5 Great Things Co-Opted by Douchebags
Like most of you, I like things.
Unlike most of you, however, I'm also socially awkward, as I've previously established. Part of being awkward means that everything that I wear, listen to and generally do has to be chosen based on how effective it is at not making a strong statement or otherwise drawing attention to me in any way (the other part is not being able to pee if someone else is in the restroom). Being awkward means quietly liking the things that I like in a way that lets me fade into the background undetected, so I can wait in corners and practice cool-guy handshakes without anyone's judging eyes on me.
Since everything is chosen to minimize the strength of the message sent or statement made, I have a lot of trouble in life. There are plenty of things that I objectively like but have to be careful with (and sometimes completely abandon) because they've been co-opted and appropriated by hipsters, hippies, douchebags and other attention-commanding social groups. Things like ...
There are two groups of people that ruin bikes for everyone else. For the first group, we look to Bicycle Rights Extremists. The League of American Bicyclists is a group that aims to a) promote bike safety, b) encourage more people to buy bikes, c) encourage governments to make roads safer for bicyclists and d) spread awareness about ... like, bikes in general, I guess.
Not a lot of people know this, but being serious about biking means dressing like a dickhead.
They say things like, "Hey, bicyclists have a right to be on the road, so, car drivers, please try not to kill them," and they also say, "Hey, bicyclists: Having a right to be on the road doesn't mean you have MORE rights than cars, nor does it mean you're invincible, so please try not to be assholes." They're a good group, but, like all large groups and organizations, fringe subgroups are bound to emerge, and those subgroups will be full of idiots. Bike Rights Extremists, is what I've been calling them. These are the people who, as a "demonstration of bike rights," will clog streets up with bikers, making it impossible for cars to get through.
These protestors take to the streets and actively stop people from getting to work (or, say, a hospital) in an effort to raise awareness of bikes, under the guise of some kind of "take back the streets" campaign.
In plenty of "demonstrations" like this all around the world, there have been reports of groups of bikers banging on cars and shouting at the motorists (not to mention the fact that, to begin with, they're obstructing traffic). Popular protest groups, like Critical Mass, can be totally peaceful and responsible, but a lot of other groups are dangerous and idiotic, because that's what happens when you form a mob.
This also happens.
The second group of bikers that I can't stand? Hippies, obviously. Understand that I'm not talking about formal hippies (they of the peace-loving, drug-taking variety); I just mean "hippie bikers," the kind of people who not only bike, but explain to you that they bike because of how much better it is for the environment, man. It's not that what they're doing is wrong, it's that they're so self-righteous about it, like every admission of "I like to bike" is immediately followed by "because I just want to do my part to save the Earth, no big deal. We've only got one Earth, you know? Like, I'm not a big 'environmentalist' or anything, but it just made sense, you know? Why not be the one guy who isn't burning up fuel all the time, right? My carbon footprint is NOT going to be tire tracks."
Well it is, but of a different kind. Anyway, shut up.
I ride a bike because fuel costs money that I'd rather spend on other things (candy!), and because riding a bike for four miles is faster than driving four miles in Los Angeles. For the last week and a half, I've been without a car, and I got along just fine. It was really nice, but every time I found myself even thinking the phrase, "Ooh, no cars for me, I bike everywhere I go," I wanted to punch myself in my pretentious throat, because that sentence feels like it's begging to be followed by "to the farmer's market, to yoga, to the hacky sack competish ..."
These two groups, extremists and hippies, take the ease and affordability of bike riding and turn it into something aggressively self-righteous, so the rest of us feel like we need to qualify every "I have a bike" with an obligatory "but I'm not, like, one of those bikers."
Here is what I hope I'll look like if I wear a fedora:
And here's what I'm certain I will look like:
There's not a whole lot more to say about this. A few years ago, fedoras became synonymous with hipsters, and there's nothing that anyone can do about it. Hipsters have actually taken just about every piece of headgear, apart from baseball hats. Bandannas, top hats, bowlers -- that's all hipster country now.
See, I've never even WANTED to wear a hat like that, but, because of you, I can't now, and I HATE YOU FOR IT.
Hell, hipsters have taken over just about every piece of fashion except polo shirts and jeans that fit the way jeans are supposed to fit. With hipsters swarming on every single piece of clothing accessory and ironically repurposing it, I have no option but to dress like a white person. And I hate white people.
God, who doesn't?
Having Books Instead of Kindles, Nooks and So Forth
When fellow columnist Christina H. wrote about stupid things that people are inexplicably proud of a few weeks ago, having books immediately jumped to my mind. It used to be that some people owned and read a lot of books and some people didn't, and that was fine, we all just shut up about it and moved on with our lives and left each other alone.
Then Kindles and Nooks became popular, and a line was drawn in the sand. On one side, you had people who happily evolved technologically and purchased e-readers because they were convenient, and because progress is good. On the other side, you had outraged, elitist snobs who would self-righteously fight a crusade against e-books. It's like as soon as the Kindle was announced, the inner uptight intellectuals of hundreds of thousands of people finally came out of hiding.
"People are reading on computer screens? I need to buy a sweater vest and lots of coffee, right this second."
These people weren't just saying, "A Kindle? No, thanks, I just prefer books." They were saying, "You think your little robot is going to kill books? Well it won't. Books are going to outlive all of us, you stupid bastards. A cold, heartless Kindle will never replace the tangible ecstasy of a book. I'm a Luddite and I'm much prouder of it than I have any right to be!"
"I'm gonna fuck this book!"
Jonathan Franzen is one of my favorite authors, but I freaked out a little bit when he recently made headlines by suggesting that the continued success of e-books was going to make it "very hard to make the world work." It's fine to say that you don't like e-books because you don't like their design or functionality, but when you're saying things like, "That kind of radical contingency is not compatible with a system of justice or responsible self-government," it's possible that you're turning your personal preference into a bizarre political movement. (Also? I don't know what that sentence means.) The thing is, rabid book lovers (formerly known as "book lovers") eat that kind of thinking right up. It's not enough for them to just like books; they need to argue that choosing technology is bad for America.
I hate that reading preference turned into some kind of badge that people use to define their character. I like having physical books, but unlike the other folks in this army, I've never romanticized it. I think e-readers are freaking amazing, but I don't own one because I like to write notes inside books as I read them, and because I tend to drop and break whatever pieces of fancy technology are handed to me. (I've accidentally dropped three separate cellphones into three separate toilets in my life. This is an incredibly difficult personal record to achieve. Most people only need to fish a phone out of a toilet once to conclude, "Well, I'd better make sure I avoid situations where this is a possibility in the future." Not this guy. I once threw my phone in the toilet as a panicked defensive maneuver when I was worried that it was going to fall into my sink.)
This is how I make every phone call.
In my apartment, I really only have food and books. I feel comfortable with my choice in food (meat), but I worry about keeping all of my books around, because as of five years ago, thanks to elitist appropriation, having books meant you were a self-righteous soldier in the fight against technology that was ruining society. As a socially awkward person, I'd rather my choice of book ownership mean that I was a person who owned books (or ideally it would mean, "Don't pay any attention to that guy over there; he's clearly busy reading those books that teach people how to be less sweaty and stop stuttering").
Writing in Public
When it comes to writing, I imagine that almost everyone is more disciplined that I am. Stephen King famously said in his book On Writing that, every single morning, he locks himself in his home office and writes 1,000 words. I understand how he writes that much every day, but I don't understand how he does it in one location. I have a desk here at the Cracked offices and a desk at home, and while I can usually sit and work at them without issue, once in a while I need to get out and away. The food and television in my apartment become too distracting, the lack of direct sunlight in our office makes my brain hurt or any other damn thing gets to me. The point is, something snaps in my brain that makes it impossible for me to continue writing in one location.
This place is a prison!
The obvious solution is to head to a coffee shop and write from there, except you've been to a coffee shop full of idiots poking away at their laptops, and you hate every single one of them. So do I. Every coffee shop is full of bearded, scarf-wearing bohemians claiming to be writing screenplays on their MacBooks when really all they're doing is ordering coffee and dressing and acting like the kind of person who might have an idea for a screenplay. They're eager to talk about their post-apocalyptic steam-punk novella, or writing in general, to anyone who will listen, which is exactly what everyone else in the coffee shop is trying not to do.
"God, having so much trouble with this third act. Of my movie. The first two acts are solid, though. Hey, you guys all know I'm writing a movie, right?"
Or maybe that's not what the writers are doing. Maybe they're genuinely writing amazing screenplays, but that doesn't matter: The stereotype already exists. It's so strong that, whenever I mention going to a coffee shop to get some writing done, the inner bully that I didn't even know lived inside of me comes out and tries to give me a wedgie. Showing up at a coffee shop with a notebook or laptop, I always feel like I have to apologize to everyone who sees me. Or else I just pretend I'm not writing.
"Don't mind me, just looking at some good ol' porn!"
Playing, Owning or Holding an Acoustic Guitar at Any Time
My roommate in college was an amazing guitar player, both acoustic and electric. My oldest brother is also an incredible guitar player, and most of my coworkers are pretty great as well. I've know several good acoustic-guitar players, and they're all fairly pleasant.
I have never, in my life, seen a stranger at a party playing acoustic guitar and thought to myself, "Yes, I want to meet that fella and be his friend."
Not once, buddy.
It takes a special kind of person to, even when not solicited to do so, produce a guitar at a party and start playing (where here "special" means "awful"). And it's a real shame, because I like playing music, but I'm afraid to get an acoustic guitar, because I know that, at some point, I'll have to walk around outside holding it, whether I'm going to a friend's house to practice or heading to a gig. I don't want to do that, because any time I've ever seen someone walking around with an acoustic guitar I've instinctively thought, "Oh shut the fuck up, guy, we get it."
No one cares, pal.
I'm terrified that if I owned and practiced a guitar, I'd join the ranks of everybody else who owns and practices a guitar, which would mean I would be compelled to say, "Yeah, I play a little guitar, I guess I consider myself more of a 'singer-songwriter' than anything else," at any opportunity. And I don't want to be that guy, and my theory is that no one wants to be that guy, but everyone becomes that guy, and there's nothing they can do about it.
(Yes, being awkward means making every decision based on how random judgmental strangers on the street might perceive you. Welcome to our club. Once a week we meet at a bar where the music is too loud and the bathroom stalls don't have doors. We hate it.)
Daniel O'Brien is Cracked.com's Senior Writer (ladies), and he rides his bike to bookstores, (but he's very sorry).
For more from Dan, check out 4 Great Artists Who Make it Really Hard Not To Hate Them and 5 Things They Never Told Us.