This is a story I wrote for Flagpole Magazine out of Athens, Ga. back in 2009 about hipsters embracing their inner linebacker. I wanted to write it in 2005, when it would have had more of an angle on the zeitgeist; now “hipster” doesn’t even mean anything—thanks, Internet. (I’d also intended to immediately rework it for TWER… make it a sort of preamble to all the Auburn Bikini stories I thought I would have used TWER to tell by now. More on that later.) So even if the thesis seems a bit played, or seems to be reaching, remember that at one time this idea was worthy of Harpers, I tell you— Harpers. (And hey, it’s Georgia week, just like it was in ’09. Maybe there’s a bit of timeliness and relevancy in the ol’ girl yet.)
Saturday night will mark the 113th meeting between the Auburn Tigers and the Georgia Bulldogs.
Doug Gillett, 31, a Georgia alum and fan who’s been getting into a lot of early British punk lately, hasn’t missed one since 1997.
Going by game days, Saturday will also mark the fifth anniversary of the first time, to my knowledge, a group of Auburn townies and hipsters allowed themselves to get into football in front of one another. I was there. I was the singer for a band called Auburn Bikini. We were playing a show. A friend handed me a homemade button that said “Auburn Rock ‘n’ Roll Coach.” I put it on. I led the cheer.
Today it might not seem so strange. At the time it kind of seemed like a miracle.
I rambled on to Doug about it when I got him on the phone. He was driving through West Virginia on the way to his grandparent’s house, listening to Spoon.
“That was my whole reason for being in that band,” I said. “I mostly just sang about football and the whole idea was to bring these two worlds together and yell ‘War Eagle’ at a house show. And sure enough, man, it’s punks and pom-poms and just total college rah-rah and everyone has on orange and blue. But I only went for it and thought I could get away with it because the energy that day was just too much for anyone to resist.”
“Right,” says Doug, who there that day, at Jordan-Hare Stadium, hating life. “When a game day Saturday just completely takes over a whole town, it’s hard not to get swept up in something like that. I certainly did.”
“Right,” I said. “I mean, Georgia was pretty much the only thing standing in our way of perfection that year and the whole town was just throbbing, And after the eagle landed at midfield and started humping that steak… and then, you know, all politics aside, George Bush comes up on the Jumbotron and yells ‘War Eagle’ as those freaking jets fly over… I was just like, there’s no way Georgia’s going to win this game.”
Doug sighs. “I remember thinking the same thing.”
He blogged about it, too.
In March 2005, still stinging from Auburn’s 24-6 victory but high on the response to a story he had posted online detailing his experience with the Deep South’s oldest rivalry (“At least when Georgia got prison-shower-raped by Auburn last year, we could just throw up our hands and say well, Auburn was an unstoppable juggernaut preordained by God to roll to 13-0 by napalming every team in their way”), Gillett started the blog Hey Jenny Slater with, as the sidebar states, “one very simple goal: to have the best R-rated left-wing Georgia football/pop-culture blog in the history of the Internet. Have I succeeded? I think the answer you’re looking for is ‘F$#@ yes.'”
The blog is named for a character in the 1997 John Cusack film Grosse Pointe Blank. It’s had over a million hits. And along with mega-sites like Deadspin and Everyday Should Be Saturday (which Gillett also writes for) it serves as one of the finest, funniest, and best-written examples of the hipster football blog, a growing phenomenon that suggests that the traditional Us vs. Them line of scrimmage, most starkly illustrated in the violent opening scene of “SLC Punk”, has blurred. At least as far as the manly, American sport of football is concerned.
“There was this really good friend of mine from Columbus,” Gillett says. “He was in one of the most punk bands in high school. I expected him to just come up to Athens and disappear into the music scene. But he rushed a frat and got really into Georgia football and it’s just kind of an example of, like you said, people like that getting into football beyond just ironic detachment. Football does that to a lot of people, even when they’re not intending it to.”
Merrilee Challis never intended the hippest venue in post-millennial Birmingham as a place for “Football Saturday” gatherings (“Watch the games on our big screen!”) when she opened the Bottle Tree Café three years ago. But—and she still can’t get over it—that’s what it has become.
“Yeah…the whole football thing,” says Challis, 38, like she knows what I’m getting at. “I didn’t think it was going to affect us, but we’ve had to actively embrace it because these days you can’t fight it. We’ve had bands from Europe and we’ve had to hold their set because the stupid football game is still on. We’ve tried to fight it. You can’t win.”
Challis, who attended Auburn for two years in the late ’80s but never a football game, says the folks that gather round the Bottle Tree’s big screen before a set by Monotonix or Vampire Weekend are predominantly Bama fans.
“I think it’s because of our proximity to Tuscaloosa more than anything,” she says.
But has houndstooth joined trucker hats as a preferred symbol for ironic appropriation in the hipster’s “Dirty South”?
“You mean like how people in Brooklyn like BBQ now?” she asks. “Yeah, there’s probably some of that.”
When Southern-bred, Brooklyn-based, and Athens (Ga.) born Bear in Heaven took the stage at the Bottle Tree after the Alabama-Ole Miss game in October, the band introduced itself as “Bear Bryant in Heaven.”
The crowd ate it up.
“I think it’s just so engrained,” Challis says. “Once we opened up, we realized that almost everybody in bands, like… all the dudes were into football.”
Dudes like her boyfriend, Brian Teasley, drummer for Auburn-born, Athens-friendly surf punk legends Man… or Astroman?
“Brian is the quintessential mixture of those two things,” Challis says. “He’s been this closeted indie rocker football fan for years. He’d always kind of talked about it like he knew what was going on. And just now, just this year, he’s started watching football openly. He claims he wants to have something to talk to his Dad about but he TiVo’s games and watches them by himself.”
Challis said the realization that punks, hipsters, indie rockers kept up with, cared for, screamed for football was shocking.
“Music or football,” she says. “I always thought you had to make a choice.”
According to Justin Robinson, singer for raucous Athens’ garage rockers The Agenda, you did.
“Most (hipster football fans) have always been football fans since we were kids, especially those from the South, but probably weren’t super comfortable growing up and being a part of the culture associated with college football,” Robinson says. “Your stereotypical SEC fan is the redneck good ole’ boy who called people like me ‘faggot’ in high school.”
After nine years in Athens, Robinson is now comfortably out as an Auburn fan via his “s*** talking, college football loving, music snob” blog “A Lifetime of Defeats,” which features of a sidebar photo of Bo Jackson’s hip popping out of its socket and details Robinson’s “f****d up love-hate relationship” with the Auburn Tigers and Atlanta Falcons, “teams who mostly existed to cause me pain and sorrow.”
His preview of Saturday’s game, located a few posts above a video of the Strokes performing on Letterman in 2002, reads in part:
“So it’s time of the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry. AKA the game that matters more to me than any other on Auburn’s schedule this year… nothing can give me more joy than beating the Dawgs and nothing makes me feel sicker to my stomach than watching Auburn lose to the Red and Black. 3 years in a row is 3 too f*****g many. so you better win on Saturday, Auburn…i am serious. this is getting old.”
“I think the rise of the Internet and blogging gave an outlet for closet sports fans to talk shit and celebrate our passion and place among our own team’s fan base,” Robinson says.
He traces the old hostilities not only as a reaction to perceived Southern values but 1990s teenagerdom, when being a music nerd demanded a deliberate embrace of something the gridiron is meant to destroy: Robinson calls it his “inner p***y.”
“There just wasn’t a lot of room (in the ’90s) for football love when you were writing in your journal and reading “The Perks Of Being a Wallflower” and listening to Belle and Sebastian records in an attempt to get laid from the cute indie rock girl down the block,” he says. “Being sensitive was pretty valuable currency in those days. You couldn’t risk being accused of being a jock, or worse, a wanna-be jock.”
Athens townie, part-time stand-up comedian, and life-long Georgia fan Pete McBrayer, 38, first noticed what he calls “the hipster-football divide” in college but says it became more apparent after he graduated.
“A big contingent of the hipsters I know that hated UGA football worked in the service industry on football game days,” says McBrayer, who has worked at The University of Georgia for 16 years. “Grill, Gyro, Rocky’s, any number of bars downtown… it wasn’t really an aesthetic choice like ‘I’m too cool for football.’ It’s more like ‘I work in a chicken plant so don’t ask me to eat chicken.’”
Have things changed? McBrayer says yes.
“Two years ago there was nowhere on the ‘townie’ side of town that showed sports on TV,” he says. “Now Max Canada, RPM, and, more traditionally, Gameday Pub and Shokitini show games.”
His theories on why range from hipster attrition brought on by sheer age to a shift in service industry demographics.
Robinson, however, like his blog, puts it more bluntly.
“I think the real answer is that nobody gives a f**k anymore,” he says. “It’s so much harder to tell cliques apart. The frat boys and sorority girls in Athens don’t dress that much different than the indie rock kids I see at shows. I mean, everyone owns a damn hoodie from American Apparel or shops at Urban Outfitters. It creates a safer environment for the hipster sports fan when everyone these days is trying to be a hipster.”
Doug Gillett agrees.
He’ll be at Sanford Stadium on Saturday, for his 13th Auburn-Georgia game in a row, trying to be his himself… hipster, football fan, listening to the Buzzcocks, listening to “Dooley’s Junkyard Dogs,” whatever, go Georgia…
“I think that football culture and football Saturdays are a lot more inclusive than I think people give them credit for,” Gillett says. “Even if you’re kind of just approaching it like, ‘oh, football, it’s so goofy,’ people will still openly embrace you… there’s a tailgate out there for everyone.”
Almost forgot: Photo by the great Sally T. — check out her old stories for TWER here.
* Vintage “War [Effing] Eagle” shirt great for JELL-O wrestling
* Dean Foy celebrates Bama’s loss to Vanderbilt, crowd surfs at Toomer’s Corner
* Mississippi state trooper crashes Tiger Walk
* Top American pale ale first brewed in Auburn bathtub
* Volleyball player commits to Auburn by painting AU logo on exotic tortoise
* Harvey Updyke Halloween costume
* Guy crashes Tiger Walk, gets arrested
* Auburn English professor on “Jeopardy!”
* TWER interviews one of Auburn’s “Girls of the SEC”
* John Travolta in an Auburn shirt
* Auburn grad stars in new National Geographic reality show
* “Glee” star Naya Rivera wears Auburn shirt in FHM photo shoot