Thursday, July 15, 2010

I AM A PROUD HIPSTER

...but hipsters seem to be on their way out. I first came to the realization after a 2 hour long gaze at LATFH (look at that fucking hipster) back in September. Because being a hipster has now become identifiable, being a hipster is against the hipster ethos. Those who are desperate to establish an identity that lies outside of the mainstream are going to have to turn somewhere else. So, then, where are the hipsters going to go? What's coming up next? I guess I want to make a suggestion. It might take me a minute to get there but bear with me.

I recently watched a documentary series that was broadcasted by the BBC called "Century of Self". If you've ever wanted to understand the 20th century through the lens of the psychological theories that dominated the times and its connection to consumerism, capitalism and democracy, this is the documentary for you. It's amazing. In Century of Self, the writer/director Adam Curtis explains how the beatnik/hippie desire for free internal self-expression became fulfilled by corporations and consumerism. The ego was coaxed away from the individuals duty to society and into the idea that the individual duty is to be oneself, Jerry Rubin perhaps being the best example. It is through marketing and the relentless engine of capitalism that we have become an individualistic society of sub-cultures, a vast array of lifestyles that we can choose from to express ourselves, buy the goods for, and be accepted by, all by a click of a button (as long as we are signed up for 1-click shopping on Amazon.com).



Of course, these 'choices' are empty once they have been externally produced and marketed to us. After all, corporations do not accept us for who we are in ourselves. Instead advertising must insist that there is something wrong with who we are, something missing, something that will only be restored by whatever product they are peddling. Marketing preys on our insecurities, and it is only through the perpetuation of our insecurities that the overconsumption necessary to maintain our economy can exist. Seen in this light, the hipster is something of an implosion of consumerism. The successful hipster is a viral insecurity creating machine, perhaps their most unifying attribute being their ability to disdain, disapprove, dismiss and anyone around them that has not been able to appropriately signify their individualism. As such, they perpetuate feelings of insecurity that fuel consumerist behavior, while at the same time condemning the conformist tendencies of any consumerist society. So, on one hand, hipster-dom is a corporations wet dream: the consumer who is constantly and ferociously determined to find and purchase the goods that will define them to others as themselves--no matter how obscure or useless that good is. On the other, their commitment to individuality and free expression are values with teeth, and hearkens back to the legacy of other powerful, anti-materialist social movements throughout history.

This is only the way to define the hipster in economic terms--hardly the only way to look at it. Another, perhaps more important lens is that of the hipster psychology. A primary attribute of hipsters is their pervasive lack of definition, and refusal to associate with their obvious group. An aspiring hipster at times myself, I know that hipsters like it that way. They joined the movement so that they would not be a member of any movement. Groups lead to conformity, a fakeness and inauthenticity that is inherently uncool. They wanted to be hipsters to show everyone else around them that they could be exactly themselves, with no affiliation to any particular group. And so, their movement has no advocates. I admire and emulate in a lot of ways individualism that is attempted through the hipster ethos. Through them, anything can be 'cool': homosexuals, sexual experimenters, the hula hoopers, the crisp organic farmers from Vermont, the biracial, the broken family, the anti-social, the trendy, the OCD, the depressed, the drug addicted, the intellectuals, the country bumpkins, the obscure, the old, the very very young. The voracious pace at which music, books, art, clubs, bars, restaurants, themes, trends, travel destinations, charities, objects and clothes are discovered and then discarded as they are popularized demonstrates the desperation to create an individual identity. I think think this goal is worthy. Unfortunately, any successful expression of individuality becomes eclipsed once the society identifies such a person as 'cool'. Then, the individual expression becomes motivated by societal acceptance, which is where, I think, the hipster was born.

And so, my prayer for the progression of hipsterdom: that individuals will decide to be themselves for themselves, not for the group. That hipsters will believe in themselves as the powerful arbiters of cultural, societal and political change that they could be, if only they stopped caring whether it was cool or not. That it will do away with irony in order to better achieve what I think was its broader goal: free self-expression and individualism. That it won't succumb to the quick fixes that consumerist culture provide to be accepted, but instead be committed to the difficult, frightening and staggering work of trying to be precisely who you are in a society full of messages and opinions and demands explaining how you should be.

In the "new" hipsters search for individual expression, they should not dismiss or disdain others, but embrace them. For, the more you learn to embrace other's differences in a non judgmental way, the easier it is for you to embrace yourself. Cool could actually become a dirty word, meaning someone who was too concerned with other's acceptance of them to worry about what they actually cared about.

I hope there is some way for this to be a non-ironic goal. After all, it does not take much looking around to realize that our earth is increasingly and increasingly getting fucked up. That's certainly not ironic, it's reality. But I also firmly believe that individuals united in a movement can be arbiters for a new order, and be catalysts for real change. And personally, I believe that movement already exists, in hipster-ness. It just needs a little self-confidence, a big lack of irony, and the courage to stand up for what it believes in, no matter if its cool or not. I also think Lady Gaga is the leader of this movement, and a leading proponent of its philosophy. But that's for a different post :).

6 comments:

  1. you had me up until you brought up lady gaga. fuck that bitch, she's a talentless hack.

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  2. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lVmmYMwFj1I

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  3. Some of the earliest and smartest theorizing about this is in these books: http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/259919.html

    http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/f/frank-dissent.html

    They are both great.

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  4. I think I get what you are saying. If people call me a hipster, then so be it. Because they were the one who stamped the label on me when I was just being myself, for my own sake. Heck, I like thrift stores and veganism and indie music. (Why do so many people hate me?) It sure gets annoying always second guessing yourself, and I still do it, but I am improving. I wish people realized that just because you are being open about your differences doesn't mean you are judging other people.

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  5. great article, well-written, thoughtful and not pretentious and too long. Congrats sir. Also, do watch more from Adam Curtis, he has done many films and they're all great "All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace" is my personal favorite. He also has a blog. PeaceX

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