Saturday, September 11, 2010

Hipster Annals: Combination Pizza Hut and Psychopath

Watching Howl Festival poets recite the original Ginsberg poem/rant “Howl” last night — and planning a return visit to its Tompkins Square Park environs in a couple hours, among other things to see German-born artist/dancer Sindy Butz and others mark the anniversary of 9/11 — I am reminded, with all due respect to the poets and performers of the Lower East Side, DUMBO, Williamsburg, and this mythical Greenpoint place, that it’s tough to separate the artists from the crazy people sometimes.  Yet it’s important to do so to avoid, say, having to explain to police at 3am why your friend felt compelled to steal a wall-mounted moosehead from a dive bar and spray paint it orange (“international orange,” to represent global harmony), if you know what I mean.

I for one am tired of the insane, especially of their insanity.

Given that insanity is normally seen as an attribute of individuals, though, it’s worth seriously asking whether a collective or a society can be in a meaningful sense insane.  I mean, hey, if everybody’s doing it, etc., etc.  If the answer is yes — because group dynamics, while not amenable to examination in the same way that brain chemistry sometimes is, can at least be fingered as the cause of greatly increased irrational behavior by individuals — then it might even be fair to ask whether there can literally be specific “insane situations,” just as the colloquial phrase suggests, and finally whether weirdo artists and hipsters may make such situations more likely in a bad way:

•Take the concert by the novelty hiphop band Das Racist that I nearly went to a few months ago — they being the clever men behind the song “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.” Apparently, I missed quite a show, not because Das Racist is great live (I’ve since read that they’re awful) but because, I’m told, they never showed up, and the whole crowd ended up accidentally fenced into an alley adjacent to the performance space for a long period, with orneriness and scuffling resulting.  In short, I almost went to the worst, most insane concert since, y’know, one of the ones with the actual trampling.

•On this day when we commemorate an attack on the U.S. that was itself an act of attention-seeking madness, I also pause to remember that not long ago I held in my own lap a cause of cultural warfare: Unbeknownst to me, the pug that I held while chatting with a group of drunken hipsters (friends of a friend of a friend mine) was the quasi-famous one who had months earlier puked on a subway, causing its hipster owner to end up in a verbal altercation with the Hasidic cop who wanted to cite her for the dog-vomit and, far worse in the minds of the anti-traditionalist hipsters watching, told her to act like a “lady.”  This led to such tensions between the two Williamsburg factions represented that a townhall-style debate was later held over whether the hipsters and Hasidim could get along.

•And one could chronicle endless bizarre incidents from Tompkins Square Park in the not-so-distant old days when it was filled with actual punks and heroin addicts instead of just well-dressed poets who have secretly tried heroin.

Where will it all end?  About a decade ago, I naively scoffed at my friend Chris Whitten’s fears about the rising tide of reality TV (having myself enjoyed the early When Animals Attack specials on Fox but not imagining the things that lay ahead).  Chris reminded me that arena spectacles served a similar visceral-yet-detached function for the ancient Romans and that “the Romans just kept getting sicker and sicker,” as he put it.

A decade after that conversation, as it happens, one of the stars of the arena-combat drama Gladiator is being laughed at across America (starting this weekend) for spiraling into mental illness in front of documentarian cameras.

The physical universe won’t — can’t — change, so rational, productive people will still have to clean up the crazies’ messes.  But I wonder how far society can — and will — go in the direction of glamorizing and valorizing lunacy, with all the juvenile acting-out, getting overwrought, and breaking of things that lunacy brings, once people have an incentive to give into it?  We shouldn’t have to live in a world where it makes sense for me to ask: Would it be a rational career move for me to burn something today?

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