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.


Marty said...

I'm a post-hipster.

Come to Kansas and see what the mercantile class' children are like. They make even subbie-hipsters seem like godsends.

Emma said...

I find it interesting that there's supposed to be a huge difference between privileged white kids from the suburbs and privileged white kids from Rockford. Personally, I haven't seen any.