Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Post article on Columbia Heights Target and "hipsters"

So I've gotten a bunch of emails about this today: The Post has an article about the Columbia Heights Target with the headline "Columbia Heights Hipsters Stumble Into Target Territory." It's written by Monica Hesse, and here's the first line:
For the hipsters, post-hipsters or quasi-hipsters who moved into Columbia Heights several years ago for the grit and the cheap rent and the proximity to the Wonderland Ballroom (the hipster, post-hipster or quasi-hipster bar that sponsors local music and nights like "Sundress Fest"), life can be divided into two discrete phases: Before Target. After Target.
Now there's a valid point about the Target, but what is all this hipster stuff? What are "hipsters, post-hipsters or quasi-hipsters"? Is she saying that everybody in Columbia Heights is one of those amorphous terms? I would argue that most of the newcomers to the neighborhood (me included) are yuppies in the tightest sense of the word - young, urban professionals.

There's a lot of other things I disagree with about this article. Another line is "But this complex [DCUSA] is not why the quasi-hipsters of Columbia Heights had moved to the neighborhood. They were seeking bragging rights, and bodegas spilling over from Mount Pleasant. They were seeking urban."

Now to some extent this is true for me. I wanted to be in an urban neighborhood because I like the city. But I moved here because rent was decent and there was a lot of new and convenient things going in, like DCUSA and restaurants, and it was close to the Metro, U Street, and Adams Morgan. I could care less about "bragging rights, and bodegas." Plus there's no source for that assertion in the article, no expert to say "this is why people move to CH."

Hesse also talks about how people used to get a Zipcar and go to Jefferson Davis Highway to go to Target, Best Buy, etc. This is true. But she asserts that
Along the way, you talked about how glad you were that you didn't live down there, and how ironic it was for you to be going there at all, as you normally just bartered on Freecycle, and how your dad still tried to be cool by pronouncing it in French, Tar-zhay. You got to the Target, and you bought a microsuede storage bench, a duvet and a doormat, and on the way home you stopped at Outback Steakhouse (which was totally hilarious), and in polite company you never spoke of these suburban adventures again.
Maybe I'm crazy, but I went there because I needed stuff. I didn't live there because I don't like the suburbs and driving everywhere. I bought the stuff and then came home. And sometimes I went to IHOP because IHOP is awesome and there aren't any in DC (yet).

But there are some interesting points in the article, like the discussion on the 2nd page of the article that Target may be accelerating the move to adulthood -- buying a wreath for your door and matching sheets, for example. That one actually has some quotes to back it up, and it's an interesting point. Unfortunately, there's a lot more in the article about the hipster thing, that apparently if you live in Columbia Heights you're some kind of countercultural ironic hipster.

The odd thing is, that's impossible to be refute, because no one really agrees on what a hipster is. Maybe it's like obscenity: "I know it when i see it." But the thing is, the phrase is used so much, especially in DC, that it's meaningless. People describe U Street as a hipster area, or Marvin or Wonderland as a hipster bar. What? What is a hipster? You like indie rock? You dress stylishly? You wear vintage clothes? You go to hip bars, or dive bars, or vegan bars? I know people who do some of those things yet work in Congress or in law firms. I don't think anybody would consider them a "hipster." Maybe it was a real term 10 or 20 years ago, but a lot of the things that supposed hipsters do or did is mainstream now, like fashion. For example, DCist and The Onion's AV Club specifically ban the word because it's meaningless.

In my brief interaction with Hesse, she was perfectly nice. She called me a few weeks ago about the article and asked if I ever felt ashamed (I think that was her word) to go to Target, or if I ever went multiple times a day and felt lame about it. I didn't. She asked if I knew anybody who did, and I asked around a bit and didn't find anybody (though admittedly I didn't try too hard). But the hipster thing wasn't mentioned -- I wonder if it's some kind of go-to term for articles?

Anyway, that's my thoughts. Yours? Sommer at DCist had something to say too, and we make similar points from the looks of it.


  1. The hipster phenomenon has a lot to do with a profound change in the urban fabric of twenty first century American cities. In the middle of the twentieth century, white flight was driving the affluent out of urban areas everywhere. That cities are experiencing a cultural and economic renaissance is naturally correlated with the next generation of those same affluent families moving back into the same urban areas that their parents and grand parents abandoned.

    The fact that these young affluent white people listen to certain music and dress a certain way is a related but separate issue that has more to do with a revitalization of folk aesthetic in independent music as well as post-modern fashion. These are trends that these people were exposed to because of their families' resources that allowed them to go to liberal arts colleges and to travel in Europe for a semester or two. In these exclusive and comfortable environments, they have the leisure time to develop a sophisticated version of what is the current mode of "cool." For all of the hipster-haters, I think it is pretty clear that this urban-folk aesthetic is pretty much the "coolest" thing we got going on right now as an american culture. Even hip hop (the previous cool) has started to be influenced by tighter clothes and neon sunglasses.

  2. (edit of my comment on PoP)

    I totally disagree with some key premises of the "article."

    We DC residents have known the Target was coming for almost five years and, even before that, we hoped and expected that something of the sort would be coming on the heels of the metro station’s opening in 1999. All of the recent development that has been happening is what had been hoped for and expected in CH - and it is WHY people have been moving here for the past 5 - 10 years.

    (I bought a place in CH in 2006, after renting in Mt Pleasant for years before that)

    Some young transients (who, by definition, will be gone in a couple years) aside, in the real world people don’t choose where to live out of a desire for street cred or edginess.

    People chose to move to CH because it was an affordable, interesting, diverse, convenient, walkable neighborhood with convenience to most of the city, some places to eat and shop, and a bunch of available housing AND, most importantly, an anticipated bright economic future (driven by the new metro station) of expanded retail options, greater safety and convenience, and (yeah, I said it) higher property values.

    I also do not comprehend the term 'hipster' (although i'm pretty sure the writer would have used it to describe me until a few years ago). But that doesn't mean my criteria for choosing where to live were any different or more superficial than anyone else.

    The people who settled down here in the past decade are not the frogs, we are the heat.

  3. i try not to define myself by the neighborhood i live in. i grew up in the suburbs with all the traffic and decided when i grow up I don't want to own a car.

    i don't make much money, and i couldnt afford to live in arlington or alexandria so i chose Columbia Heights around 7 years ago. I am a life-long republican (not ironically). Am I still a hipster?

    This article is worthless, she wrote it before she even interviewed anyone, and it appears she is exactly the person she is writing about.

  4. The best exigesis of "hipster" ever: http://catandgirl.com/?p=559

  5. monroehaus... did you cut and paste those paragraphs out of your urban geography book? Thanks for the school lesson. Fucko. I live in Co-High and i like the area but i hate hate hate those fucking kids

  6. incorrect about the IHOP, andrew. there's one in ward 8, on alabama ave. in front of the new-ish giant on the old camp simms property.

  7. point taken. not one where I would normally pass though.

  8. "Rent is decent"? In Columbia Heights? Umm...yeah...okay...whatever you say... My CH apartment isn't really any bigger than my one in Foggy Bottom was, but it's $1600/month while the FB one was $1185. $400 difference! My family can't believe a studio or one bed room is over $1000 here. Back home, $800 would be expensive for a 2-bedroom apartment.

  9. Well, decent compared to other similar DC hoods. Better than say Dupont, Logan, U Street, etc.

    I've always found that Foggy Bottom was way more expensive than most places, however.

  10. I should add to what I said that I have friends who paid $1800/month last year for their 3-bedroom apartment in West Falls Church with 4 of them living in it.

  11. I need hipster replacement surgery.

  12. She was just trying to be fun and funny (and, ironically, hip) - painful to watch/read when people who are not any of that try.

  13. ha... hipster replacement... that made me laugh

  14. A lot of bloggers have commented on the "hipster" focus. I don't really understand why. Sure, the word is getting overused, but do you have any question in your mind about the subculture she's talking about?

    And she's not saying everyone in columbia heights is like this, not at all. She's talking specifically about certaint people who moved here within the last 3-5 years, before Target opened, who generally fit that description. That seemed pretty clear: here phrase is for the hipsters.... That's who she's talking about, not about everyone else who doesn't fit that description.

    The article was a puff piece. I thought it was pretty funny. And a lot of her assessments of the subculture are not very far off base.

    There's an awful lot of defensiveness going on in the blogosphere about this. I suspect that the people who are protesting the most are the people who resemble that remark.

  15. One other observation about the word "hipster." So maybe it's hard to define one exactly. But at the same time, I think everyone knows one when they see one.

  16. but do they? If people are calling U Street and Marvin places hispters go, as well as Wonderland or DC9, then there's obviously some disparity. Some people seem to think anybody who is young and goes to places is a hipster. And I would hardly consider Wonderland a hipster bar anymore, anyway. It's just lazy to me "hipster" this and "hipster" that. Plus she says lots of other incorrect "truths" about the neighborhood that I mentioned, and there's no backing up any of them.

  17. @Andrew, what was incorrect? I personally know many people who exactly fit the profile she's describing. They bitched about how DCUSA/Target was going to destroy Columbia Heights before it opened. But now they shop there all the time and love it. And there are definitely people I would describe as hipsters at Ruby Tuesday.

    I think the disconnect for you is that she isn't describing you. My point is, she's not making a sweeping proclamation, or even generalizing. She's talking about a specific subculture. That was pretty clear to me.

    So you don't personally fit in that subculture. That may be true, but then the article isn't about you.

  18. The correct saying "I could NOT care less.."

    Not "I could care less." If you could care less, than that means you care at least somewhat about the subject, which is not the point of the saying. The point of the saying is that you don't care. Hence, you could *not* care any less than you already don't.


  19. @jamie, but she is making sweeping generalizations, tons of them! Or she's trying to make joking ones, and I didn't find them funny. As I wrote in the post, she says everybody in CH is a hipster, which clearly is not true. She says people moved here to have bragging rights and to be be near Mt. Pleasant's bodegas, which is not why I moved here. She says everybody would snicker and joke about Target when they went there in Virginia, which I didn't do. There's plenty to write about the Target, but don't generalize the neighborhood about it. It's not some monolith, clearly.

    @Anonymous - you're welcome!

  20. @Andrew, where does she say everyone in Columbia Heights is a hipster? That is where you are wrong.

    The very first sentence.

    "For the hipsters, post-hipsters or quasi-hipsters who moved into Columbia Heights several years ago"

    "But this complex is not why the quasi-hipsters of Columbia Heights had moved to the neighborhood. "

    Do you think nobody lived here before then? Or that nobody other than hipsters has moved here?

    Reading comprehension. Seriously.
    If you can accept that fact that she's only talking about a subculture, then are you OK with the article?

  21. The correct then/than usage: "Then".

    Not "than", the proper usage is "then." "Than" implies a comparison, which is not the point of what you are saying. The point of what you are saying is based on sequencing. Hence, I am a superior form of Grammer Wizard.


  22. Let me put it another way. If you read this:

    "For the Korean immigrants who moved into Mt. Pleasant in the 1970's"

    "But this complex is not why the Korean immigrants of Mt. Pleasant had moved to the neighborhood. "

    Would you be saying "but I'm not a Korean immigrant!!"

    If she's not talking about you then it's totally irrelevant that this doesn't describe you. Really.

  23. Max: Way to be the grammar police and be completely wrong. The comparison is to the other people who live in Columbia Heights.


    "I had no choice other than that."

    "outclassed everyone other than her."

    "nobody other than hipsters"

    There is no correct usage of "then" with the word "other," which clearly creates a comparison.

  24. Hi Jaime. Didn't read what you wrote. I'm talking @anonymous August 5, 2009 9:48 AM.

    Because I am a Gramer warlock and clearly a superior form of life as a result! Huzzah!

  25. My mistake. Grammar defense withdrawn.

    I agree that grammar warlocks are, indeed, superior forms of life. Without proper grammar and the reading comprehension skills that come with it, we end up debating silly articles for days because not everyone agrees on the point of it.

  26. @jamie, you don't have to be snarky to make a point. To me, she's implying that everybody who moved here a few years ago is a hipster. There's "But this complex is not why the quasi-hipsters of Columbia Heights had moved to the neighborhood" -- the "of" implies to me that everybody who moved here is a quasi-hipster, whatever that is. If it said "But this complex is not why quasi-hipsters moved to Columbia Heights" then I would agree with you, it's referring to a specific subculture (though again, without a definition). Same thing with the article's subheadline "Suburban-Retail Icon Seduces Hipsters Of Columbia Heights" -- if it said "Suburban-Retail Icon Seduces Hipsters In Columbia Heights" then I'd agree.

    To me, it's an implicit generalization that everybody here is a hipster, which I don't think is the case.

    As for the Korean example, the issue is that "hipster" can be so broad and has no real definition -- like I said, people say U Street is hipster. But Korean immigrant is specific and has an actual definition -- immigrants from Korea. Does Hesse think all those people quoted in the article are hipsters? I went to college with the first girl quoted and I wouldn't consider her a hipster, yet she's used as ammunition for Hesse's argument. There's just a lot of wholes in the article to me. If it left out the hipster crap, I wouldn't mind it.

  27. But being snarky is fun! Anyway, I just don't agree. If you take her to be implying that everyone here is a hipster, then I'd say you already have a sensitivity to everyone in Columbia Heights as being generalized as a hipster. Or maybe even yourself. I personally find it all very hilarious.

    But linguistically I don't think there's any ambiguity in the way it was written and I don't even think it was her intent. I don't really see any difference between using the word "the" or not. If anything, it makes it more clear that she's talking about something specific.

    What sounds worse? "slums of beverly hills" or "the slums of beverly hills?" Using the definite article sets it apart, specifically.

    Anyway, this is beyond minutia. I just don't agree with the point of your post, since I don't think that was the point of her article.

  28. jamie, fair enough. It could indeed be sensitivity about people calling the neighborhood "hipstery" or whatever. I get pretty riled up to defend it, as you can tell! Same when people say CH is the ghetto or dangerous or whatever.

  29. Hi Max,

    "Could care less" is a common incorrect use of the cliche "could not care less", regardless of whether or not "then" and "than" were used incorectly to point it out.

    It's not about grammar. It's about improperly stating a common cliche. So nobody is trying to be a "Grammar Wizard" here, other than you.


  30. Totally with you on the ghetto/dangerous thing. Usually that comes from people who live in Fairfax and drive 20 miles to work every day.

    I usually just point out that the average American has about a 1 in 7,000 chance of being killed in a car accident each year. More, obviously, if you drive more than average. I ask them why that doesn't concern them.

  31. The problem is that 'hipster' is a far too broad an nebulous term. What defines what exactly a hipster is? As someone mentioned earlier, is it the Wonderland crowd or the Marvin crowd? Do they go to indie rock shows or dance to electro DJs? Why does a DC hipster look different than a Bmore hipster or an LA hipster or a BK hipster, etc?

    I'm just as guilty of using the label as anyone...until I was suddenly single and actually going out to places I considered 'hipster'. I then realized that these spots are filled with INDIVIDUALS with different tastes, styles, backgrounds, etc, just like anywhere else. As Andrew said earlier, hipster is a lazy, catch-all term. Its starting to become just a derogatory term to describe any subculture different than one's own.

  32. Okay annon, you can be Cliche Commando and I'll be the Gramer Warlock. Man, look how nicely everyone is getting along now!

  33. The people who moved here in the past 5 years are not staying here DESPITE the fact that Target opened... they moved here with full knowledge that, and largely BECAUSE, the Target was coming.

    Ignoring transients (which, admittedly make up a big percentage of the residents, and maybe most of the hipster residents), anyone who has moved here in the past 10-15 years has done so in anticipation of the expected economic recovery of which Target is the clearest symbol.

    Anyone who says "Damn - I can't believe a fucking Target opened up in Columbia Heights" is just being disingenuous.

  34. The most spirited debate on this site yet. I think it is because the author of that post article is a total jack ass. No one culture or influence dominates Columbia Heights. That is what makes it such a unique area. Also, what the hell does Target have to do with any of it. If you are cool you can't buy toilet paper or a laundry basket or a trash can. Dumb, very dumb. Andrew, DC ist had a good take. You should link to that.

  35. Anon, do you mean the author as in me or the Post writer?

    And I linked to the DCist post, it's in the last line.

  36. I've lived in C Heights for nearing on 5 years and I'm not happy about the Targetification. I am one half hipster, one half nerd. However, I get WAY more sick of the whining about "this neighborhood is changing'. That's what happens in a city. A city is a living entity that OUGHT to change. If you want a neighborhood that stays the same, go live in some one stoplight town or whatever.

  37. Andrew, anonymous here. I meant the author of the Wa Po article. I would never assail you on your own blog. I think you do a great job and offer a great free forum for us quasi-urban hipster, yuppy, black, gay, hispanic, white, asian and vegetarian columbia heights residents.

  38. jaime, I have a problem with your core argument that people shouldn't be "taking it" a certain way or reading it a certain way. It has nothing to do with reading comprehension. It has everything to do with conveyance. If someone reads an opinion article like that and "takes it" to mean something, they have just as valid point as how you take it. Particularly with statements of argument, the conveyance of the message has a sender and a receiver. In this case, you and Andrew are receivers. You have just as much right to argue the intent of the sender as Andrew. You aren't the authority of the intent, though. The sender is.

  39. Anon @ 1:25 is me, Don, by the way. I just don't have access to my blogger account for whatever reason. Anyway, more on the hipster thing. According to Adbusters.org, "a class of individuals that seek to escape their own wealth and privilege by immersing themselves in the aesthetic of the working class" Similar to the trustafarians you knew (but weren't a part of) in college.
    In this sense I'm not a hipster. While born of privelege, my mode of production and material surroundings have determined my ideology. It is no escape. I wear crappy clothes because I live paycheck to paycheck.

  40. @Anon 1:25, fair enough. But I think that when someone goes off the handle over something which strikes a sensitive nerve, I'm perfectly justified to say "umm, hey, you know I don't think that's what she meant."

    You're right, only the author can tell us what she really meant, and without her input, all we can do is debate the language. Which is what I was doing. I think Andrew's criticisms are more reflective of a visceral reaction to the overuse of the term "hipster" than what she was actually saying.

    The amount of uproar over the "hipster" term is mind boggling to me (across the "blogosphere," not just here). The subculture she's talking about exists whether you like the word hipster or not. You know the subculture exists. I am friends with them. I know them. I might even be one. They are real.

    I can't think of a better word than hipster. They like thrift stores, tattoos, fixed gear bikes, and possibly the Animal Collective. And they generally hate corporate America. If you have a word that offends less, then fine, but she's talking about people who exist.

  41. It seems clear to me that folks who get labeled as being a 'hipster' do not like being assigned that moniker.

    The irony here is that 'hipsters' tend to mock those outside of the subculture as being 'uncool.' Any of you hipsters out there reading this, admit it, it is what you do. However, once someone assails them, forget it. War has been declared.

    'How dare you call me a hipster?' tends to be the cry. As you inquired in your post, 'Is it like obscenity?' The 'I know it when I see it' claim certainly applies here. 'Hipsters' do have a look, one that you roughly described in your post. Is it all encompassing? No. Can it be applied to people that you described? Yes.

    Fight me on this if you may but why do you not own up to what you are? There is nothing wrong with it. You are part of a subculture, face the facts.

    Wonderland is a hipster bar, as is the Red Derby and to a much lesser extent Marx Cafe has shown hipster leanings as well. It is 'ok'. As for Marvin, well I think that place is loaded with douchebags. That has been my experience anyway.

    The neighborhood has changed and continues to change.

  42. JrWorthy, about Marvin, that's my point -- some people see young people dressed well (like in Marvin) and think "hipster." Some people think "douchebag" instead. Some people see Wonderland in each way too. It's too vague for me.

    Plus how is the subculture defined? Jobs? Fashion? Music? A lot of the fashion and music that are supposedly for hipsters are mainstream or trendy -- you see 13 year old African American kids in Columbia Heights in skinny jeans and American Apparel t-shirts -- are they hipsters? Radiohead and Wilco sell out Nissan Pavillion -- are there that many hipsters? Maybe 10-20 years ago it was a defined thing, now it's not.

    But that's only part of my problem with the article, as I tried to point out, there were lots of other generalizations.

    PS this is the record for most comments on my site!

  43. There hasn't been a hipster at Wonderland in years, unless of course the article just means "over 21 year old who goes out at night."


Please don't advertise in the comments, and please enter some kind of name when you comment instead of being anonymous.

If the post is more than 28 days old, your comment must be approved first.