Hipsters

 

By Douglas Haddow

ADBUSTERS

East and West:  Issue 79

We’ve reached a point in our civilization where counterculture has mutated into a self-obsessed aesthetic vacuum. So while hipsterdom is the end product of all prior countercultures, it’s been stripped of its subversion and originality. 

I‘m sipping a scummy pint of cloudy beer in the back of a trendy dive bar turned nightclub in the heart of the city’s heroin district. In front of me stand a gang of hippiesh grunge-punk types, who crowd around each other and collectively scoff at the smoking laws by sneaking puffs of “fuck-you,” reveling in their perceived rebellion as the haggard, staggering staff look on without the slightest concern.

The “DJ” is keystroking a selection of MP3s off his MacBook, making a mix that sounds like he took a hatchet to a collection of yesteryear billboard hits, from DMX to Dolly Parton, but mashed up with a jittery techno backbeat.

So… this is a hipster party?” I ask the girl sitting next to me. She’s wearing big dangling earrings, an American Apparel V-neck tee, non-prescription eyeglasses and an inappropriately warm wool coat.

Yeah, just look around you, 99 percent of the people here are total hipsters!”

Are you a hipster?”

Fuck no,” she says, laughing back the last of her glass before she hops off to the dance floor.

Ever since the Allies bombed the Axis into submission, Western civilization has had a succession of counter-culture movements that have energetically challenged the status quo. Each successive decade of the post-war era has seen it smash social standards, riot and fight to revolutionize every aspect of music, art, government and civil society.

But after punk was plasticized and hip hop lost its impetus for social change, all of the formerly dominant streams of “counter-culture” have merged together. Now, one mutating, trans-Atlantic melting pot of styles, tastes and behavior has come to define the generally indefinable idea of the “Hipster.”

An artificial appropriation of different styles from different eras, the hipster represents the end of Western civilization – a culture lost in the superficiality of its past and unable to create any new meaning. Not only is it unsustainable, it is suicidal. While previous youth movements have challenged the dysfunction and decadence of their elders, today we have the “hipster” – a youth subculture that mirrors the doomed shallowness of mainstream society.

***

Take a stroll down the street in any major North American or European city and you’ll be sure to see a speckle of fashion-conscious twentysomethings hanging about and sporting a number of predictable stylistic trademarks: skinny jeans, cotton spandex leggings, fixed-gear bikes, vintage flannel, fake eyeglasses and a keffiyeh – initially sported by Jewish students and Western protesters to express solidarity with Palestinians, the keffiyeh has become a completely meaningless hipster cliché fashion accessory.

The American Apparel V-neck shirt, Pabst Blue Ribbon beer and Parliament cigarettes are symbols and icons of working or revolutionary classes that have been appropriated by hipsterdom and drained of meaning. Ten years ago, a man wearing a plain V-neck tee and drinking a Pabst would never be accused of being a trend-follower. But in 2008, such things have become shameless clichés of a class of individuals that seek to escape their own wealth and privilege by immersing themselves in the aesthetic of the working class.

This obsession with “street-cred” reaches its apex of absurdity as hipsters have recently and wholeheartedly adopted the fixed-gear bike as the only acceptable form of transportation – only to have brakes installed on a piece of machinery that is defined by its lack thereof.

Lovers of apathy and irony, hipsters are connected through a global network of blogs and shops that push forth a global vision of fashion-informed aesthetics. Loosely associated with some form of creative output, they attend art parties, take lo-fi pictures with analog cameras, ride their bikes to night clubs and sweat it up at nouveau disco-coke parties. The hipster tends to religiously blog about their daily exploits, usually while leafing through generation-defining magazines like ViceAnother Magazine andWallpaper. This cursory and stylized lifestyle has made the hipster almost universally loathed.

These hipster zombies… are the idols of the style pages, the darlings of viral marketers and the marks of predatory real-estate agents,” wrote Christian Lorentzen in a Time Out New Yorkarticle entitled ‘Why the Hipster Must Die.’ “And they must be buried for cool to be reborn.”

With nothing to defend, uphold or even embrace, the idea of “hipsterdom” is left wide open for attack. And yet, it is this ironic lack of authenticity that has allowed hipsterdom to grow into a global phenomenon that is set to consume the very core of Western counterculture. Most critics make a point of attacking the hipster’s lack of individuality, but it is this stubborn obfuscation that distinguishes them from their predecessors, while allowing hipsterdom to easily blend in and mutate other social movements, sub-cultures and lifestyles.

***

Standing outside an art-party next to a neat row of locked-up fixed-gear bikes, I come across a couple girls who exemplify hipster homogeneity. I ask one of the girls if her being at an art party and wearing fake eyeglasses, leggings and a flannel shirt makes her a hipster.

I’m not comfortable with that term,” she replies.

Her friend adds, with just a flicker of menace in her eyes, “Yeah, I don’t know, you shouldn’t use that word, it’s just…”

 “Offensive?”

No… it’s just, well… if you don’t know why then you just shouldn’t even use it.”

Ok, so what are you girls doing tonight after this party?”

Ummm… We’re going to the after-party.”

***

Gavin McInnes, one of the founders of Vice, who recently left the magazine, is considered to be one of hipsterdom’s primary architects. But, in contrast to the majority of concerned media-types, McInnes, whose “Dos and Don’ts” commentary defined the rules of hipster fashion for over a decade, is more critical of those doing the criticizing.

I’ve always found that word [“hipster”] is used with such disdain, like it’s always used by chubby bloggers who aren’t getting laid anymore and are bored, and they’re just so mad at these young kids for going out and getting wasted and having fun and being fashionable,” he says. “I’m dubious of these hypotheses because they always smell of an agenda.”

Punks wear their tattered threads and studded leather jackets with honor, priding themselves on their innovative and cheap methods of self-expression and rebellion. B-boys and b-girls announce themselves to anyone within earshot with baggy gear and boomboxes. But it is rare, if not impossible, to find an individual who will proclaim themself a proud hipster. It’s an odd dance of self-identity – adamantly denying your existence while wearing clearly defined symbols that proclaims it.

***

He’s 17 and he lives for the scene!” a girl whispers in my ear as I sneak a photo of a young kid dancing up against a wall in a dimly lit corner of the after-party. He’s got a flipped-out, do-it-yourself haircut, skin-tight jeans, leather jacket, a vintage punk tee and some popping high tops.

Shoot me,” he demands, walking up, cigarette in mouth, striking a pose and exhaling. He hits a few different angles with a firmly unimpressed expression and then gets a bit giddy when I show him the results.

Rad, thanks,” he says, re-focusing on the music and submerging himself back into the sweaty funk of the crowd where he resumes a jittery head bobble with a little bit of a twitch.

The dance floor at a hipster party looks like it should be surrounded by quotation marks. While punk, disco and hip hop all had immersive, intimate and energetic dance styles that liberated the dancer from his/her mental states – be it the head-spinning b-boy or violent thrashings of a live punk show – the hipster has more of a joke dance. A faux shrug shuffle that mocks the very idea of dancing or, at its best, illustrates a non-committal fear of expression typified in a weird twitch/ironic twist. The dancers are too self-aware to let themselves feel any form of liberation; they shuffle along, shrugging themselves into oblivion.

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