6 Sick Hipsters [Buy Now]
By Rayo Casablanca
Kensington Publishing, 288 pages, $15
I wanted to like Rayo Casablanca's 6 Sick Hipsters, the novel touted on the back cover as a "hilarious, frenetic, adrenalin-charged debut" in which the author "does for modern day Brooklyn what Bret Easton Ellis' Less than Zero did for '80s L.A."
More than like it, I wanted to get it. Turns out, I'm not that hip.
Set in Williamsburg (or "Billyburg," the thrift shop and café-lined part of Brooklyn), Hipsters takes off at breakneck speed with a snarl of characters and lifestyles. The many species of hipster variants are well documented (see Robert Lanham's 2003 The Hipster Handbook). In Casablanca's taxonomy can be found those who write paleontological porn and those who go blind or crazy from drinking absinthe. Many smoke cloves and glare. A lot. Music is obscure. Unless you're a scenster, you've probably never heard it.
The premise is that a serial murderer called "Doctor Jeep," so named for a single by the '80s band Sisters of Mercy, is killing off the style-setters: the indie filmmakers, the garage band frontmen, the comic-book enthusiasts, and so on. To be sure, it's a strange premise for a book that purports its own sub-cultural significance — to kill off the heroes as a method of glorifying them.
Even so, Casablanca explains in a recent interview by telephone:
"I can't tell you how many times people have told me that they really liked reading about hipsters getting whacked."
Though Casablanca "never actually sat down to write a book to indulge those looking for hipster killing kicks," he suspects that's the novel's biggest draw. To the author, the "real" hipster is Jeep, who's "the embodiment of everything surface and shallow, what people hate about the hipster culture. He is elitist, obsessed with esoteric trivia, the end result of living only for The Scene."
So Jeep quizzes victims before dispatching them. To a G.I. Joe collector: "I need you to name the six members of Voltron in two minutes or less." To an electroclash/folk singer: "I've got a good feeling that I know more about New Wave music than you do. That's why I want to challenge you. It's a duel."
Beyond Jeep, the cast is an unbearable lot. One passage goes like this: "'Are you on something?' Harrison asked. 'I grabbed some pills from Cooper at the party. Took them an hour or so ago. Helps.' 'Knitting fucked up, how original ...'"
It's hard to mourn their passing.
Then again, other generation-defining stories — Trainspotting, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Reality Bites, Singles — have already set the stage for unsympathetic characters. Perhaps most notable is Catcher in the Rye's Holden Caulfield, the poster child of angst-ridden anti-fashion.
"I see hipsters as being Caulfield-like only insomuch as most jaded 20- or 30-somethings are Caulfield-like," Casablanca says. "Salinger channeled the angst and ennui of youth in America. Eschewing the mainstream, pulling down the phoniness of our glossy society, pointing out hypocrisy — that's what intelligent kids do."
Not what the personalities in Hipsters do, an important distinction.
Casablanca's characters glorify pop culture largely by claiming to rail against it, much as Ellis' characters in Less Than Zero seek to mollify L.A.-borne soullessness with constant partying. The myopic worlds of these books set the stage for characters unable to see past their own insular and self-destructive communities.
Destruction is key. The violence of Hipsters is what turned me off as a reader (I also couldn't get through Pulp Fiction), but Casablanca (who, unlike Jeep, is concerned with far more than The Scene) points out: "The characters, not necessarily the reader, assume that killing someone will be easy [and] that violence is simple. Clearly it's not. I overemphasized the brutality of the violence for that reason — it's meant as a splash of cold water."
Like, say, Fight Club. Not for the weak of stomach. It makes a hell of a statement. But does it work? Does Hipsters accomplish its goal? Does it elevate hipsterdom to icon status?
"I don't see it as a watershed book," the author says. "If anything I assume it will be something of a cult novel." He says that his true interest lies in subcultures and the "genesis and decline of trends."
"We're just hosts for half-brained fads."
At the end of the day, the fad that Casablanca ultimately pegs in his book is not so much the hip elite but the guilty pleasure (for those not in the club) of seeing them served their just desserts. If you can't join 'em, whack 'em.