The columnist tells "those Park Slope alternative Stepford Moms" where to get off.
David Brooks must be envious of his globe-trotting colleagues on the Times Op-Ed page, because for this Sunday’s column, he did some traveling of his own. But instead of reporting from Africa or Asia, or even an undercovered corner of poor America, Brooks crossed the river to spy on Brooklyn, N.Y., parents in their native habitat. Amusingly, he returned from his foray into the belly of the beast with a derisive, damn-kids-these-days rant reminiscent of the 1958 chart-topper “Yakety Yak.” “The hipster parent trend has been going on too long and it’s got to stop,” Brooks complains. (“Yakety yak! Don’t talk back.”)
In trademark Brooks style, the column defines hipster-parent culture by its shopping list (or what Brooks assumes is its shopping list). The piece makes mention of “inevitable hummus snacks,” “pastel-free wardrobes,” “‘Anarchy in the Pre-K’ shirts” and parents who eschew Disney and instead “force-feed Brian Eno, Radiohead and Sufjan Stevens into their little babies’ iPods.” (Infant iPods, now nearly ubiquitous!) The cultural stereotypes come complete with cutesy names: On a particular parenting Web site, Brooks observes that “stay-at-home Martyr Mommies trade gibes with their working mom frenemies.” And, rather inconsistently, Brooks bitches that hipster “parents … refuse to face that their days of chaotic, unscheduled moshing are over” while lamenting in the same piece that these parents are overly conscientious: “Highly educated parents trade tips about the toxic dangers of aluminum foil … high-achieving types try to restrain their judgmental, perfectionist tendencies with self-mockery.” Nothing says “My rock ‘n’ roll dreams are interfering with my ability to be an adequate parent” like concern for your kid’s nutrition and health, no?
Of course, Brooks isn’t expressing concern over values or responsibility; he doesn’t seem worried that any child is being harmed by the hipster lifestyle. If he posited that there’d be tangible consequences for parents who resist the traditional trappings of responsible adulthood, or for kids encouraged to revere Joey Ramone rather than Barney, that might be more interesting. But Brooks is focused on aesthetic and material culture. It’s not that he’s alone in his annoyance; self-conscious hipsters, and self-conscious hipster parents, strike many onlookers as obnoxious. But without any analysis of the phenomenon, Brooks’ column is just a costume piece. And a dated costume piece at that: His whole point is that the trend isn’t new. “It’s been nearly three years since reporters for sociologically attuned publications like The New York Observer began noticing oversophisticated infants,” he yawns. Why, then, does the topic merit space in this Sunday’s Times?
Maybe Brooks was light on material this week. Maybe he just learned about “frenemies” and the iPod and couldn’t wait to show off his street cred. But here’s another theory: Maybe he’s experimenting with getting his own fuddy-duddy sensibility to rub off on his subjects. In this week’s column, Brooks writes that the major “sign that the hip parenting thing has jumped the shark [is that] the movement got its own book.” But what could be a bigger sign that the movement’s moment has passed than its appearance in a clunky Brooks column? If anyone were to have a Midas touch for uncoolness, wouldn’t it be this guy? In a certain way, it’s kind of inspired.
Page Rockwell is Salon's editorial project manager. More Page Rockwell.
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