Friday, July 09, 2010

Hipster Runoff & Kufiyas

My ongoing investigations (AKA hysterical obsessions) with kufiyas has led me to numerous critiques of kufiya style/fashion that essentially work through send-ups of the phenomenon of the hipster. I think that what I've ultimately determined is that (a) making fun of hipsters is like shooting fish in a barrel and (b) about 95% of the criticism of hipsterdom is dumber than the phenom under discussion.

I think it's taking a look at the blog Hipster Runoff that finally made me come to this conclusion. As I said, I've been looking at a lot of stuff of this ilk, and had concluded awhile back that poking fun at hipsters has become a very popular spectator sport--indulged in by legions of folks who are just too cool & clever for words.

It's Ben Sisario of the New York Times who hipped me to Hipster Runoff. In an article entitled "When Indie-Rock Genres Outnumber the Bands" (Jan. 2, 2010), Ben calls Hipster Runoff "a blog that ridicules bohemian culture with hilarious precision." Ben is usually an incisive cat, but I beg to differ on this particular claim.

Let's check out what Hipster Runoff has to say about the kufiya by running a search for keffiyeh (the conventional spelling) and Palestinian scarf. Here's what I found.

#1. The title of this post:

NYTimes writes article about Christian counseling 4 female porn addicts, includes photo of hipster porn addict

Regarding the photo, it says: "It also really helped that they had a photo of an entry-level alt girl as the physical representation of female porn addiction. Do u think she uses her keffiyeh as a cum rag?"

Error! This is not a kufiya. Hardly even a faux one. And...not funny.

On to #2.

Title: Japanese figure skater wears keffiyeh at Olympics.

Here are excerpts from the post:

Popular Japanese Figure Skater Daisuke Takahashi had a keffiyeh integrated into his cute little costume for his Olympic Contest. We cannot confirm if he is ‘alt’ or if this was actually an anti-Israeli message, showing support for the 1972 massacre of members of the Israeli Summer Olympic Team at the Munich Olympics. Based on his Japanese heritage, we find it safe to assume that he was

Do u think this was a real ‘hipster scarf’ or a politically motivated message? Is he ‘just a harmless queen on ice’?

We can only assume that his Palestinian scarf gave him the warrior power that won him the bronze medal.

Ding! Again, this scarf is so far from being a kufiya it's ridiculous. And is it really "funny" to link the supposed kufiya to anti-Israeli messages and the hostage taking and murder of Israeli athletes by Black September in 1972?

Are we laughing yet??

#3. Alt Jews launch 'Star of David' keffiyehs, 'piss off' Arabs/Palestinians

This post is actually somewhat reasonable, it contains nothing blatantly stupid. No comment from me. But it is in no way hilariously precise in its ridicule.

#4. Is the 'tube scarf' 20k10's first relevant alternative trend?

The post makes fun, in a light-hearted way, of the (apparent) emergence of the alt tube scarf. The subjects wearing tube scarves look so hideous that you can't imagine that this is even a trend.

Along the way, the author makes some comments about the kufiya. First:

I will never forget the altstreamification of the keffiyeh/Palestinian scarf. Feel like I watched this trend evolve, much like a proud father watches his son grow into an NFL player.
I'm afraid I'm not hip enough to comprehend the ironic twists involved in this statement.

But I think I grasp the next one, which ridicules the would-be, neophyte, "entry level" hipster who cluelessly wears the kufiya.

Always start to ‘giggle’/’scoff’ whenever I see some1 of any age wearing a keffiyeh, the ’scarlet letter’ of an entryleveler.

The image below follows the statement. Of course, the author doesn't really 'miss' the kufiya. This is some kind of hipster irony from someone who is way cooler than any hipster.
#5. Feeling sad that altbros got violent at the G20 Summit protests

Here the author pokes ironic fun at the April 2009 protests at the G20 Summit in London. You learn nothing here about the politics of the protesters, only about the 'amusing' confusion of the author.

As for the kufiya, the author has this to say, below this photo:

Sad that the altBro in a Keffiyeh/neon palestinian scarf gave alternative people a bad name. Think these scarves might be dead. Not sure if I want 2 wear mine, or else riot police will break into my apartment and execute my family. Not sure why the bro is throwing a sweet ass flat screen through a window. Seems like a good screen to chill and watch DVDs on. Think this protest was in France, so not sure why he is wearing an Atlanta Braves baseball cap. Must be ‘alt’ to wear American caps in France.

Is it supposed to be 'cute' that the author thinks the protests were in France, when they were in London?

The layers of ironic humor are almost too many for me to make sense of. (a) The 'bro' gave 'alt' a bad name by wearing a kufiya? Because it's Palestinian? Because it's neon? Because it's out of style? (b) The scarf is 'dead' (stylistically-speaking) anyway? (c) The author is afraid to wear his scarf because the cops might see him as a political radical. But he wouldn't wear one anyway, because he thinks it's dead.

Too much for me...

#6. This post makes fun of the trompe l'oeil kufiya t-shirt. (I blogged about this twice, here and here.)

It says, with the blindingly clever insight so characteristic of Hipster Runoff: This shirt is crafty enough to feature a Keffiyeh AKA a Palestinian scarf AKA that A-rab Scarf that hipsters wear AKA an ‘I hate Israelis’ scarf.

Yeah, that's it, a kufiya 'means' 'I hate Israelis.'

#7. Here's one where the author uses his "Palestinian scarf" for something 'functional': to cover up the smell of a port-a-potty at an outdoor concert. Given that all the authors of Hipster Runoff appear to be snarky twenty-something white males, I suppose that some kufiya-related potty humor was inevitable.

#8. A post from Feb. 27, 2009: Are Palestinian Scarves Still Authentically Alt?

The answer appears to be 'no,' in part because they are advertised--in numerous guises, including the Kanye West Houndstooth style--on and: 'I think in recent months, it has become ‘cool’ to support Israel and altJews.'

I have no idea where this notion comes from.

#9. The Search for the Most Authentic Alternative Scarf. (January '09)

General making fun of scarves, including wearing them when it's 85+ outside.

Notable for this remark:
h8 u Palestinian scarves. trying 2 forget abt 2k8, yall.

Incisive critique of hipsterdom: anything worn last year is worthy of h8.

#10. Altbro or altbag.

A contest to decide what is the true nature of this gentleman:

Please justify your answer in order to be mailed your $5 Chili’s gift card. For example: “He is an altBro because he has a gymbag full of miscellaneous alternative g00dies and his palestinian scarf. And also his sunglassies.” or “He is an altBag because of his progressive bowlcut + postAltBro humble loafers.”
The knowledgeable reader, of course, is supposed to recognize that the guy is ridiculous and looks like a douchebag. I guess.


There are a few more references to "Palestinian scarves" but they don't really bear discussing.

I'm worn out from trying to make sense of all the layers of irony and 'subtle' humor. No doubt I am showing my age. But I think I can conclude that kufiyas/Palestinian scarves remain a useful and productive stick with which to beat up hipsters. After reading through so much of this, my sympathies now lie much more with the hipsters (who, of course, everyone denies being) than with the lame ass critics.

1 comment:

justin said...

"I'm worn out from trying to make sense of all the layers of irony and 'subtle' humor."

Yeah. Hipster Runoff is sort of a meta-meta-commentary on hipster culture, to the point that it generally doesn't make any sense. The basic posture is making fun of hipsters by pretending to be an ur-hipster making fun of lesser hipsters. It's almost impossible to understand without a.) reading lots of Hipster Runoff and b.) being fully immersed in the Brooklyn hipster culture that it grows out of. I'm not suggesting you do either, but rest assured, there are at least two layers of irony to everything Carles writes. I don't know myself if it's funny or not (usually not), but it's certainly not worth getting frustrated about. His goal is (I think) more to skewer the mass media idea of the hipster as much as anything. Your taking umbrage to the blog is playing into the general goal of it. Which, again, is not really coherent or consistent.