Hipster sitting in alley.
Run! Hide! Old people are coming, and they blame you for the downfall of Western civilization.
We're talking about hipsters - the hard-to-pin-down souls who look like someone put 70 years' worth of subculture samples (from fedoras to Fred Perry to plaid) into a meat grinder and they're the sausage that came out.
Even the term "hipster" is a throwback.
In 1957, Norman Mailer wrote, "The bohemian and the juvenile delinquent came face-to-face with the Negro, and the hipster was a fact in American life." He was referring to white kids appropriating aspects of the predominantly black 40s underground jazz scene.
Eventually, they were co-opted into the consumerist clump, just like the hippies, the punks, grunge, today's hipsters and tomorrow's... well, whatever the brand turns out to be.
"Everyone gets caught up in this idea that there's something authentic about their subculture - and then they get co-opted," says Andrew Potter, cultural theorist and co-author of a book on subcultures called The Rebel Sell: Why The Culture Can't Be Jammed. The cultural group then gets fed a market-made "pablumized" version of itself.
Anti-consumerism mag Adbusters has called hipsterdom a countercultural cul-de-sac uninterested in challenging the "dysfunction and decadence of their elders."
But Potter, who has written for Adbusters, says the idea that past subcultures had a political agenda is bullshit. Punk had no political agenda, he says, "they just thought they had one."
Really, did grunge's contribution to the debate amount to anything more than Pearl Jam refusing to use Ticketmaster?
"Hipsters don't even pretend that they're trying to stick it to the Man," says Potter. "They just spend their time doing whatever it is they do in Brooklyn or on Queen West."
But what is that that hipsters do?
What do they wear?
Where do they go?
What do they want?
More importantly - who's asking?
The answer, of course, is ad people.
Where such subcultures used to thrive unmolested for months, even years, in their own cool pockets like SoHo or Camden Town, today's hip kids can't even get a couple of months out of a pair of Ray-Bans or Cheap Monday jeans before everybody's wearing them.
Identity loss is happening faster than ever before, thanks to the all-seeing interweb and MTV. Hell, even USA Today has a guide to hipsters.
Back when Hal Niedzviecki, author of culture critique Hello, I'm Special, edited indie arts mag Broken Pencil, he cared about what was cool.
Not any more.
The idea that something is cool is a fantasy dreamed up by ad people, he says. James Dean wore denim jeans and suddenly they went from practical work pants to rebel couture. Doc Martens went from comfy middle-aged women's shoes to punk/grunge/hipster must-haves. The keffiyeh, the traditional Arab head scarf, became a mid-2000s fashion accessory .
"This whole concept of cool was marketed and created to inspire teenagers who were coming into their own as consumers," says Niedzviecki.
That's great if you want to buy into cool quickly. But once something gets recognized as cool, it no longer is.
"If things can be purchased, it's hard to keep them cool," says Potter.
As styles are worn and shed, each cycle - be it neon, DIY shirts or Keds - leaves a little residue. Snowballing criteria for who is a hipster expand to the point that anyone can be called a hipster for one reason or another.
But the term "hipster" describes a subculture incapable of sculpting its own identity, so why not try to ditch the term entirely? That's exactly what's been happening since the first hipster denied being one.
Hipsters are like cockroaches (think speed and resilience, not pestilence). Shine a light on them and they scurry into the nearest shadow. If that cockroach were a blogger, it might post a comment denying it even was a cockroach.
So the coolness cold war ends when the tragically hip leave the negotiating table, tossing the term "hipster" to the masses like chaff. They respond to any reference to hipsterdom, whether it's an article on nightlife photography or a blog post about American Apparel, as though that ship sailed long ago.