The Hipster Effect » easy rider Identity, society and work in the age of perpetual connectivity Tue, 26 Mar 2013 00:35:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Book excerpt: Mr. Bro /2011/12/05/mr-bro/ /2011/12/05/mr-bro/#comments Mon, 05 Dec 2011 20:46:57 +0000 Sophy Bot /?p=469 more]]> “What’s ‘dude?’ Is that like ‘dude ranch?’”
“Dude means nice guy. Dude means a regular sort of person.”
– Easy Rider, 1969

“Let me explain something to you. Um, I am not ‘Mr. Lebowski.’ You’re Mr. Lebowski. I’m the Dude. So that’s what you call me. You know, that or, uh, His Dudeness, or uh, Duder, or El Duderino if you’re not into the whole brevity thing.”
– The Big Lebowski, 1998

When Captain America got onto his motorcycle and rode off into the sunset in the 1969 film Easy Rider, he was off to pursue the dream of a life worth living, one outside of the mainstream and decided upon by his own terms. Similarly, when The Dude ditched all responsibilities to go bowling in 1998’s The Big Lebowski, he was following the unspoken rule of cool: do what you want to do and don’t worry what other people think. Each film was pivotal for its generation, defining a cool aesthetic and providing a hero who lived life on his own terms and did his own thing despite any nay-saying. But in the three decades that elapsed between the two films, a lot had changed. In Easy Rider, our heroes meet a tragic ending as a result of their subcultural lifestyle. Much of the film is spent defending themselves against regular folks who just don’t get why they have long hair and ride motorcycles. They are seen as a menace to be avoided. Although The Big Lebowski took a decidedly funnier approach to the subcultural David vs. mainstream Goliath story, the message was largely the same: the lead character was a rebel trying to live his life outside of the confines of day-to-day society – only this time, The Dude ran into conflict because of a random coincidence, not because he was shunned by everybody around him for his appearance.

Life in the 21st century is casual in a way that life in the 1960s never was, particularly in the United States. Back then, you wore a suit not only to go to work, but to go to a restaurant, to go to a theater, to get on a plane, or to do just about anything else that required leaving the house. You addressed your neighbors as Mr. and Mrs. Jones and they addressed you the same way. Jeans were meant for farmers and physical laborers. You did not share the intimate details of your life with anybody but your nearest and dearest, and you definitely didn’t share them anonymously or with strangers. Proper etiquette was vital and the fork always had to go on the left, even if you were eating one of those newly invented TV dinners. Rules were unspoken and social conventions dictated your actions depending on whatever situation you found yourself in. And you most certainly did not ask anybody to call you Dude.

Fast forward to present day and it doesn’t take a Julia Child to tell you that everything has changed. Although many jobs still require you to wear a suit, increasing amounts of billionaires run their companies wearing jeans and a t-shirt. You are on an instant first name basis with every telemarketer and store clerk you meet and would probably be considered stiff if you tried to introduce yourself to neighbors by last name only. Etiquette is reserved for fancy restaurants and business luncheons. We blog, we tweet, we update our statuses, and we share a remarkable level of detail about our lives with complete strangers. We speak in slang and we write in abbreviations. Having a nickname is cool and being able to go to work in your sweats is a sign of privilege, not of slovenliness. The omnipresence of camera phones makes it easy to catch you off-guard and immediately share your image online with your friends, family and colleagues. Being formal is boring and stuffy. Being artfully informal is the new name of the game.

To be cool in previous eras meant to brazenly show off your informality. It was a sign of rebellion against societal norms and it took a lot of guts to so openly defy proper cultural conventions. These days, there’s just not as much to defy. Even though social norms still exist and cause great amounts of judgment and gossip, people are no longer shocked as easily. Nonconformity becomes more and more difficult as conformity becomes more and more casual and has more and more iterations. Once, we sought to have freedom from doing what was required of us. Now, we want freedom to do what we want. The Captain America of Easy Rider would hardly be noticed today, nor would The Big Lebowski’s Dude turn many heads. In an age when we have every choice in the world constantly laid out before our eyes and can join as many microcultures as we want to based on whatever our interests may be, we do have the freedom to do what we want. And even if we can’t do it in person, we can always head over to the internet and do it all anonymously.

The above is an excerpt from my new book, “The Hipster Effect: How the Rising Tide of Individuality is Changing Everything We Know about Life, Work and the Pursuit of Happiness.”


Image credit: Screenshot from The Big Lebowski


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