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Bateman: Indie is a lifestyle, a thoughtway

By Oliver Bateman

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Are you indie?

Back during dinosaur times, when somebody said that he was indie, we just… Are you indie?

Back during dinosaur times, when somebody said that he was indie, we just assumed he meant he had been named after Indiana Jones. Given Dr. Jones’ preeminent status among the great adventurers of the day, this seemed like a safe bet. But, times have changed, and indie is now as complicated a word as organic (which used to mean made from organisms but now means, among other things, that it’s Darfur-safe and thus okay for hipsters to buy). What with the new knowledge economy, we now believe that no one should leave college without a thorough understanding of what’s out and what’s indie. Luckily, we’ve spent the equivalent of two medieval peasants’ lifetimes keeping up with the Indie-ana Joneses.

The first thing you need to know about something that’s indie is that it isn’t mainstream. Big Macs, blockbuster movies where robots fight other robots, American Eagle cargo shorts and Dane Cook are all examples of what’s mainstream. If you’re looking to go indie, you need to avoid all of that stuff, starting with the cargo shorts. The mainstream might be a great place to find 2-for-1 deals as well as “Two and a Half Men,” but neither is the least bit indie.

Lots of different forms of media, clothing and people may qualify as indie, and the designation is often dependent upon context. An “alpha male” beard on Al Gore was weird but still mainstream, whereas woolly whiskers on a 20-year-old singer-songwriter named after a carbonated beverage from the Great Depression are most assuredly indie. Betty White in the ’80s was mainstream, but Betty White in her 80s is arguably indie, at least when she was limited to one Super Bowl advertisement and a popular Facebook group. A T-shirt made in Darfur and sold at Walmart isn’t the least bit indie, but a “Save Darfur” T-shirt made in Los Angeles and sold at American Apparel is as indie as you can get.

An indie film needs to move as slow as molasses with pale, reedy actors delivering ironic dialogue in their most nonchalant monotones. The whole shebang should be set to the soothing sounds of that aforementioned woolly-whiskered singer-songwriter twanging away on an acoustic guitar he discovered at a dying, impoverished bluesman’s garage sale. Even if it’s borderline unwatchable — and trust us, most of these glorified YouTube videos are — people outside the mainstream will waste no time acquiring its definitive Criterion Collection edition (now with a director’s commentary of the director’s commentary) on DVD.

Indie webzines are great places to keep up with what’s going on in the indie world. The Onion’s A.V. Club is a borderline-mainstream zine that occasionally keys the wider world into something that was hot five months ago, and sites like McSweeney’s and Stuff White People Like poke knowing fun at their core readership. What indie reader hasn’t stumbled upon one of McSweeney’s laugh-and-a-half lists and failed to wet his skinny jeans with delight? When has one of Stuff White People Like’s clever deconstructions of something indie done anything but made the indie faithful laugh at their silly, self-aware indie-ness?

Indie is as much a lifestyle as it is a concept, thoughtway or adjective, and slight deviations can cost you dearly. Someone purchasing a jicama at the farmer’s market might not think he’s dealing a ferocious blow to the hegemonic and thoroughly mainstream agribusiness conglomerate known as Food, Inc. But that same someone might have failed to read about the healing powers of locally grown jicamas that will surely send decidedly non-indie housewives speed-walking to do likewise.

In other words, if you want to stay indie, you must avoid selling out. College will present you with many opportunities to sell out — opportunities ranging from unscrupulous corporate recruiters dangling entry-level job offers at call centers to graduate and professional schools seeking to turn you into another one of “the Man’s” many over-educated truth-sayers. Unlike your peers — but very much in the spirit of the young Indiana Jones — you need to resist those temptations and stay the indie course. Keep visiting those hostels, fixing the gears on your bicycle, French pressing your conflict-averse coffee beans and cutting the oh-so-restricting legs off your girl jeans, and only then can you rest assured that one day someone will appreciate your unique mix of lute-playing and spoken word enough to give you the chance to sell out. At which point we’re certain you will, because, hey, you might be indie, but at least you’re not crazy.

Oliver Bateman is the first among equals at the literary collective/beehive/workshop known as the Moustache Club of America. The Club declared its indie-pendence from the mainstream back in 2002 and can be found on the web at moustacheclubofamerica.com. We haven’t sold out yet, so make us an offer!

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Bateman: Indie is a lifestyle, a thoughtway