Cool? Alternative? Hip? What do these words mean and who fits into which groups? Do you need tattoos? Piercings? Doc Martins? Popped collars? Sunglasses in doors? There are no more rules. Mainstream and alternative cultures existed as two poles between which the “cool” allocation has bounced back and forth throughout the eras. The definition of mainstream is literally something that is thought popular by the majority, whilst alternative is something that belongs to the minority and developed in order to oppose the seemingly inescapable status quo of the former. But once again we find ourselves, the Y Generation, in a period where ideas and definitions of cool have been turned upside down. An inversion has happened; the alternative lifestyle is being lived by the majority. Can it still be considered alternative, or are we now the mainstream? One might even venture so far as to say that the jocks in their Monster caps are now the outsiders .
One of the biggest effects of this “cool” inversion is the fluidity between cliques that had previously existed. The undeniably cool “indie/alternative” identity has emerged and seems to have encapsulated all of the groups, selecting the best elements of each to make one super-turbo powered hip eu-generation. The lines between jock, preppy and alternative have been blurred and have thus left the voyeurs in Durban truly baffled. No more does blonde hair, a hunky boyfriend and tribal tats make you a jock, just as genital piercings no longer give you an all-access pass to the alternative scene. The set groups that once existed provided such an easy source of archetypical characters; the punks, goths, emos, preps and jocks were all discernible from one another and made for easy profiling. As a writer, this is both exciting and terrifying. It was easy to write about a group (or a person who belonged to a group) if I could categorically isolate elements and character traits, but that was also lazy – part of being a writer is trying to capture the essence of the observed – past cliques and stereotypes and the constructed image of self that we so desperately want other people to acknowledge as genuine.
This search for the “genuine” is another aspect of our generation – we all want to be an individual. As reiterated as this argument is, it nevertheless stands true. We so carefully build our identities in order for them to be appreciated by others that it has lead to an epidemic of imitation and assimilation of individualism. We pick and choose just enough attributes from each of the social groupings – a tan from the jocks, piercings and tattoos from the alternatives, a black boyfriend from the liberals and book recommendations from the intellectuals – so as to create a unique person that also fits in perfectly with everybody else (but no one is supposed to admit that). Even as a generation there seems to be nothing that speaks out or stands for itself in terms of identifying factors – everything we own throws back to other time periods. You call that being a hipster? I think that’s too broad and too easy a term to dole out when just trying to define the term is so complex. Hipster is a dead term in any case – there is only the mainstream now.
LIned with bars and restaurants, Davenport (now Helen Joseph Road after the quake of anti-apartheid inspired re-namings that has shaken the city) has turned into a booming centre of bohemia in the increasingly popular suburb of Glenwood. I lived in a flat above an antique store next to one of Durban’s most frequented bars – I lived so close that I could literally see into Amsterdam’s beer garden from my kitchen door; so close that I could hear the booming laughter of a close friend of mine while he was enjoying an afternoon beer as if it was coming from my dining room. (His laugh was almost like the Bat signal – when you heard it, you hit the bar.) Bar hopping became almost a social experiment – after a year I learned the ins and outs of the differences in atmosphere and experience that they offered – most notably, a place to spend a portion of the evening before the eventuality of ending your nights with a 4am Winston Pub or Origin Nightclub session takes hold of you. Though not a part of Davenport, (The Winston Pub and Origin Nightclub snake around the block and are on the corner of Clarke and Umbilo Road), they are thought of as natural extensions to the Davenport family because those same fingers of diversity (that grip Davenport so tightly) also curl around them and pull them back into the fold. The KZNSA Gallery on Bulwer Road is a short walk from Davenport and is the cultural anchor of the area; regular art exhibitions, film showings and a classy cafe (so close to where binge drinking happens most nights) keep the possibility of refinement in the air.
Davenport Road is the perfect microcosmic example of a burgeoning new world of image, identity and “cool”tropes.In this world, fashion speaks. Tanned-as-hell hotties with a body don their flat caps and pair it with a spaghetti strapped vest, making sure to show just enough man-nipple so as to enhance the scope of their new chest tat (which also includes some obscure Hebrew word because, you know, they’re 1/16th Jewish and everything…). Girls, you can be considered alternative if you own one pair of high-waisted shorts, drink a Black Label draft and burp like a man. Nose-rings and lip-rings are also a must have, as are dreadlocks coupled with a Hawaiian t-shirt and suit pants, because as we all know by now, ambiguity is in.
There is one recurring thread that sews all of these hip cats together,and that is the glamorization of the grunge/hardcore/alternative image. People spend hours getting ready to look disheveled. Not caring is fashionable because it means you’re being your “true” self , but you have to look good while doing it.
Amsterdam, Origin and The Winston are the physical representations of the fluidity of “cool” and the people that move between them. Amsterdam is home to all; here teams in tweed blazers and rugby shorts vs eachother in a game of foosball, after which they will sojourn outside and enter into philosophical debates (some trite and others extremely insightful) that are often punctuated by shots of Jagermeister and comments like “aweh”. The Winston is our local grimy pub – populated by punks, metal heads, indie kids and the like. Origin is a five-floored nightclub, situated directly above the Winston, that plays trance, dustup, drum and bass, mainstream (I mean, what?) pop music and it in turn is populated by an equally varied group of people. Everyone is welcome everywhere, and this evidenced by the fact that the people who go to The Winston or Origin often move between the two seamlessly. Their entrance lines run parallel to each other so one is able to see the stark contrast in people entering each venue; pub rats in all black, high waisted shorts and nose rings wait outside the Winston whilst girls in high heels and skin tight dresses accompanied by guys in chinos stand to attention outside Origin – but that doesn’t mean they won’t end up at the other place for sunrise tequila shots.
The amalgamation of cliques has resulted in something which I don’t think anyone expected nor can see straight-away (not through their thick rimmed, perspex glasses anyway); the development of the hipster/indie/alternative/scene-kid culture has also resulted in a group which is highly beneficial to society. No matter which is true- whether they’re just copying one another or whether they’re being completely genuine – the cool kids these days focus more on bettering themselves in order to fit in, instead of making sure that others are left out. In comparison ye old(e) cliques focussed on the latter; jocks made sure to cut down and exclude others, while emos and goths focussed more on self-destruction than group construction.
Maybe the appeal of inclusion can be attributed to the parents of Generation Y – the Baby Boomers. We are the children of 60’s era, anti-apartheid parents who have imbued us with ideals of freedom and tolerance. We are in a new period – one of liberalism and intellectualism. The new mainstream is alternative in that it seems to be the first that totally promotes these ideas amongst ourselves and allows for the extension of a sense of being – basically, it’s now cool to think. This may not be true for everybody; some still have their brains on sleep mode because their parents never told them where the switch was – or maybe they just never bothered to look for it. This (and definitely social media) has brought the world to our fingertips and given the voiceless a chance to shout – as well as sometimes an unrealistic sense of entitlement. But at least there is desire and the chance to work for what we want. Nevertheless, if being well read and attending art exhibitions is “cooler” than simply having tanned legs and a chance to spread them, then thank you Hipsters.
Cool is a constantly evolving condition, so what are we to do when the cliques have been dismantled and the uncategorized run about with merry abandon?
We drink. Copiously. On Davenport Road.