Where have all the cowboys gone?

Why aren't they ordering craft cocktails in North Park alongside the lumberjacks?

Looks like a hipster, but isn’t.
  • Looks like a hipster, but isn’t.

Dear Hipster:

I was idly browsing Westworld reddits the other day, trying to figure out exactly what the heck has been going on the past couple weeks, and that got me thinking about cowboys. Real cowboys, not the robot kind. Cowboys are kind of awesome, right? I mean, riding horses, sleeping under the stars, skipping baths; what’s not to envy about the cowboy lifestyle? Obviously, those last two questions are rhetorical, because the answer has to be “yes.” But let me get to the stuff I don’t understand. We all know urban lumberjacks are totally a thing; so why no urban cowboys ordering craft cocktails in North Park? I would think the image of the rugged westerner might play well with hipsters looking to connect to their burly American roots.

— Bea

It’s true, cowboys get a bad rap. I don’t know if they deserve it, but they get it nonetheless. As for why, well, I’ve got a few theories.

Tom Robbins took issue with cowboys as representing everything mean and bullyish about America. Cowboys park their trucks across three spaces in the Walmart lot and leave their trash on the McDonald’s table for the minimum-wage worker to clean. Not very hipster.

Elsewhere in fiction, in A River Runs Through It, there’s a scene where the lumberjacks pick a fight with a group of cowboys, and the cowboys lose badly; although it didn’t help their boots slipped on the floor while the lumberjacks enjoyed superior traction thanks to their hobnailed, steel-toed logging boots. I think the anecdote implies cowboys are the pretenders to the tough guys’ collective throne. Not very hipster.

John Travolta in Urban Cowboy seems like a nice enough guy, but next thing you know he’s hitting his wife, then she’s off with some other dude who also hits her, then Travolta’s back in her good graces with a simple apology, and the whole thing doesn’t look promising for Debra Winger. So, there’s that. Not hipster at all.

The historical cowboy is a dude on a horse herding cows, not much different than a plumber or a barista, in his way. And it would be pretty hipster to be an actual urban cowboy (or cowgirl, natch), by which I mean driving herds of heirloom cattle down the streets of North Park. Picture the urban cowboy pasturing his herd in Balboa Park, giving new meaning to “locally grass-fed,” contravening public land management policies for his own personal gain. He doffs his hat to the fair hipster maidens hanging around the local watering hole, and then everybody bursts into spontaneous song extolling the virtues of clean air and good clean living. That sure would be something to see.

But, short of an urban cowboy getting his little dogies along University Avenue, I don’t see much room in the hipsterverse for the ironic cowboy. Not only are there already plenty of actual cowboys in the world busy doing what cowboys do when they’re not roping steers, which subtracts from any conceivable mystique the cowboy might otherwise have, but the last thing any self-respecting hipster wants is to be mistaken for some Keith Urban fan headed to Stagecoach for a weekend of playing drunken cowboy in the sun. Sure as shootin’, that unmistakable hint of poser-hood keeps hipsters away.

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