The Great Inversion in New Brooklyn

In the high-rent gentrifying neighborhoods of New Brooklyn, class guilt is ubiquitous, if hidden.


| March/April 2013



Illustration of a hipster woman and hipster man, each pointing a judgmental finger at the other.

The gentrifier insults hipsters and bobos precisely because they are more or less like him; he needs to dole out the punishment that on some level he feels he also deserves.

Illustration By Jacob Sanders

The hipsters ruined Williamsburg. No, the condos ruined Williamsburg. It’s the helicopter parents I can’t stand. Food co-op political debates? Really? I bet that woman’s writing a novel, like everyone else. Oh boy, is he one of those tech startup guys? Enough with the locavores, Bugaboos, and the Brooklyn Flea. Neck beards, fixies, fauxhemians—ugh, vomit, eye roll.  

A few decades back, some leading connotations of the word Brooklyn were these: the Brooklyn Bridge, the Dodgers, Coney Island, the brownstone. Today, another cluster of associations might come to mind first: gentrification, the hipster, the bobo, the stroller, the fixed-gear bike. One glance at the Times real estate section will tell you that the borough is now a much more widely desired place to live. And yet those older Brooklyn icons are almost always discussed with affection, while the signifiers of New Brooklyn reliably take a beating.

A recent New York Observer article diagnoses Brooklyn’s decline into a real-life version of Portlandia: “It’s as if the tumor of hipster culture that formed when cool kids moved to Williamsburg metastasized into a cluster of cysts pressing down on parts of the borough’s brain.” So hipsters are brain cancer, in case that wasn’t clear. The piece bears the clever headline “A Twee Grows in Brooklyn,” and it makes for fun reading. It got the thumbs-up in my Twitter world, which consists largely of media and publishing types who live in Brooklyn. The only complaint was that it was kind of old news. “Why the Hipster Must Die” came out in Time Out New York back in 2007. Everyone knows the hipsters are ruining Brooklyn. Also the yuppies in their tacky high-rises—let’s not forget about them.

People who have family money but act like they don’t are “trustafarians.” That’s a term that comes with the scorn baked in. The trustafarians are rich and they’re hipsters, plus they didn’t earn their money. Three strikes, they’re out. But what about the people who have money and act like it? Well, they’re sort of in trouble, too. Because it’s easy to tell they’re the 1 percent. Or whatever, they’re close enough. There are blogs about them, like Fuck Your Noguchi Coffee Table.

For the Brooklynite with a sizable brokerage account, it’s a little unclear how to avoid derision. Best to shoot for the skinny middle ground with the clothes and the apartment. You’re going to have to choose between public and private school for the kids—good luck with that. In the game of life, you definitely win, don’t get me wrong. But in the court of public opinion, you’re going to need a good lawyer.

At least there’s this, though: that bearded guy in an undershirt who shot you a look that said yuppie scum? Nobody likes him, either. There’s a book about him right by the register. Take it home and smile at the cover: Look at This F*cking Hipster.

marilyn stevens
3/15/2013 7:33:17 PM

Years ago I moved to a then-recently designated historic district in a mid-Atlantic city. I loved that my neighborhood was ethnically and culturally mixed. I loved going to the "Beers of the World" bar and being able to walk my enormous dog past shirt factories, exuberant Pentecostal churches, leather-fragrant shoe repair shops and the Hispanic market run by African Muslims. At the same time, I was annoyed that my neighbor's ugly green aluminum siding had been grandfathered in the year before the neighborhood's historic designation, surely vilfying the value of my stately Queen Anne. She of the green siding complained bitterly when I began painting my wrought-iron fence black. "The fences are supposed to be silver!" And indeed, it seemed that a majority of fences in the city were silver. I discovered later that they were only silver because residents in previous generations had pilfered primer from the steel plants where most of them worked. And before the silver fences of steel workers, the neighborhood had been the white upper-middle class domain of doctors and lawyers who escaped to estates in the countryside when the first Irish and Italian immigrants began encroaching. The ebb and flow of what is hip and happening in any particular locale can only be fully appreciated and/or derided by those who live through it, live in it or are shut out of it. You've given me much food for thought -- how will I be perceived in my next move? Why I will choose it and, in my choosing, who I will be displacing, denigrating or disgusting?