Sunday, August 26, 2007

Hipsters II: Operation NewYorki Freedom

Okay, so having articulated a theory on the non-presence of the hipster, I had to go back and tackle the Time Out article written with the hipster as its target. I don't feel the need to argue with it point-for-point, of course... the thing is more of a literary rant, rather than any kind of scholarship or journalism. Still, in terms of cultural mindsets, rants are some of the most illuminating documents available. This is especially true when they're published in high-profile rags associated with my very own city.

The very nature of the Time Out article is our first clue into the pathology of the hipster. Time Out is declaring a "War on the Hipster," and it goes on to describe the hipster in detail, and to create an interesting taxonomy: the Sweet and the Vicious. This seems to correspond to two commonly-cited hipster characteristics. The Sweet is the effeminate, academic, fumbling hipster who wears the "nerd" badge, however ironically. In The Sweet, Irony manifests as self-deprecation and self-consciousness. The Vicious is the snarky, rude hipster for whom rebellion and irony collide and create a raw, rather unpalatable postmodern salad.

This typology, painted in broad strokes, cradled in a long rhetorical passage filled with references that are supposed to prompt an eye-roll, doesn't really illuminate the character of the hipster. Christian Lorentzen points at a bank of fog and tells us to disapprove of it, even as he gives us a positive portrayal of certain jazz musicians and local personalities as the true representatives of "New York Cool." In this way, he establishes what amounts to an imaginary "other" a la Simeone de Beauvoir. Discrediting the imaginary hipster is a roundabout device for reaffirming Lorentzen's own credibility, and the credibility of the readers who rabidly agree with him. "The War on Hipsters."

Sounds to me like a pop-cultural War on Terrorism. Where are they? We must squash them, but where do we find them? How do we tell them apart from our noble brothers and sisters?

This second part becomes especially difficult when you read the meta-language of Lorentzen's article. He cites more names, bands, bars, and references than I could possibly come up with. Take his first paragraph:

"Has the hipster killed cool in New York? Did it die the day Wes Anderson proved too precious for his own good, or was it when ChloĆ« Sevigny fellated Vincent Gallo onscreen? Did it vanish along with Kokie’s, International Bar and Tonic? Or when McSweeney’s moved shop to San Francisco and Bright Eyes signed a lease on the Lower East Side? Was it possible to be a hipster once a band that played Northsix one night was heard the next day on NPR’s Weekend Edition? Did it hurt to have American Apparel marketing soft-porn style to young bankers? Was something lost the day Ecstasy made the cover of the Times Magazine? Or was it the day Bloomberg banned smoking in bars? And how many times an hour could one check e-mail and still have an honest, or even ironic, claim on being cool?"

For a man who condemns the hipster, he certainly seems conscious of their cultural habits and obsessions. Is he a hipster field-anthropologist? Does he venture into the trees with the hipster, grooming it under its porkpie and eating the ironic bugs he discovers? Nay, indeed. Christian is up on the scene in New York, and he seems to appeal to a strikingly similar demographic. Jesus Christ, just look: his article is illustrated with a retro shirt that says "The Hipster Must Die." There's no escaping the tropes.

And this is the other indication that the hipster is a bugaboo par excellance. When people create adversaries to condemn, they're often modeling them after themselves. The psychological term is projection, I think. Most people who condemn hipsters are, in fact, doing so because it's a rather hip thing to do right now. The most culturally-elite are inventing a group of people who are even more culturally elite, and they're making that invented group an enemy.

Lorentzen mentions the term "narcissism"... the hipster's unreserved love for itself, to the point where it interferes with its life and relationships. He fails to bridge the jump between hipsters as a clique and the general culture that's so quick to blame them. In this case, narcissism has reversed into its compliment, which hipster-haters everywhere are turning into an art form: self-hatred.

That's it for my discussion of this topic... the cultural implications and psychological elements are widespread and worth observing under glass, but I can't fix it by blogging about it. I just have to let it run its course.


chocolatebooks said...
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chocolatebooks said...

I just adore your love-hate relationship with the love-hate relationship of hipster culture. Your blog banter brightens my day.