The Brooks Run Dry
Today's bilious David Brooks column in the New York Times may have intended to be the last word on the "hipster parenting" trend, but I think it will have an opposite, galvanizing effect. There are certainly some annoyng cultural signifiers afoot, mostly having to do with clothing items and the occasional pretentious mix tape, but deep undercurrents run through this generation that Brooks could only begin to understand.
I wonder how long it's been since this "patio man"-praising "bobo", who lives in a cosseted corner of Philadelphia's Main Line, has had to worry about drug-dealing in his neighborhood, or whether or not his kids were going to get a good education, or if an innocent visit to the doctor was going to send him into thousands of dollars of debt. Probably never, I'm guessing. Every family but the most wealthy is up against a wall in George Bush's America. "Hipster parenting," despite some very superficial fashion frosting, is actually a conservative pushback calling for the return to primacy of truly traditional American family values.
I'm proud to be part of this generation of parents, which is trying to regain cultural control of its lives from corporate entertainment conglomerates (or at least influence certain corporate-entertainment decisions). The entrepreneurial energy has only begun to assert itself. I see parents remaking children's fashion, yes, and children's music, but also piling tons of energy into helping save our sagging public-education system, trying to reclaim decent childhood nutrition from a deep Cheetos-dug hole, and generally trying to assert their cultural identity in a world that denies them anything but beleagured "soccer mom" or "diaper dad" labels.
Brooks says he's "not against the indie/alternative lifestyle." While he rightly points out that there is an especially annoying brand of indie conformity, he wouldn't know an authentic DIY project if it started giving him a lap dance on the R5 to 30th Street Station. We're trying to raise our children to be thinking, creative individuals, not indie automaton clones of ourselves. I don't care if my son grows up thinking differently than me. I just care that he grows up thinking at all. He's not a "deceptive edginess badge." He's the great joy of my life. Together, along with the energy and enthusiasm of thousands of other parents, we're going to change the world, or at least try.
There has to be a better way to raise a kid in this country. Brooks, in all his privilege, doesn't get the point: This is not a consumerist movement. We "hipster parents" are middle class, and we want the same things that our middle-class parents had: A decent school for our kids, a decent house in a good neighborhood, and decent health care. The rest of it is just window dressing, though, admittedly, it's fun window dressing. I'm glad to be raising my son in the era of The Sippy Cups instead of the era of Barney. A commenter on sociologist Richard Florida's message board says it better than I:
"Okay, Mr. Brooks, when is your parenting book coming out? My three creative and innovative children can't wait to hear your recommendations. Are you going to recommend the "Barney Does Pop Tunes" disc, so my daughter will have to turn in her IPod and her Green Day discs? My son will turn in his cool games and his sketch pad (along with his cartoons and snarky political commentary)and "Republicans for Voldemort" poster for what?"
Finally, I may have given my son an "abusively pretentious" name, and I may have written an "indescribably dull" book. But I've never been a relentless apologist for repeated excessive abuse of government power. My son will never ask me, "Daddy, why did you support the Iraq invasion when the government was so obviously lying?" David Brooks, on the other hand, will have a lot of explaining to do.