Thursday, April 07, 2005

An etiology of the hipster

The instinctive revulsion kids feel towards suburbia--its materialism, its intellectual poverty, its cabin-fever cloisteredness, its reactionary politics, its complacency and xenophobia--is inevitably coopted by the same capitalist value system that produced these dreary phenomena to produce hipsterism, a homogenized and codified form of superficial reaction to a stultifying life of empty entitlement. This entitlement derives not merely from economic privilege but from the insistent right to be entertained that suburban kids instictively feel, a product of having watched too much flattering media that announces constantly that it is made just for them and sycophantically pleads for their appproval. They will usually develop apolitical aesthetics (politics is "beneath them" because it will ultimately come around to the source of their entitlement, and their ultimate guilt) preoccupied with surface charms and "universal" themes of self-realization, as though that can occur in a socio-political vacuum. When it does, the hipster is what is produced.

Hipsterism is a quaint, neutered form of rebellion that allows post-teens to fret endlessly about how they come across, worry constantly about their indviduality quotient, preparing them for a successful life as a middle manager or a functionary in one of the glamor industries, where such self-involvement is de rigeur. Hipsters are a plague of locusts on any scene in which young people are trying to figure out new approaches to life; they swarm in when word gets out and obliterate those new approaches, turning neighborhood sidewalks into catwalk preening contests, ushering in trendy bars and restaurants, encouraging the sense that one is perpetually a tourist within the hallowed aura of one's own lifestyle. They imagine themselves fellow travelers but they are more like a bomb squad, defusing revolutionary potential and reestablishing the status quo motives of the pursuit of fashionable positional goods, status in the form of cultural knowledge, and a vaunted sense of one's uniqueness that always needs blostering from serially acquired identity goods, the T-shirts and DVDs and such that remind you who you are. Hipsters, though frequently sneered at as ironic, are never actually ironic. Ironic is not synonymous with hyper self-awareness. Irony requires a detatchment, a negative capability, a lofty persepctive. The Wall Street Journal exhibits far more irony than does The Village Voice.

Hipsters are typically nostalgic for childhood, which is thee idyllic time when total self-involvement is not marred by the more pernicious aspects of intense self-consciousness, when no critical consciousness yet exists to question or resist the way the media flatters and seduces. So they pursue the tchotchkes and retro junk of their youth, from the time when they were already consumers against their will but not savvy enough to have an opinion about it. The trauma of discovering you're already a consumer, that your consciousness was limned by consumerism, is such that it muust be obsessively repeated, and the hipsters bray for those same things they cried for when they were six.

1 comment:

  1. Look, hipster-hater, I'm sorry you were a nerd in high school. So was I. But I'm cool now, and so are you. Before you go any further, you should define who you consider a hipster, because your words describe only about five percent of the people wearing trucker hats. The rest are just doing their thing. Just like me, just like you. Some even have "blogs."