Tuesday, August 5, 2008

You'll Only Read This Post Because You Hate It

It's fun to pick on the hipsters. Go on, try it --- follow one of them from your local PBR dispensary as they bike down to the farmer's market to cram their messenger bag full of local, organic groceries while listening to an album leak on their iPod by a band you can't even pronounce. See, good fun, right? If you're a hipster yourself, you can still do this, because the Hipster Code of Irony requires that at no point you recognize the value of the subculture you're a part of, or that you at any point are actually part of a subculture. This is alternately known as the "I Only Wear This T-Shirt Because I Hate It" Theorem.

The bashing of hipsters (like any other predictable subset of society; see also "Dude Where's My Boat?" style) is pretty much ever-present, and, truth be told, often times warranted. Example: the grounds of Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in 2006, watching girls attempt to out-hipster each other with increasingly oversized sunglasses so large I swear I saw one girl lose balance and take a face plant into a pile of Parliament butts.
Example of when it's not warranted: summer of 04, Barry Schwartz and I going to get tickets for Ted Leo at The Black Cat in DC. As we walked up, the big metal door rolls up and a man looking like Iggy Pop, except more bedraggled, standing behind the door stuck his hands up to his forehead to shield his face from the sun, the brightness of which was clearly causing himself some discomfort. "F---ing good morning," he murmured, shrinking back into the darkness of the club. Barry and I looked at our watches — it was 6 p.m. Barry and I shared a look of awe that said simply: "Punk rock."

The problem is, no one in the history of time has ever actually admitted to being a hipster. Doing so would be so completely anathema to the idea of hipster they'd probably take away your Soulseek account immediately. The term is so nebulous that it's applied to anyone who wears tight shirts, or anyone who is mildly cynical about pop culture. In practice, it's such a big tent that anytime someone criticizes hipster culture, it's usually just representative of the other end of the spectrum. "I can pick on your tight jeans because I don't wear them, even though I have a blog I use to cynically tear apart other people." Snark begets snark and the snake keeps eating its tail. Until the tail becomes part of the mainstream culture. Then that snake is sooo over it.

So that's why the following is kind of ridiculous. Adbusters, that anti-commercial publication that costs $6 and is usually buried deep in the Barnes and Noble rack way behind Out Magazine and The Woman Astronomer, ran a cover story this month titled "Hipster: The Dead End of Western Civilization." The article breaks down the hipster culture into tiny bite-sized caricatures resembling a Webster's definition of the term. Surely Adbusters would be up in arms if another publication took such reductionist liberties describing the anti-capitalist movement.

Author Douglas Haddow writes:

An artificial appropriation of different styles from different eras, the hipster represents the end of Western civilization – a culture lost in the superficiality of its past and unable to create any new meaning. Not only is it unsustainable, it is suicidal. While previous youth movements have challenged the dysfunction and decadence of their elders, today we have the “hipster” – a youth subculture that mirrors the doomed shallowness of mainstream society.

and:

But it is rare, if not impossible, to find an individual who will proclaim themself a proud hipster. It’s an odd dance of self-identity – adamantly denying your existence while wearing clearly defined symbols that proclaims it.

This leads to the question: if the people behind Adbusters aren't hipsters, then who the phuck is? If the people who disdain every single element of commercial culture (including Chucks, the fundamental element of any hipster wardrobe) and shun the mainstream aren't paragons of the most elite form of hipsters, then no one is.

In reality, the reason hipster as a classification is so loathed — yet so lacking in self-identified membership — is that it's a lazy way to describe anyone who took a sharp left turn when everyone else was funneling into the mainstream classroom line. Is there a term for the people behind Adbusters (asides from pinkos, anarchists and, um, boundless contrarians)? Not really. Is there a term for people who dress in thrift store clothes because it's cheaper, not because it mimics the Urban Outfitters look? Not yet. And what about Chucks? CAN'T I JUST LOVE MY CHUCKS AND BE DONE WITH IT?!?! Apparently not.

The point is, hipster isn't a defined spectrum of tastes with specific ingress and egress points, like how metalhead is framed somewhere between Cemetery Gates and rabid, Ozzfest-canceling violence. The term hipster has a starting point — somewhere around anti-commercialism, admittedly traversing a predictable style of iron-on irony that gets copied in MTV2 videos — but without a final terminus. It kinda spans eternally to the side, taking in all the tattooed, wanderlust freaks and all the kids searching for cosmic meaning at the bottom of an iPod playlist, snarking at one another for acting too much the part in the meantime. Every now and then, they all meet up at Mousetrap at the Black Cat and pretend, just for one night, that being young and interesting and intelligent isn't a reason not to dance with a stranger. They're free for the moment to make a sincere request to, just this once, hear "Modern Love" twice in one night.

Not that all this ranting means I consider myself a hipster. I would never stoop so low.

5 comments:

Jazus said...

You sound like a romantic there for a moment.
As always the hardest, hippest thing to be is just yourself.
And, as a reformed Chucks wearer now sporting Crocs, I comfort myself in the knowledge that, as the once (unbelievably) hip -- or at least hugely popular -- Huey Lewis and the News said, "it's hip to be square."

Barry Schwartz said...

That guy was awesome. We totally overestimated our need to buy tickets to that show the second they went on sale. But hey, that's life living the essence.

Conal said...

You need to check out Theodor Adorno and his idea of the Culture Industry. Hipsters are merely the end product of a long century of cultural homogenization.

Ginny said...

As always, you say it better than anyone else can. I love your imagery. Thought your angle was much better than this local blog post I read this week on the same topic. http://chasefarmer.com/2008/08/03/hipsterdom-funny-cause-i-see-it-everywhere/

Ginny said...

I meant this link