A few weeks ago, my morning ritual of sheer silence and/or disdained interpersonal interaction was perturbingly halted by a friend of mine in the next room, door slightly ajar, emitting a noise somewhere between a scream and a maniacal laugh. Given the track record of the past year, literally anything could be happening; our bars for both agony and delight had drastically lowered. Conscious of both the day’s prematurity and my own lack of desire for unnecessary dialogue, I peered into the eight inch opening between the door’s edge and frame, only to be slightly disappointed that they were simply in bed, watching a series of indiscernible Instagram videos– a quintessentially 2021 internet-era false alarm.
My baseline level of concern quickly drained to nonexistence as I went on with my day. Over the course of the week, I began to notice patterns in their behavior that seemed like legitimate means to feel apprehensive. As they did dishes, I would hear them speaking in some sort of unintelligible, indecipherable tongue, punctuated with intermittent giggles. The week progressed, and the more mundane the household activity, the more bizarre their congruent linguistics became. Had pandemic-induced psychosis, at long last, reached a loved one? After another morning christened by the same laugh-scream call to prayer, it was time for an intervention - I had to see if they were okay. This had to be done with the utmost delicacy, of course, as this legitimately could have been a mental health crisis.
“Yo, what the fuck is wrong with you?”
With no verbal response, I was countered with a giant grin and a phone subsequently shoved into my face. This was how I was impetuously indoctrinated into the vast universe of a Baltimore-based barber, government name uncertain, with the Instagram handle @bippleyipsnip.
Before proceeding any further, it is imperative to have at least a rudimentary understanding of the cultural connotation of a place like Baltimore. The wild west is not the wild west, Baltimore is the wild west. It’s a metropolis often overshadowed by its coastal counterparts, was popularly contextualized by HBO, and the culture that pervades it can be defined in a very simple but often too-liberally thrown around word: real. This realness spans throughout the storied Bike Life to the youth uprising following the police murder of Freddie Gray to the hotly contested Baltimore vs. DC ownership of New Balance to the “back vowel fronting” drawl of the Baltimore accent. Even amidst the looming epidemic of globalization that will eventually make all major cities look and feel like one lone architect’s sadistic, glass-and-steel-shopping-mall-simulation wet dream– Baltimore is a place where they will continue to do things in a way that is distinctly Baltimore.
The Bippleyipsnip Instagram page (he is also on TikTok, obviously, but for social media users who have not taken the inevitable leap to the other side, he transfers most of his content between platforms) may not leap out of the screen and drag you in by the collar. It deploys an “accidentally intentional” nature to the discovery of his work. The viewer may find themselves in a sort of algorithmic fever dream– curious, intrigued, and yearning for more, before even completing whichever film happens to be their introduction. He is perspicacious, yet humble. Calculated, yet recherché. Without an affinity to a singular visual vernacular, he tactfully reimagines and pushes the boundaries of the video format. Some of his films are shot via cell phone (front) camera, directly addressing the viewer with no frills and absolutely no distractions from his riveting monologues. With others, he demonstrates his multidisciplinary ability, effortlessly navigating as narrator, cinematographer, composer, and hair stylist– his off-camera métier. While impressive, there is a single identifying factor that distinguishes himself between the filmmakers of the world and a true visionary.
He created his own dialect.
First and foremost, his root language is not English, it’s Baltimorese; one of the most beguiling and elusive regional articulations in the continental United States. Most do not have the awareness that it even exists, and those that do are unlikely to be able to describe it. Using this as a canvas– maybe even referring to it as a canvas is too restrictive– he mesmerizingly emblazons and expands on it while deploying tactics from dadaist and abstract expressionist movements.
At times he plays with the viewer, teasing the opportunity for comprehension with each piece, then serendipitously diverting away. There are traces of English roots in this bespoke (pun intended) dialect, but perhaps to some dismay, it simply isn’t enough for external fluency. As an artist, he possesses a rare inclination for self awareness and will work, out of good faith or promotion, to construct a basic bridge of understanding among his audience.
When all is said and done, why does his work matter? He is not the first digital artist to cultivate an audience and surely won’t be the last. And to the plight or pleasure of his regional culture– much of what happens in Baltimore, stays in Baltimore. There’s a multifaceted significance to the discovering of his work in this particular moment in our lives. With each day that comes, we’re faced with mounting headlines to either process (or not) and glissade further into mental anguish, before even being able to start on the ones from the day before. Reality has never felt more real, and there’s a propensity building in culture where the things we once knew are being exchanged for much more abstract versions of themselves, whether they are being resurrected from the past or readapted in the midst of our newly realized desire.
Scottish band Cocteau Twins is among the more relatively recent internet resurgences of artists at the meme-music crossroads. The ambiguity of singer Elizabeth Fraser’s vocal lyrics almost too perfectly plays into our own proclivity to disengage from reality as a whole, even if just for 2 minutes and 37 seconds (the shortest vocal track among their discography). Make no mistake, society has been trying to disconnect from itself much before the Cocteau Twins strummed their first cords, but our current socio-political-economic framework of reality palpably makes the timing of this particular new collective inclination no coincidence.
Bippleyipsnip represents, in part, a recognition of both a symbolic and artistic departure from the system that we’re trying to evade. Perhaps one of the most remarkable things about his work is that the subjects documented within it, those sitting in the barber chair, are nearly unfazed (a subtle smile is just a technique of breaking the fourth wall) by what is going on, ultimately signifying a ready and willing acceptance for transcendence.
The other facet of Bippleyipsnip’s work navigates something distinctly characteristic of our current era. In 2019, the foreboding authority on the English language, Merriam-Webster, appointed the word 'they' as the company’s word of the year, due to the English language’s notorious lack of a gender-neutral pronoun and increased searches of the word’s meaning due to various public figures announcing their preference of said pronoun. While colloquial use of they certainly predated the dictionary’s official induction of the word in this context, the fact that it had finally been recognized on this scale marks a shift in collective consciousness, and at a greater level, signals the fact that we are now placing a much larger emphasis on language in a handful of ways. Enter the culture wars.
Laissez-faire Language has been a decidedly American concept and vehemently protected since the conception of the Great Experiment some two and a half centuries ago, but as we creep towards a higher social-consciousness, it has caused various fissures among our general attitude about this public awakening– more specifically about language’s uses, malleability, and weaponization. Objectively, the use of language in terms of recognizing marginalized groups and having some cognitive consideration for experiences outside your own is a good thing. Where we see those cracks start to spread are, by and large, those reactionary to any sort of change and that should be seen as no surprise because, after all, this is America. If all else fails, freedom is guaranteed.
The multi-sided tug of war happening adjacent to those who decided not to play in the first place is ongoing, and there seems like no elucidation is coming anytime soon. Did we become so woke that now we need to catch up on some sleep? Can you still be conscious without memorizing every line of the script? How do you discern irony from intent? Does language substitute or substantiate action? Is it worse that the system is starting to adopt this use of language or that people believe it is pushing us forward? Who is censoring who? Is shitposting true liberation? In 2021, is the only way to make sense to not make sense?
New York-based multimedia artist, Alex Lee, coined a phrase within his work that comes to mind when describing the spirit and significance of Bippleyipsnip– “Jaywalking through the language”. While his artistic efficacy is aggrandized by the fact that he created his own dialect, it is the intent behind it that makes it all the more sweeter.
With every video of someone with a semi-composed facade and fresh fade in a barber chair trying not to laugh (edges so sharp it’s miraculous that it was orchestrated by a human hand), with every monologue, every keynote address delivered via the Ted Talk filter, every TikTok duet with aspiring rapper and Bippleyipsnip’s aspiring-to-understand audience, we see a mastermind both behind and in front of the camera commandeering our attention beyond the bounds of what we perceive as reality, language, filmmaking, or even being an artist as a whole.
Someone who surpasses breaking the rules because he doesn’t even acknowledge the quiddity of rules in the first place. His work is not futurist, because even those theories stem from what we know presently. There is no line to toe, no barriers to be broken, no physical determinations of figurative movement. He has transcended it all and leaves his audience with a simple quest– for understanding. Now it’s up for us to figure out not what we want to understand, but how much.