any of the hundreds of bros and broettes who passed by my stand on the boardwalk at 1 am any summer, reeking of Miller Lite and asking if I could “hey kid, just let me have a CD! C’mon man, what’s the big deal? What are there cameras or something?”

No there are no cameras. You can’t have one because I hate you.

OK, so here’s how the two are related: “Bennies” is a targeted term, saved in reserve, not bandied about beyond the borders of Ocean and Monmouth counties, used perhaps with eager vitriol every summer by territorial locals tired of crammed highways and oceanfront bars jammed with people from far away who act like they own the place. It’s broad for sure, as in, a family walking down the beach wearing flip flops and socks or blocks the road with their Cadillac SUV while unloading six Wal-Mart purchased body boards is just as likely to be derided for bennieism as is the cast of the photo above. But still there’s a sense of commonality here: people who aren’t from around there who don’t respect the fact that there are many people who live there year round (note: I would invite my former disaffected NJ brethren and sistren constantly frustrated with all this to GTFO, as I did years ago).

“Hipsters,” 0n the other hand, has become a lazy, overly broad term that, basically has come to mean, in NY at least, “young person who lives in Brooklyn.” As the Times points out, the term is often linked to Kings County in its stories (96 cojoined references), much more so than Manhattan (87) and Queens (33).

Its use is usually negative, in the terms of like “oh, did you hear what the hipsters are doing with the bike lane this week?” Not that some of the criticism isn’t warranted, but what does the word actually mean? The truth is, if you live in or pass through New York City in 2010 and are not wearing a suit or drinking Bud Lime, you will be called a hipster at some point, either publicly or in the head of a passerby. That, or a faggot. Which, while flattering, is a term I would invite the young African-American men of Brooklyn to retire, as it too is losing its edge due to overuse.

To summarize:

This is not a hipster:

They're rooftop farmers

This is also not a hipster:

This is a clown. Or an asshat. or dinner.

It’s just kind of uncreative by now. Unlike “benny,” which has stayed local and discrete in its use, hipster is just an easy way to label a tumblr blog or a group of youngins causing trouble around town. Gawker last year went on a campaign to replace the word, and the winner was “fauxhemian.” That’s sort of a start, but it has yet to catch on. It certainly is more specific: asshats who act artsy and gritty but live in high-rise condos with a comfortable parental safety net. But it does exclude the actual “hip” people, as L Magazine pointed out:

So what do we call that guy? What do we call the very early adopters whose looks get sucked up, appropriated and redistributed to the masses by Urban Outfitters? The obsessive dustbin rummagers of 20th-century aesthetics who periodically rehabilitate entire moments in the history of culture, going beyond mere fashion to investigate the artistic sensibility of any given era? Bohemians? Hipsters??

We get lazy as creatures of habit and let epigrams stand in for actual descriptions or unique labels. So if the Times and others agree to let up on the term for a bit, what will they end up using?

I don’t know, but even Jeff Winger thinks the term has lost its touch:

6 responses to “Bennies go home, hipsters go to bed

  1. “Hipster” is still riding high in red states, sir. Also, the word’s boundless elasticity is what makes it good and useful.

  2. But what does it mean? What are people referring to when they use it. I meant to include this chart too, which shows usage of the word in various NYC media outlets.

  3. There are many hipster traits, and the word hipster can be used to identify any person who is a combination of any number of those traits. Hey, man, I don’t make the rules. I recognize it’s confusing. If it was up to me, every hipster would be issued ID badges and be confined to do 12 city blocks that would include a new observation tram, but we don’t live in that world yet. We have this word, which we use, and we point on sight: “HIPSTER! Look, look, look, look!”

  4. This is what happens when something a cultural niche goes mainstream. What once was valued and treasured quickly becomes poorly misunderstood and misused. I’ve decided to apply the following rule to my life: Once my mother adopts a slang term to her vocabulary (Benny), it is high time for me to abandon it.

  5. Why did they even have to use the word hipster there? It’s not descriptive at all. That’s like saying “Gay man owes $172 million.” He’s a day trader, for beard’s sake!

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