Pop Culture

21 Jump Street, Bellflower, and the Hipster Fantasy

There’s a scene in the new 21 Jump Street in which, on their first day back at high school, Channing Tatum ticks off every clique for Jonah Hill as they pass them: “Those are the jocks… Nerds… Goths… Stoners…” Tatum pauses as they walk past a clutch of hipsters.

“I don’t know what the fuck they are.”

It’s a telling scene (and a surprisingly shrewd movie). Tatum and Hill have only been out of high school seven years, but already the hipster subculture has taken hold, worn out its welcome, and made itself vague. The characters in Jump Street don’t even say the word “hipster,” let alone try to define it. Who can blame them? The term is so slippery, some advocate purging it from our vocabularies. (This feels like an overreaction. The word “irony”—not coincidentally, maybe—has also become incredibly nebulous. We should strengthen it by using it more carefully, not put it out of its misery.

For the record, though, I won’t be using the words “irony” or “hipster” carefully in this essay.)

The 2011 indie hit Bellflower is a different story. Realizing, like Jump Street, that defining the word “hipster” is an impossible task, but also that the word still has meaning—an image appeared in your head when you read the line, “They walk past a clutch of hipsters,” right?—writer/director/star Evan Glodell has decided to redefine it by applying hyper-masculine traits typically associated with the bro set. In short, he’s given hipsters a stiff shot of testosterone.

In doing so, Glodell has created not only an innovative camera—one that naturally evokes the Hipstamatic app—but a brand-new genre: the hipster fantasy. What begins as a low-budget mumblecore movie (arguably the most hipster of genres) erupts into a vivid, explosive action flick, one no longer taking place in a world recognizably ours. Glodell hasn’t just endowed his characters with hyper-masculine traits; he’s done the same to the film itself. Because both pictures are so self-aware, there are at least as many explosions in Bellflower as there are in 21 Jump Street, a fact that on the surface seems unbelievable (Jump Street had a production budget of $42 million; Bellflower’s was just $17,000).

On the surface, though, Bellflower’s two male leads, Woodrow (played by Glodell) and Aiden, are your stereotypical hipsters, if there is such a thing. They are bearded (or in Aiden’s case, scruffy), unemployed young folks in cheap sunglasses with enough money lying around (thanks to a trust fund? Monthly allowance from their parents?) to pay the rent and blow the rest on drugs, alcohol, and weaponry for an Apocalypse that, ironically, will likely never arrive in their lifetimes.

They adore irony, of course: downing ironic 40s on the beach, doling out ironic fruitcakes as gifts, taking ironic road trips to ironically amusing Texas truck stops. Generally when they’re on screen, you want to uppercut them through the ceiling like Ryu. (It’s true: a Street Fighter reference is probably right up their analog alley, and Glodell’s.)

But about forty-five minutes in, you realize Woodrow and Aiden have taken a hard left away from Hipsterville. If hipsters are scrawny punks who assault the masses with obscure allusions, inside jokes, and snark, Woodrow and Aiden are bigger and more direct: they physically hit people—with their fists, at the drop of a fedora. These two throw punches as often as they throw parties, exposing the kind of aborted fuses typically associated with bros, frat boys, and dudes. Not coincidentally, “dude” is a word that gets thrown around a lot—maybe not a cardinal sin in the Hipster Bible, but certainly a staple of the Holy Shit Broble.

After appropriating their violence and slang, Woodrow sets his sights on the bros’ babes. Presumably tired of (or just not attracted to) the stereotypical twiggy pixie that passes for arm candy in Hipsterville, he goes after a buxom blonde, Millie, who looks more like a ’50s pin-up than a vegan cokehead. (Though one could argue that dressing like a ’50s pin-up is in line with the hipster aesthetic, weighing in like one typically is not.)

Woodrow isn’t some horn-rimmed intellectual mooning over his muse from afar, using words like “mooning,” “muse,” and “afar.” He’s not drawing Millie or writing poetry that he’s too nervous to show her, trying to read the right book or pick the right song on the jukebox to win her over. Woodrow is a dude in a plain white tee and loose-fitting jeans who wants to grab this chick, kiss her, fuck her, and hold onto her afterwards. The more there is to grab and kiss and fuck and hold, the better.

If hipsters are artists (or at least, derivatives thereof), Woodrow and Aiden’s art is their arsenal. They blow shit up. They build a flamethrower. They trick out a muscle car so it pumps whiskey from the dash, then add a motorcycle to their fleet of Armageddon-ready vehicles. If hipsters purport to care about the world, as reflected in their bicycles, Woodrow and Aiden count down the days until it ends.

By the end, the film’s transformation has mirrored Woodrow and Aiden’s. These characters aren’t mumbling anymore; they’re setting things on fire. Promises break, blood spills, heads are blown off. Reality doesn’t bite; it blurs. In mumblecore, as in Hipsterville, characters draw mustaches on each other’s faces to be funny. In Bellflower, they tattoo them on against each other’s will.

Like most fantasies, Bellflower takes recognizable elements from our world—in this case, some approximation of the hipster sector—and asks “What if?” What if hipsters fought as often as bros? What if they chased full-figured blondes instead of pining over pixies? What if they loved muscle cars?

What if—in lieu of anemic, plotless talkathons—they generated genuine firepower?

Evan Allgood's work has appeared in McSweeney's, The Millions, LA Review of Books, The Toast, and The Billfold. He lives in Brooklyn and contributes regularly to Paste. Follow and maybe later unfollow him on Twitter @evoooooooooooo.