Saturday, 29 March 2014

Hipster Awareness.

I have to be honest. I had no idea what a 'Hipster' was four or five years ago. I was soon alerted to their existence by the Dickhead song of 2010 and since then I have been pretty conscious of Hipsterdom, or at least what we think it is. Ever since I have seen them everywhere and everyone has a disdainful remark to make regarding them. It's worth looking into the history of subcultures to really situate the hipster. Adam Curtis churned out an interesting article on his blog in time for the Mayoral election of 2012. He focused on Norman Mailer, who had been an early proponent and self-described 'Hipster' in the 1950s and 60s. He deemed it a culture of outsiders first pioneered by Black Americans in response to racial oppression, they were the original outsiders, only to overtaken by 'white negroes' as the outsider culture was co-opted. Curtis refers us to this section of Mailer's writing:

"In such places as Greenwich Village a menage-a-trois was completed - the bohemian and the 'juvenile delinquent' came face to face with the Negro, and the hipster was a fact in American life. If marijuana was the wedding ring, the child was the language of Hip for its argot gave expression to abstract states of feeling which all could share, at least all who were Hip. And in the wedding of the white and the black it was the Negro who brought the cultural dowry. 
So there was a new breed of adventurers, urban adventurers who drifted out at night looking for action with a black man's code to fit their facts. The hipster had absorbed the existentialist synapses of the Negro, and for practical purposes could be considered a white Negro." 

This seems a far cry from the blokes in Shoreditch somehow. You might want to read Rob Horning's piece if you want something more up to scratch. One suspects the Hipster has come a long way since then, and yet Curtis goes on to tell us:

Mailer also pointed out that this new breed of "psychic outlaw" could be equally a candidate for the most reactionary or the most radical of political movements. And in the film there is a fascinating scene where Mailer takes on the trades unions on one of the avenues in New York. He tells them that in the past they were a heroic movement - but that now they have become a repressive, stultifying force in society - in particular in the way they are refusing to allow blacks and hispanics to move up society. It is an odd moment because as you watch you realise that it was elements of this rebellious individualism that both Thatcher and Reagan would later harness. And that possibly, if the left had got hold of it earlier, then the history of the West might have been very different.

Last year I found another video from Mike Rugnetta on YouTube about Hipsterdom. What provokes hatred against the Hipsters is that they don't disavow what every other subculture do, e.g. that their scene is made up of performance Hipsters wear things for irony whereas Punks and Goths and even wannabe gangsters claim a certain dress code, slang, music and mindset to be authentic to their scene. Actually sticking drawing pins through your flesh or leaving the sticker on your cap is about as 'authentic' as Hipsters are in buying over-sized glasses and growing funny beards. Rugnetta suggests it's a matter of cultural capital, and people feel the flippant appropriation of features of fashions undermines the value of the trend. But that still seems incoherent. The reasons to undertake a certain action are inseparable from it to some extent, but not substantial enough to change the content of the action and its significance. The reasons people smoke are not significant enough to change smoking and its consequences.

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