Hustlin’ Justin Denman sent me this article from CBC News about how flower beards are a thing. As is often the case with trend reporting, it’s not clear what kind of “thing” we’re talking about. Writer Lauren O’Neil wisely and/or cynically begins from a position of skepticism, toward not just flower arrangement but beards themselves:
Often associated with hipster culture (though you’d be hard-pressed to find a young beardo who’d admit that,) large beards have become so much of a trend in some cities that they’ve actually inspired counter-trends. Earlier this year, GQ declared the facial hairstyle “officially uncool” after the New York Times wrote about how “The Brooklyn Beard” was going mainstream in one of its oft-mocked trend pieces. “Now that the New York Times has officially declared beards to be a trend, that trend is, by necessity, over,” wrote Scott Christian.
Having dismissed the validity of big-media style pieces, O’Neil says that GQ was wrong, too, because “Instagram, Twitter, and many a city sidewalk” prove that beards with and without flowers are totally a thing. Welcome to the postmodern era of trend reporting.
If you did not believe your freshman comp teacher’s warnings about the passive voice, just look how it admits dishonesty into the first sentence of that excerpt. Beards are “often associated with hipster culture,” but by whom? Not the bearded themselves—that’s explicitly contradicted. Two news sources also say that beards are uncool, implying that they are antithetical to hip[ster] culture. The associator here seems to be O’Neil, who for credibility must disclaim belief in trend pieces even as she writes one.
But whatever: beards are a widespread hipster trend, no matter how many hipsters, people with beards and trend-spotters deny it. And people putting flowers in their beards is a thing.
What constitutes a thing, though? We want our trend reporting to be truthful, both to preserve the conceit that we might somehow act on this information and because it appears in the “news” section of the paper. But at what threshold of participation does individual behavior become a trend?
If two roommates stayed home one night and put flowers in each other’s beards while watching Entourage on DVD, we would not call flower beards a trend. If, on the other hand, all men grew beards and appeared in public only when they could find fresh daisies to wear in them, that would be a thing. Somewhere between these extremes lies our minimum trend standard.
O’Neil puts it at 1400 Instagram photos with the hashtag #flowerbeard. That’s cool, but a comparable number of results come back for the hashtag #tacodog. In the struggle for national attention between beards with flowers in them and dogs tightly wrapped in blankets—plus the occasional hot dog in a taco, which is obscene—how am I to know which trend is winning?
We’ve discussed this possibility before, but perhaps it is better to approach the trend piece not as a report on what we are doing now, but rather as an indicator of how we like to think of ourselves. Note that how we like to think of ourselves is not always good. Besides the word “hipster,” the defining feature of the trend piece is disdain for the trend presented. That’s interesting, since we’ve already established that said trend is usually a product of the author’s invention, or at least inflation.
So the trend piece describes not so much what we are doing, nor how we like to think of ourselves, but rather how we like to think of others. Evidently, we like to think that young men with beards are decorating themselves with flowers, which is weird because that makes me want to punch them in the face.
I submit that the tone of O’Neil’s article assumes the reader wants to punch these people, too. The sarcastic “thanks, hipsters” in the headline presumes that the reader will find this behavior exasperating, even as it advances the trope that lots of people think it’s cool. Much as “hipster” functions as a derogatory term for young people which no one self-applies, this piece identifies as a trend behavior that we all find annoying.
That is how we like to think of ourselves: as refuseniks in a culture gone precious and dumb. We regard others as crippled by their own self-regard. Who cares if flower beards are not demonstrably popular? They are a thing—specifically, the kind of thing that other people do, probably. I mean, have you seen these poseurs? Me neither, but they’re out there.