BROOKE GLADSTONE: Twice a week, the New York Times publishes its Style section, rich with tips on how to dress and dine. Of course, there are the haters who mock the reports as poorly sourced drivel, but our next guest, Slate contributor Justin Peters, is a firm believer in the infallibility of the section. In fact, he recently set out to use it as a blueprint to become, quote, “the trendiest guy in New York City.” He says the task was especially daunting, given his pitiable lack of trendiness.
JUSTIN PETERS: I’m not in a band.
You know, I dress very unfashionably. I don't have any tattoos or piercings. I was a horribly lame person.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So you decided to follow the trends that were identified in the Style section.
JUSTIN PETERS: The Style section was my beacon, something that could rescue me from this middle of nowhere hell in which I found myself.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] So tell me about the trends that you identified.
JUSTIN PETERS: The first one was a beard. Beards are obviously trendy, but what's even more trendy is heartlessly mocking those people who don't have beards.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: That's a trend?
JUSTIN PETERS: Apparently.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Who reported that in the New York Times?
JUSTIN PETERS: Steven Kurutz. He said that some men without beards are extremely distressed by their lack of beard-growing capability. They experience pain and suffering and face ridicule from their bearded friends.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] Could you grow a beard?
JUSTIN PETERS: Very badly. I look like a disreputable Mennonite man.
I went to the Brooklyn Flea, which is a flea market on the Williamsburg waterfront, that if you want to buy a jar of $12 honey lemon mayonnaise, Brooklyn Flea is the place to go. I went there and I tried to scout out some people who didn't have beards, which was very difficult. Nearly 95% of the men there had beards. So I tiptoed up to a man who was beardless and sitting behind a table of eyeglasses, and I said, “Does anyone here ever mock you for not having a beard?” And he said, “Yeah, sometimes they do.” And then I saw my opening, and I said, “Well, can I mock you for not having a beard?” And he looked a little bit confused, but he said, “Sure, why not?” And I pounced. I said, “Your hairless face is disgusting to me.”
I felt so trendy after that, Brooke, I was walking on air.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] Now, there were three trends that involved hair.
JUSTIN PETERS: That’s right.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: One involved hair below the waist which we probably won't go into here, but there was one involving the hair on your head.
JUSTIN PETERS: The man bun, I think is what you’re thinking of.
Now, we all know buns from schoolmarms and Katharine Hepburn in some of her movies but, according to the Times, the man bun is the arty hairdo of choice in hip neighborhoods like Williamsburg and Bushwick.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Had you been seeing it?
JUSTIN PETERS: No, I hadn't been seeing it.
But I trust the Times, so I grew my hair out a little bit. It very painful to actually twist it into a bun, but once I had it, I felt like a part of something.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Something bigger than yourself?
JUSTIN PETERS: Something bigger than myself –
- which I guess is the point of this entire experiment.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Reactions?
JUSTIN PETERS: I went to this street wear fashion show where the latest in board shorts and artisan hats were being demonstrated. I was walking around, showing people my head, expecting to be lauded as one of the group. And, you know, no one said a thing, and it was very disturbing to me. Someone even asked me if I wanted to have a free haircut.
And I’m like, “No! My hair is trendy as is. It’s in a bun, you see.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] Were there any other trends that would have the potential for either shocking or annoying or delighting your wife?
JUSTIN PETERS: Apparently, it's very trendy to use British phrases in casual conversation, words like “Cheers” when you're signing off for an e-mail or “Bob’s your uncle” when you're talking about someone's uncle.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: No, not when you’re talking about someone’s uncle.
JUSTIN PETERS: [LAUGHS] Yeah, as an expression of delight. So I went to the Wikipedia entry for British slang and I made a list, and I tried to wait for the appropriate time to use it. And that time came a couple weeks ago, when Hurricane Sandy left me without power for about a week. So I cried, “Well, this is all to cock.”
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Alta kak? [LAUGHS]
JUSTIN PETERS: Well, that’s exactly what my wife said. This is the problem, Brooke. If you want to be trendy, you have to surround yourself with other trendy people. Otherwise, you just elicit puzzlement and confusion.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Why did you leave some trends on the table?
JUSTIN PETERS: Apparently, it’s very popular to, on Twitter or other social media, claim that someone who no one has heard from for a while has died –
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mm-hmm –
JUSTIN PETERS: - and then just watching the chaos that erupts that way. I drew up some plans to incapacitate Jim Nabors.
Slate told me I couldn’t go through with it. Lawsuits always get in the way of trendiness.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So what do you say to people who criticize the Times Style section? In your mind, does it still reign supreme as the authority on how to live fabulously?
JUSTIN PETERS: Absolutely. There are a lot of people out there who think the Times Style section is specious, questionably-sourced link bait. I am not one of those people.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS]
JUSTIN PETERS: Lamewads like me shouldn't mock the Times. We should learn from it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Okay, so you know that your lack of trendiness is the ultimate in trendiness, right? Come on.
JUSTIN PETERS: Well, I'm hoping that, you know, I will see an article in the Times saying just that, and then, you know, I’ll be able to die happy.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And – shave?
JUSTIN PETERS: [LAUGHS] Yes, because, you know, this scruff is not appealing to anybody.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] Justin, thank you very much.
JUSTIN PETERS: My pleasure, Brooke.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Justin Peters is the trendiest guy in New York City. He’s also a contributor to Slate and an editor at the Columbia Journalism Review.
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BOB GARFIELD: That’s it for this week's show. On the Media was produced by Jamie York, Alex Goldman, PJ Vogt, Sarah Abdurrahman, Chris Neary and Doug Anderson, with more help from Khrista Rypl. And it was edited - by Brooke. Our technical director is Jennifer Munson. Our engineer this week was Ken Feldman.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Katya Rogers is our senior producer. Ellen Horne is WNYC’s senior director of National Programs. Bassist composer Ben Allison wrote our theme. You can listen to the program and find transcripts and read our fabulous blog at onthemedia.org. You can find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter, and I really think you should follow us on Twitter. You can e-mail us at email@example.com. On the Media is produced by WNYC and distributed by NPR. I’m Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And Brooke, what do you believe our listeners should do with respect to our, our Twitter feed?