Thursday, July 15, 2010

Dirtbag Love

Dirtbags. I love 'em, even though they freak me out. There's something so intensely appealing about the I-don't-give-a-shit ethos of a true hipster dirtbag, something that can't be explained away. At the same time, there's something almost comically off-putting about dirtbags. The collision of the attraction and the repulsion? I can only conclude that hipster dirtbags are like magnets. Gross, dirty, awesome magnets.

I blame Vice magazine for the rise of the hipster dirtbag in the first place. Vice, with its influential "Dos and Don'ts" street fashion section, fronted this minigeneration of hipsters an aesthetic that celebrated street fighting, tank tops on men, scraggly hair, cheap beer, girls who shoplift, dancing all night in dingy bars, smoking cigarettes instead of eating food (food! It's delicious!), sleeping on a dirty mattress with no sheets, and rustbucket bikes. The vibe is a mishmash of DIY punk, lines of cheap coke, 7" vinyl, and binge drinking. Vice was a huge promoter of this party-til-you-puke way of living, which, to someone in their early 20s with no money and no real handle on how concepts like "jobs" and "bosses" work, is totally sexy.

To be honest, it's still kind of sexy. The appeal lies in the Peter Pan-ish qualities of the dudes and broads who eschew the corporate grind and treat their flophouse apartments like a clubhouse. The downside is, those folks often develop a crushing drug habit, a police record for petty offenses, or, more likely, just never throw away the crusty clothes. What's charming and hilarious at 22 is dodgy at 32 and downright icky at 52.

Caught in an in-between phase, I'm both attracted to the filthy hedonism and and put off by it. The hipster dirtbag has always been good for a fling, either romantic or criminal, but as I get a little bit older, I find myself questioning my motives re: dirtbaggery. Am I seriously attracted to dudes with drinking problems and bad haircuts? Or is this just a romancing of the stoned: these guys always seem to have an encyclopedic knowledge of early punk music, Danish bicycles, druggy memoirs from the 1960s, and whose nerdiness is patinaed with glamour. Plus, they don't seem to give a shit either way if people like them or not: self-confidence bordering on lunatic hubris can be very appealing.

But as I get older, I'm realizing the dirtbag is not a sustainable crush. For one, they seem to change addresses every few months, as the rent money gets spent on pitchers of beer and cigarettes. They rarely hold down jobs that pay actual paychecks, instead preferring to focus on their imaginary careers as "photographers" and working as dishwashers in restaurants. They make terrible boyfriends, since they have drug-fueled rages or crying jags that are prompted by their father's fourth marriage. It's impossible to take them anywhere - they want to clean up, but it's tough when all you have are Felix the Cat tee-shirts from 1979. And parents hate them, because the dirtbags have the kind of black-eye sex that makes parents lie away in the dark at night, worrying.

I love them: I want to cradle them in my arms, smooth their wretched hair, and whisper sweet nothings into their ears. "You'll be the next Ryan McGuinley, darling. You'll be the next Dov Charney." But I'm also so over them. I want to shake their skinny shoulders, beg them to get a steady paycheck, stop sleeping with the psychopathic Berliner who set fire to the photo of them with Joe Strummer, and just get with the program. Stop giving each other neck tattoos. Stop living off burritos - I know they're delicious, but eat a vegetable! You're going to get scurvy, and I'm going to laugh at you! Take your knowledge of the dirtbag years - all the cut corners and smart-ass charm - and apply it to your lives as grownups. Dirtbags, you can parlay your special skills and delights into a huge variety of lifestyles that don't require you to fall down the stairs drunk on a Monday. And then I can love you even more.

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