Writing about adults and adulthood, I’ve been especially interested in the general archetypes of young people that keep coming up. While every person is a unique snowflake and all that, I mostly find that as our generation comes of age, there are only a few different categories that people fit into. That’s probably how it is for most eras, and there’s no reason for millennials to think that they’re special (except for the fact that everyone has told us that we’re special our entire lives). For a generation supposedly marked by self-reliance and individualism (if you read the papers), pretty much everyone I meet can be placed into a small handful of categories. And, since I’m assuming you’re as judgmental as I am, I thought it would be helpful if I broke down the various types of people you know (if you live in a major city), so that when you meet a new person, you can quickly and easily put them into a category, and befriend or dismiss them appropriately.
This is a new term for me, but it’s very well-established (according to my mom and @aziziz). It’s short for “bourgeois bohemian” and translates perfectly to North America. How it hasn’t caught on in with people our age, I have no idea, because it describes like, half the young people in most cities. They wear bespoke artisan chambray shirts and vintage sunglasses, craft aftershave, read Monocle; when they travel, they have a retro-style duffel bag that was handmade by some guy they met at a party for a startup; when they go out drinking, it’s mixology bars that serve artisan cocktails, using small batch alcohols, where they’ll pronounce to their friends salvos like, “Bulleit has a great name, but it’s really just a pedestrian whiskey.”
You probably know a lot of people like this, and for lack of a better term, you might have referred to them as some qualified kind of hipsters, like, “I mean, he dresses like a hipster, but he’s not the grungy kind, crashing on the couch of some warehouse. He has, like, a really nice loft.” I’m talking about the guy who works in advertising with a fedora. He’s a bobo. Same with the girl taking Instagrams for her Tumblr about pop-up restaurants. She’s a bobo. And that dude with 50$ Benny Gold sweatshirt, the $200 Huf Limited sneakers, the sleeve tattoo and and the throwback Jansport backpack? He’s a bobo. Can we all start using this term, please? Derisively, like the way people used to use the term “yuppie” in the 80s? Because even if these bobos are your friends, or you’re actually one or I’m actually one (I mean, I know I probably am), we can all agree that they’re worth our surface level scorn, right?
I grew up in Oregon, so a lot of my old friends grew into this proto-hippie type, who is generally innocuous and friendly. They like eco-tourism, outdoor sports, vegan baking, and yoga-type things. I don’t generally have a lot to say to these people, but I’ve found that they come in two versions. One is the generally earnest, excited-by-life, nerdy type. Usually fun to talk to and hang with, when they’re not off on some rock-climbing expedition. The other version is a little too cocky about their outdoor pursuits and call themselves “social entrepreneurs,” because they’re starting a green soap company or something. I could write a whole post about how “social entrepreneurs” are the worst, most self-involved, obnoxious people in the world, but I’m pretty sure that my computer might crash under the weight of my epic vitriol. Anyways, Outsiders are fine, they have good taste in beer and such, but as soon as they start talking about their granola startup, that sends half it’s cashews to the Bedouins or some shit, WALK AWAY.
The Bland Bro
Like “hipster”, the term “bro” gets thrown around willy-nilly, but doesn’t have a common definition outside of “guy who wears a backwards hat with a button down shirt and likes to play beer pong.” I believe that the term is derived from “frat bro”, but as college gets smaller and smaller into the rearview, you realize that just because someone was in a fraternity when they were in college, neither automatically makes them terrible nor does it make them a “bro”. And there are plenty of bland bros (and bland ladybros) who had nothing to do with the Greek scene. You don’t have to dress especially preppy to qualify, and you don’t need to be a binge drinker. To me a bro is kind of the average, slightly boring, innocuous white person (though they don’t have to be white). They like generically popular music (i.e., Coldplay, Katy Perry), the guys watch ESPN, the girls read Us Magazine. A lot dress somewhat “hip”, thanks to the proliferation Urban Outfitters and American Apparel, but, just because you’re wearing a cool tank-top doesn’t make you cool. In fact, it probably makes you terrible.
A few ways to tell if the person you just met is a bland bro:
- They’re drinking a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, when there are other options available.
- They work in finance (not everyone who works in finance is bland but it’s, like, a 75% chance).
- They’re getting their MBA (Same deal).
- They don’t have any hobbies outside of exercise things (yoga, sports, gym things).
- They clearly don’t have much taste, one way or the other.
If you’re reading this, and are concerned that this might be you, there’s a few things you could do to make yourself more interesting.
- Nerd yourself up. Get obsessed with a couple really odd things (Magic cards, the space program, experimental Japanese techno from the 80s, etc.). It will make you weirder, yes, but it will also make you way more interesting.
- Let yourself go a little bit. The reason people work themselves to 2% body fat is because they have nothing else going on in their lives.
- Psychedelic drug habit. I know it’s obvious, but you should probably trip balls a few times and see if you still want to keep going to the same “Irish” pickup bar every weekend. (Spoiler alert: It’s awesome)
Or you could just keep on living your life, which I’m sure is just fine, if not especially interesting.
The Peter Pansies
These are the people you meet who haven’t realized that they’re going to work the rest of their lives in food service, who think they’re just testing the waters of different roles and personality types to figure out where they click. You can’t really tell these people one sight, because in terms of outward appearance, they can fit into any one of these categories from a visual perspective. It isn’t until you get to talking to them, and you realize they keep moving from city to city, that they schedule their year around a handful of festivals (Burning Man, Winter Music Conference, Bonnaroo, etc.) and have a serious drug dependency issue, that it’s clear what kind of new adult they are. They’re the ones who say things like, “I’m just, like, a permanent kid, you know?” And, “I don’t need to make money. I make adventures!” These people are fun to drink with, obviously, but are slow on the uptake when it comes to irony and have serious self-awareness issues.
When I was in college, I was incredibly influenced by the writer Thomas Frank, who at the time, was a pure social critic (he’s since become a political pundit and far less interesting to me). In his book The Conquest of Cool, Frank wrote about the idea of the “rebel consumer”, the individual who was so anti-conformist, so anti-authoritarian, so naturally outside the culture, they couldn’t be reached by marketing messages. Advertisers quickly recognized that while there wasn’t any way to reach these so-called “rebels”, the idea of the rebel was so potent, that a good percentage of the population wanted to think/act/dress like they were rebels. Think of the Levi’s “Go Forth” campaign, with a bunch of beautiful be-jeaned waifs running in golden fields and swimming in lakes, chasing their dreams outside the culture, while a Walt Whitman robot drones on about beating death, or something. Well, the characters they’re talking about, the free ones, are not the people they’re talking to. There talking to people who aspire to be the rebel consumer.
I know a lot of people with eclectic tastes, mostly in their earlier twenties, who try to out-weird their friends in thrift store clothes and ironic hairstyles. Their friends are all artists or in bands, when those bands achieve a modicum of Pitchfork notoriety, they nonchalantly mention “how funny it is” that these friends are like, known. Like, “I thought the band was a dumb joke and now they’re opening up for Tame Impala in Eastern Europe. Hahaha!” They live off-the-grid, in the fact that still use a flip phone, and have more tattoos than you do. I don’t think most of these folks are really that far removed from most new adults you meet in American cities, even if they think they are. Their “non-conformity” almost always strikes me as calculated social performance. Doesn’t make them shitty people to hang out it with, as they usually like drinking, dancing, irony and sarcasm. And the girls are usually plenty cute. But let’s not be too impressed by the front.
Actual nerds are some of my favorite people, because they’re genuinely right-brain smart, as opposed to being just talkative and self-involved (like just about everyone else on this list). Think Walter White before he was mad criminal and had his dreams crushed by the realities of life. He was just an enthusiastic nerd, who could explain how rockets worked, why Southwest can offer flights at such a steep discount and how the Internet actually works. Nerds who can cut loose are also some of the most fun people to have a drink with, because they’re actually grounded people, so it’s unlikely to get dark. And they can explain how getting drunk works, which I don’t even understand. Once you get past a bit of social awkwardness, nerds are actually the best kind of new adults.
It should be noted that there is a type of person who thinks they’re a nerd because they like comic books, genre films and Tumblr. I hate to break it to you, but if you don’t have the periodic table memorized, you’re not a nerd. You’re a fake nerd, a beta-male, maybe or if you’re a female, a “Daria.” These types of people, who go to comic-con and love Hong Kong action movies aren’t distinct enough to really have their own category, so I’d probably place them more in the bobo category. I don’t really even care.
In looking at this list, I realized I knew a lot of people who didn’t really fit into any other categories. They have normal sorts of careers, like nurses or teachers or speech therapists. Except for their cable package, smart phones and video game systems, they’re living the exact same lives they would have 30 years ago. They’re your friends from high school who didn’t move away, who got married at 25 and already have a kid. Super nice people, but if you friend them on Facebook, you’ll probably find way too much earnestness in their updates and too many pictures from their recent vacation. I can’t bring myself to make fun of these people because their lives are actually pretty pleasant and they seem like they’re doing exactly what they want to do. But if I didn’t grow up with them, I’m not really trying to meet any new ones, at least until circumstances turn me into one.
And that’s the list, our generation distilled into a handful of highly subjective, overwrought categories. If you think I missed a certain type that wouldn’t fit anywhere else in here, please let me know in the comments. And if I offended you, but saying you’re not really a hipster or a nerd, well, yeah, I said it.
Henry Goldman is the founder of yr an adult and is judging you right now.
The Bobo: Flickr user JDN, used and modified under a cc license. • The Ecobro: Flickr user MariaChilly, used and modified under cc license • The Pansy: Flickr user Lorena Cupcake, used and modified under cc license • The Nerd: Flickr user Sloth_Rider, used under a cc license • Authenticster: kidpaparazzi, used under cc license • The normal: flickr user Utah Photograhy, used under a cc license • Bland bro: flickr user gcfairch, used cc license