Monday, January 12, 2009


This article and another in Adbusters got me thinking about hipsters.

First, every other youth counterculture movement has had to defend its existence. There are books and scholarly articles and what not defining what it means/meant to he a beatnik, a hippie, a punk - what have you. Hipsters have 1.) never embraced the term or acknowledged it as legitimate or 2.) tried to defend it. While the constant argument about "what is punk" has had bad outcomes, it at least shows some awareness that there is something called punk and that it's a meaningful category. Hipsters never had to do that. There are such things as beatnik literature (Kerouac, Ginsburg, Ferlighetti [who probably embraced the idea of the beatnik more than anyone else associated with the movement]) Punk literature (see: the zine movement, Less than Zero, Yes We Have No, and attempts to explain punk like Please Kill Me and Kiss This: Punk in the Present Tense), Hippie lit (Ken Kesey, Hunter S. Thompson [although he doesn't fit as well as some think]), even Jazz Age/Lost Generation lit. It might be a function of time (hipsters have only been around for a few years, at least in their present incarnation), but there's a certain lack of self-awareness among the hipsters.

The second problem is the homogenous nature of the hipster subculture. Among my Rockforder friends, the word subbie* is often used as a compound adjective with hipster - that is, describing a person as a subbie-hipster bitch or subbie-hipster douchebag indicates a somone with a toxic combination of self-importance and self-involvment. Beatniks included both William S. Burroughs (the scion of a good industrial family) and Jack Kerouac (the son of French-Canadian millworkers). Punks included the diplomat's son Joe Strummer, the promoter and impresario Malcolm MacLaren and the thousands of gobbing, safety-pinned youth who made the public's image of the movment. Hipsters though, tend to be undeniably subbie. They are the leading cause of gentrification, bullshittery and tweeness in the country.

Finally, hipsters' love of cynicism (in some cases a welcome tonic) and irony (again, at times a worthy response to the fuckuppedness of the world) has become toxic. Their's have lead to hedonism. There's no bottom there. Hipsters may have gotten behind Obama, and may have been anti-Bush, but hipsterism wasn't a response to the lock-step mindset of the Bush administration (as the Now Toronto article claims), but the product of the 80's "me generation" and the fracturing and re-homogenizing of the scene in the 90's. It wasn't that hipsters retreated to irony and hedonism in the Aughts because that was the only response to the post 9/11 mindset, that was the only toolset they had. Hipsters don't do satire. Satire requires awareness and a certain level of care. The greatest Roman satirist, Juvenal (here I reveal that I'm a dead-language-speaking jackass) began his satires with the line "Rome, such a corrupt and wonderful city - it would be unholy not to write!" Hipsters wouldn't recognize corrupt or unholy if it jumped up and bit them in the ass. Their lack of context makes it impossible to take a stand. Hipsters wear the keffiyeh, and may have a sort of reflexive anti-colonialism, but at the end of the day, they're rich white kids, playing at bohemianism. They're blinkered and self-absorbed, and I wonder what it says about our generation that this is the dominant subcultre we've produced.

*Subbie is a classist slur used against rich, white suburbanites, indicating a certain amount of money, entitlement and disconnection from the real world. "Daddy's money" - both as an attitude and actual financial resource - is the operative term here.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Proust in his first book wrote about

Apparently, personality surveys have been a fixture in western social circles for longer than I thought. I'd stumbled across one in Eric Fromm's Marx's Concept of Man, but I'd pegged that as a one-off. I'd thought they'd blossomed with the birth of online journals, myspace and the like. Not so, as this webpage illustrates. I've decided to take a crack at the Proust questionnaires.
  • What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
    Failure. More accurately, the crippling fear of failure.
  • Where would you like to live?
    The Midwest. A city.
  • What is your idea of earthly happiness?
    Surrounded by books, free to read and think and the like.
  • To what faults do you feel most indulgent?
  • Who are your favorite heroes of fiction?
    Daniel Waterhouse, Odysseus, John Proctor, Creon.
  • Who are your favorite characters in history?
    Cicero, Cromwell, Lincoln, Grant, FDR.
  • Who are your favorite heroines in real life?
    Barbara Jordan, Rachel Maddow
  • Who are your favorite heroines of fiction?
    Antigone, Cassandra, the Furies.
  • Your favorite painter?
  • Your favorite musician?
    I'll answer the classical one. Fuare
  • The quality you most admire in a man?
  • The quality you most admire in a woman?
  • Your favorite virtue?
  • Your favorite occupation?
  • Who would you have liked to be?
    Charles Stuart's lawyer - John Cooke
That was asked to Proust at 13. This was given to Proust at 20.
  • Your most marked characteristic?
  • The quality you most like in a man?
    Quality again? Loyalty.
  • The quality you most like in a woman?
      Proust's answer was too good; "frankness in friendship."
  • What do you most value in your friends?
    Their honesty
  • What is your principle defect?
    Arrogance coupled with fear.
  • What is your favorite occupation?
    Anything involving an alcoholic drink and a stack of books.
  • What is your dream of happiness?
    To love and to be loved.
  • What to your mind would be the greatest of misfortunes?
    To have been raised by different parents.
  • What would you like to be?
    Smarter and less fearful
  • In what country would you like to live?
    A Midwest that's proud of itself.
  • What is your favorite color?
  • What is your favorite flower?
    The peony. (Proust's answers for this and the above were unbearably fin de siecle).
  • What is your favorite bird?
    The Corbie.
  • Who are your favorite prose writers?
    George Orwell, W.E.B. Dubois and Neal Stephenson.
  • Who are your favoite poets?
    Hugh MacDiarmid, John Donne, Petrarch.
  • Who is your favorite hero of fiction?
    MacBeth, Odysseus, Daniel Waterhouse (I didn't look at my other answer for this)
  • Who are your favorite heroines of fiction?
    Antigone, Cassandra.
  • Who are your favorite composers?
    Fuare, Wagner, Britten, Hayden
  • Who are your favorite painters?
    Hopper, Holbien.
  • Who are your heroes in real life?
    The Longhenries.
  • Who are your favorite heroines of history?
    Elenore Roosevelt, Admiral Hopper, Rachel Maddow
  • What is it you most dislike?
    Preying on fear
  • What historical figures do you most despise?
    The Stuart Kings, Jefferson Davis, the Demagogues of the 30's-40's
  • What event in military history do you most admire?
    The Anglo-Irish War (how to fight an insurgency) and the Malayan Emergency (how to defeat one)
  • What reform do you most admire?
    The 1965 Civil Rights Act
  • What natural gift would you most like to possess?
  • How would you like to die?
    Old age, extremely advanced. Or hypothermia.
  • What is your present state of mind?
    Sickness. An irritation at being pretentious enough to do this survey.
  • To what faults do you feel most indulgent?
  • What is your motto?
      Dum Spiro, Spero.