Making Our Own History By Doing Things Ourselves

Making Our Own History By Doing Things Ourselves

If you recall, I wrote a piece a few months ago about the fall of the Hipster, asking what was coming next: what group was collecting the Hipster’s ashes to create something new? Who are these people? Where do they live? How can I buy clothes that associate me with this new group?

I did not have an answer then, nor did anyone else who commented. We got a lot of snide comments about hipsters and hipsterdom, and about being hipsters and about the article’s topic being a giant has-been. Well, duh.

But, that wasn’t the point. The point was to figure out what is next–who is the new group? Some said the Meta-Hipster or the Gangster Hipster or even the guys behind Odd Future. However, I think the notion a few people were getting at about the DIY movement being more than just Etsy crappers and hippies being hippies is that the DIY crowd is becoming the in-crowd, somehow shifting their ideals into what is becoming a new norm.

This “do it yourself” attitude is not about creating your own crafts, but rather creating new histories and resurrecting histories to create new ways of living. The idea ties taste to wealth and shifts lifestyles away from acting a part to living a part. The hipster that was DIY has morphed into this person who is not only vegan, but raises their own crops and produces their own clothes and only walks to markets, even when living in Los Angeles. They’ve gone from hipster to helpster, to a weird, self-sustaining group that understands what technology is doing to the world and how they can use this to create a new world.

Of course, this gets at doing things yourself. Making your own foods, making your own transportation, doing everything yourself. You are more than just a person that makes crafts and sells crafts, but you are a person who makes a trade and sells this trade. So many craft butcher shops and breweries and fashion houses have emerged so densly in the past few years because so many people have access to technology and old ideas. You don’t have to go to college to be able to make a living and to make something. Instead, you can research about the topic and make a living in the topic.

Bobby, for example, did not go to college, and instead, turned to the Internet to figure out how to make things. While the things he makes are not tangible, real life tactile objects, he’s constantly creating things online. I, on the otherhand, spent thousands and thousands of dollars on a sub-Ivy League university to get an education in writing and acting and I barely am able to do them, no less make a living from doing them.

Kids these days are skipping college because they don’t have to go to college any longer. Other kids are pursuing higher education beyond undergraduate degrees because they feel this will make them stronger candidates for jobs when, in reality, delaying the workforce makes them less of a part of the world. Unless you are going to become a doctor or lawyer, college is no longer necessary. You can take a few classes locally and work locally and get what you want out of life. You just have to be commited to what you want to do.

The notions that papers and magazines are making about college becoming extinct is both fascinating and hilarious because, well, it is. There is no need to do it anymore because you can literally plot a plan for a career by working hard at it. I can say that there is not a day that I do not think that I wasted my time by going to school.

As an actor and a writer, I did learn a lot from school. I had a great time in college. I will not deny that. However, those four years I could have spent putting the pedal to the metal, fucking acting and shit on YouTube and writing on my own blog but–instead–I let taking classes on chemistry and world history distract me from what I really wanted to be doing. I did not let myself be independent and really pursue things: I let the lull of being in school provide the comfort I thought I needed in order to succeed.

We are bitter. We want to rectify those years of being willingly put into an institution. We want to create, we don’t want to be in offices, we don’t want to network: we don’t want to be our parents. In turn, we are using the energy from DIY to create opportunities for ourselves. Doing things for yourself and being your boss is the goal of any entry level employee. And, aside from accountants and veterinarians and defense attorneys, you can do things yourself and you can do it locally. There is always a need for local goods and services. Yes, you cannot make a living as a butcher in Bumblefuck, Southern State, but you can in Hustle and Bustle City, Any State. Go to Dallas, go to New York City, go to Atlanta, go to San Francisco, go to Seattle: people are making a living making things, being their own bosses, planning and taking a risk on a career.

People are doing things like making $15 chocolate bars and making $60 shoes that are all conscious of the world around them. They are things that are done caring for their local community while caring for the world: these people give a shit about things and have done their homework and have made a living out of it. Yes, they are ahead of their time but, no, they are not a part of this new movement: they inspired it.

People like the Mast brothers and Blake Mycoskie crafted careers from crafts. Granted, they both did this in varying degrees, but no one can deny that they literally built these businesses from the ground up without a greater goal in mind. They wanted to make things that were not purchased in some store, coming from some void of God knows where, and that was–in some form–helping others. They did their research and made it work as a career. They worked at it and they hustled and they were driven to succeed and they did. That is what is at the heart of this new movement: making your own career, working to make it your own career, and having it become your own career.

A big factor in this, which hints at the greater movement behind the DIY mentality, is that people want things from nearby, that they know where it came from. They want to know the history of an object. New thinkers would rather go to a thrift or vintage store to buy lifestyle items, rather than go to Ikea. Yes, Ikea is great and is an easy one stop shop, but people would rather buy a desk that has a history for the same price at a local thrift store. They’d rather go to a farmer’s market and buy food that locally harvested or, instead, grow their own food in their small patch of land behind their brownstone or apartment. They’d rather go to a butcher shop and see their food being butchered, seeing the meat for the animal it was. People want to walk, driving themselves by foot, taking in where they came from and where they are getting to. Money is a large factor in this but so is helping the world, helping themselves, and helping non-megacoporations.

I’ve been alluding to this, but the DIY movement and the craft(smen) movement is born out of the Internet and desire to not support megacorporations. It is born out of self-propelled research and a desire to learn. People now go to flea markets and thrift stores and yard sales and buy interesting, unique products and go home and research where it came from. People would like to go to a local store and see that history and research it first hand. Instead of buying steak and returning home to figure out what part of the cow it came from and where Safeway buys its produce, these people can ask the vendor directly: where did you buy this? Show me on the animal where this cut of meat came from. How did you get this meat? How did you learn how to do this?

As you can see, the Etsy, DIY movement has gone from silly homemade items to a world all about the creation of thousands of small towns within their bigger cities. The scope of things have shrunk from trying to conquer the world to trying to conquer a neighborhood, then a city, then a state, then a country, then a hemisphere, then the world. This new movement gets at trying to create within the now, within the tangible. Why else are places like Rudy’s Barbershop and The Ace and Intelligentsia Coffee and Tea and Chipotle so big and successful? Why else has J.Crew opened up various, niche pop-up shops that are locally driven and why else has Apple gone through great pains to ensure that they are community engaged, offering help well before and well after the store is open for business? Business and craftsmenship needs to go the extra mile of not just providing a service but also complimenting the community. You can create anything, anywhere. But, if you create without using the resources your community has to offer you, then why are you creating?

I recently interviewed graphic designer and artist Keith Scharwath. We had a great talk and eventually boiled things down to his newest project: studying sign painting at a local trade school to incorporate the technique into his work. Beyond learning a new style and skill into his art, he was supporting a dying, historical craft that he learned locally, from a trade school that may or may not be here in the next decade. When in session, he adjusts his work schedule to be able to pursue this education. In turn, he uses this knowledge to make awesome pieces. He’s been commissioned by GOOD Magazine and Frank Chimero to use this talent that he’s learned. He has done it himself and is still doing it himself. I was amazed by this and it further lit the lightbulb flickering in my mind around the DIY movement.

Of course, there could be another meaning to all of this that I am overlooking but, honestly, I feel this is where things are sidestepping toward until a newer, more complex version of culture encompasses us all. The Internet and need to be away from the Internet, immersed with people making things and making history by hand and contributing locally, is where I think the hipster has led us to.


July 18, 2011