Sitting on the worn wooden benches in the sweat-soaked gym, I am witness to an unusual sight more often reserved for the football stadiums of Indiana rather than the isle of Manhattan. There they sit, clad in horn-rim glasses, artfully torn jeans, faded t-shirts and the perfect mixture of dirt and superiority. But tonight, their regularly exercised restraint has taken a backseat to unbridled excitement and – dare I say – team sport enthusiasm. What is it that has made this coven of apathy so passionate? What kind of drug-riddled mushroom or post-modern band has transformed the crowd into a scene more akin to a Texas high school football stadium on Friday night?
It’s roller derby.
Racing around the track of the Hunter College gymnasium, wearing neon colors and ample black eyeliner are the members of the Gotham Girls Roller Derby squad – the Brooklyn Bombshells and Manhattan Mayhem in particular. With pithy names like Bitchie Slambora, Speedy Sedgwick and Jackie O’ssassin – these ladies bruise, cajole and slam into each other all in the name of sports achievement and hipster glee.
Though I too fall under the roller derby spell during my night of fandom, I am puzzled by its power to melt the icy exterior of the normally impenetrable indie twenty/thirty-something denizen of locales such as Williamsburg or Silverlake. If only I could harness the power of the roller derby and use it when I encounter this breed of human as I walk down the street.
My favorite line in Cameron Crowe’s ode to the music of the 1970s, Almost Famous, is uttered by the incomparable Philip Seymour Hoffman. As writer Lester Bangs, Hoffman tells his teenage friend and aspiring rock critic, William Miller that, “The only true currency in this bankrupt world... is what you share with someone else when you're uncool.”
While it might not flow so easily off the tongue as Crowe’s more frequently referenced “You complete me,” I think it has tremendous applicability in our day-to-day existence, particularly when in the presence of that perennially cool breed of human being – the hipster. Are they just another segment of the population designed to make us feel bad about ourselves – like models or trophy spouses? What are they hiding in their post-consumer recycled messenger bags that makes them so much better than all of us?
In his title to the book that inspired the film Blade Runner, Philip K. Dick posited, "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" The implication being that simulated humans would experience everything humans do in a slightly altered, more electronic way.
Erego, one might ask the same thing of the average American hipster - does he know how hip he is? What happens when she geeks out? Do hipsters dream of i-pod listening/Williamsburg-bound/trendy-clothes-wearing sheep? Of course not, they dream of roller derby.