Over the hill, rolling toward uncoolness

It's one of life's 'ah-ha' moments when you realize that you are no longer hip.

May 26, 2002|By Neil White | Neil White,Knight Ridder / Tribune

Scott Padgett first realized he was no longer hip when he quit checking Rolling Stone's list of the top albums on college campuses.

Padgett, who turned 50 in the past year, held onto all vestiges of hipness as long as he could before he grudgingly came to the conclusion that inevitably confronts everyone: You can't stay hip forever.

Michael Nuccitelli, a Brewster, N.Y., psychologist, calls Padgett's dimming interest in the top college albums an "ah-ha experience."

What's that? It's one in a series of moments when you slowly realize that your age and your hipness quotient are rapidly moving in opposite directions.

"That recognition of questioning whether you need to maintain your hipness begins in your early 30s," Nuccitelli said. "Some people have a hard time with it, but most of us do recognize the change, when you're no longer part of the younger crowd and the younger culture."

So how exactly do you know when you're no longer part of the younger culture? Well, if you hear the name Eminem and you think of a shell-covered chocolate candy, you're out of it. Or if you're more worried about keeping your hair than styling it, you're out of it.

And if you still keep trying to use terms like "cool cat" or "righteous dude," then you've most definitely crossed over to the wrong side of the hipness track.

Padgett, for one, held out as long as he could. And he admits as much.

"It's a part of arrested development. The terminally hip stage is one you stay in for about 20 years. At some point in your 40s, you do start to come out of it because it's too time-consuming. You decide it's more fun to listen to Steve Earle than the newest angst-ridden thing," he said. "Now I don't spend as much time remembering what I need to do to be hip."

Robert Thompson, a Syracuse University professor of media and culture and a president of the International Popular Culture Association, notes that it's getting more and more difficult to stay hip.

The ever-accelerating Age of Irony guarantees that hip today is not necessarily hip tomorrow, Thompson said. "No sooner does one hit the cutting edge than the edge is moved."

The hippest thing people can do, Thompson believes, might be to do nothing at all.

"To be hip requires a conscious and daily effort, which in itself, of course, is very not hip. Therefore, what most smart, aging people are discovering is that the only way to be truly hip is to totally quit playing the game," he said. "As 36-year-olds watch people half their age scrambling to keep up with the cutting edge, they can sit back with the cool, distanced, devil-may-care attitude that really defines hip in the first place."

(Or, as Huey Lewis and the News essentially said in their 1980s hit, it's "Hip To Be Square.")

Cool all over again

Then again, sometimes it's just a matter of waiting for things to get hip again. Scott Lorenz, a marketing and public relations expert for Michigan-based Westwood Communications, finally discovered a way to communicate to his teen-age son that he, too, once was hip.

"One time he came home and said, 'Hey, Dad, we heard this really cool song today in band class,'" said Lorenz, who inquired what it was.

Come to find out, it was the Doors' "Riders on the Storm."

"I said, 'Oh really? Well, let's see, I have that. Here, let's play it.' He was stunned," Lorenz said.

Dell Hawkins, 37, realizes his fingertips are barely hanging onto the cliff of hipness.

For instance, he has to listen a lot closer to the hip-hop and rap songs his teen-age son likes so he can have a better understanding of what today's kids find hip. The music is a far cry from the smooth sounds of the O'Jays he enjoyed so much during his younger years.

There are definitely times when he has a hard time convincing his son that he was ever hip.

"He looks at me, laughs, and says, 'Where are you from?' " said Hawkins.

Fashions, unlike much of the music, however, can come back around. Bellbottoms, platform shoes and wild prints returned. For women, the loss of hipness seems to be much more about fashion than about music.

"You reach a point where you can't wear the hip clothes," said Andee Dent, 40, a mother of two. "I can't wear a belly-baring top."

Terri Bailey, 43 and a mother of three, has reached the same conclusion while standing in front of her mirror. "You get to the point where you say, 'I look ridiculous in this. I can't wear it anymore,'" she said.

When the kids groan

That idea is reinforced by her budding hipster of a teen-age son.

"He'll look at me and say, 'What are you wearing? Why are you wearing that?'"

Dent holds out faint hope about her future.

"Once you're hip, you're always hip, right?" she said. "I still want to be where the hip people are."

But she admits, for instance, that she doesn't feel nearly as comfortable going to clubs as she once did, especially as she has realized the people in them look less and less like her.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.