The formula for the ever-present Trend Story is simple enough. One: Manufacture the idea. Two: Find at least three civilian examples that represent whatever subculture you are "uncovering." Three: Pepper it with a couple of expert quotes which support your contention. Four: Co-opt a term that had previously been used as slang. Five: photograph the subjects in their glossy, 4-color majesty. (I should know; I've written my share of such pieces). Not that risky, and, sometimes, they actually turn out to be culturally predictive.
But the Race Trend Story is a different beast altogether, and one that is best left to qualified practitioners (James Traub comes to mind). We give Jessica Pressler (who had the unfortunate sense to call Philly "the sixth borough") some credit for making the effort in this weekend's Sunday Styles section, with her article on "black hipsters" who--wait for it--actually like rock music.
Unfortunately, the execution fell well short of the mark.
The piece was questionable on many levels, not least for the use of the term "hipster" (not to mention "blipster") without any sense of irony or context. Worse, however, was the tone of implied white ownership of rock and roll, which was pioneered by black musicians and famously stolen by the likes of Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis. And then of course there was the sense of authorial discovery that ran throughout, as though Ms. Pressler had found a lost Incan tribe or a new alien life form. The subtext of the piece was essentially, "There are actually black people who like something other than rap music...My oh my, whatever will they think of next."
Huh? Um, we're pretty sure that we've seen black people (and Hispanic people and Indians and Asian folks and other "people of color," to use her term) at every rock concert we've ever been to, starting off with David Bowie's "Let's Dance" tour in 1983 (a rock album that was produced by--get this--a black man named Nile Rodgers, who co-founded the R&B outfit CHIC ). And though Pressler's quotes Black Rock Coalition president LaRonda Davis, she doesn't acknowledge that the group was founded back in 1985 "in reaction to the constrictions that the commercial music industry places on Black artists."
If Sunday Styles is in the market for new trend story ideas, here are some pitches: We have heard tell that there are actually Mexican people who don't work as busboys, Greeks who don't run diners, Italians who are not in the Mafia and Jews who don't own the media (residual check please!!). We'll even track down Judith Regan as a source for that last idea.
Veron Reid (left) of Living Colour and Anglo Moore (right) of Fishbone. Both are black men who rocked hard form the 1980s onward.
This post has been corrected; an earlier version incorrectly stated that Pressler had overlooked the Black Rock Coalition.