The New York Times
February 9, 2003
Am I deck or fin?
What ''The Preppie Handbook'' did for whale belts and synonyms for vomiting, ''The Hipster Handbook'' accomplishes for this generation's stylistic and linguistic signs and signifiers, starting with the always ephemeral distinction between the hip and the square. Here it is: ''deck -- a key word for most hipsters, similar in meaning to the antiquated 'fresh.' To be deck is to be up on the latest trends, cutting edge and/or hip. Sentence: 'That tassel we met at the gallery opening sure looked deck in her cowboy boots.' '' And: ''fin -- the opposite of deck, similar to outdated terms like 'wack' and 'lame.' Something that is fin is bad or undesirable. Sentence: 'How can you like that Vin Diesel movie? Every film he's ever starred in has been fin.' ''
These droll definitions come from Lanham's opening glossary, which lays out the hipster slanguage in which the rest of the book is written (''tassel -- girl''). Whether this argot is real or made up, who knows? The origin of ''deck'' and ''fin'' is not offered, though a quick Google search revealed that they may refer to the flip sides of a surfboard. It doesn't really matter. Trends are subject to their own Heisenberg principle. The act of observing, or in this case defining, changes the things being observed/defined. If enough tassels and cronkites (''cronkite -- boy'') buy the book, they'll start calling themselves that. Unless they're totally Midtown. Of course, if you were truly deck, you wouldn't talk, dress or act the same as everyone else. But then, hipsters are, and have always been, conformist nonconformists.
After his glossary, Lanham gets down to the ''core elements of hipsterdom.'' Basically: clothes, music (''hipsters take their music collections very, very seriously'') and the belief that ''irony has more resonance than reason.'' In literary terms, we've been in the Irony Age for at least 100 years, but whatever. The ''history'' section follows (ironic quotation marks mine). Sappho was extremely deck, for obvious reasons. Clark Gable, however, was a frado (''frado -- an ugly guy who thinks he's good-looking''). The best entry in the history section is on Raymond Chandler: ''Um, he wrote stuff like this: 'I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn't care who knew it.' '' Whether the author of such a line is deck or fin goes without saying.
Subcultures subdivide like amoebas, and the ''Handbook'' categorizes the basic species, illustrated with wryly disaffected art by Bret Nicely and Jeff Bechtel. To name a few: the UTF (Unemployed Trust-Funder), the WASH (Waitstaff and Service Hipster), the Bipster (blue-collar hipster), the Loner and the Polit (the politico-literary hipster). (When the Polit is asked, ''Are you a hipster?'' his response is, ''Shut up, fascist.'') Generational distinctions are made between the hippies of old and the recent Neo-Crunches. Each category is broken down by attire/presentation, background, upbringing, disposition. The standard WASH disposition, for instance, is, unarguably, ''crabby.'' It is noted that both sexes of Bipster (not to be confused with rednecks) accessorize with pit bulls. And the Loner response to this book's standard ''Are you a hipster?'' question is: ''I have a large collection of obscure Belgian techno mastermixes on limited edition vinyl. That's pretty deck, right?'' Uh, right.
Numerous pages are devoted to hipster relationships. Turns out hipster men want what all men want: sex. Hipster women, on the other hand, ''no longer desire small, sensitive, sickly men in tight
T-shirts. In fact, they never really found such men to be desirable. They just had few options during the indie-rocker era of the 90's.'' For male hipsters, this may be the book's most useful revelation.
Hipsters of both sexes spend most of their time in dive bars, no-logo coffee places, restaurants with monosyllabic names like Plant and Bound -- and avoiding work. ''Similar to Eskimos, who have several words for 'snow,' '' Lanham writes, ''hipsters have many terms for receiving a check from the parents.'' They have just as many forms of facial hair, tattoos, piercings and greetings. Beware the overenthusiastic ''grape,'' or ''greeting rapist''! And they cannot be stopped from using the acronym pomo, for postmodern, as an adjective, noun and verb.
''Cultural trends become fin the moment they hit the mainstream,'' Lanham accurately declares. And yet by that standard, much of the hipsterism he sanctions seems pretty mainstream, even if it is being ''appropriated'' (ironic quotation marks mine again). I mean, drinking cosmopolitans? Reading Harper's Magazine? And if you want to talk Tom Waits albums, ''Small Change'' is way more deck than ''Rain Dogs.'' Such quibbles, though, won't penetrate the protective pomo coating on Lanham's mirrored shades.
Who is this guy, anyway? According to his author's bio, Lanham is the editor of something called freewilliamsburg.com, a Web site devoted to a section of Brooklyn listed in the ''Handbook'' as one of the ''indigenous zones of the hipster in the United States and Canada'' -- along with Detroit's Hamtramck and Toronto's College and Clinton streets. Alas, like all hipster neighborhoods, Williamsburg is getting a little ishtar (''ishtar -- bad''), what with megastores like ABC Carpet and Home moving in nearby. But of course hipsterism is by nature transient, mutable, evanescent. What's deck today will be fin tomorrow, as time creeps in its petty pace and you skip the White Stripes show because you can't find a baby sitter.
Speaking of which, some readers -- I'm not naming names -- will flip frantically to the section on the aging hipster, where it says things like, ''Nothing is more senseless than applying Rogaine to a receding mohawk.'' Ouch. Aging hipsters will be screaming themselves to sleep over that remark. Best skip ahead to Lanham's questionnaire: 30 multiple-choices designed to answer the question ''Are you a hipster?'' Sample question:
Your dream car is
A. An S.U.V.
B. A 70's Mustang.
C. A PT Cruiser.
D. A vintage Volkswagen bug.
E. A Hummer.
After you've read the book, the answers are all easily guessable (Mustang and/or vintage bug). But a true hipster would never cheat. So, on a scale of 30 to minus 30, this one scored a 16, earning him the label of ''poseur.''
Poseurs are deck.