Monday, November 3, 2008

Hipsters Hatin' on Hipsters

I just finished reading Adbusters' July 2008 article, "Hipster: The Dead End of Western Civilization", and I think Douglas Haddow got it mostly wrong--the counterculture hasn't lost its values at all. The beatniks, the hippies, the punks, the hip-hoppers, the ravers, the anti-consumer movement, etc. all concern(ed) themselves with an elaborate system of in-group fashion semiotics and justifications for having a good time (i.e. looking good and having fun) couched in contemporary political terms. Today's kids may just want to party without feeling as obliged to justify it as "subversive" or "revolutionary," but if they still want to be different from (i.e. cooler than) the kids across the street, then the aforementioned "countercultural" values are intact, minus some of the political pretension. I say good for them. Posers will always be posers, but posers who think they're activists are worse.

I can sympathize with Mr. Haddow's disappointment that the hipsters of 2008 aren't into the same militant anti-consumer pseudo-activism that the hipsters of 2000 were. Before too long, there might not be anyone left to buy Adbusters.

(Image from Read Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter's book for a better discussion of this subject.)


Quammy said...

It seems to me that the problem with hipsters as a youth culture "movement" is that no one feels threatened by them. The beatniks, the hippies and the punks all had something to struggle against. In every case their elders felt threatened by their ideals and their existence. I don't think anyone is really afraid of hipsters. Even emo kids in non-North American countries face serious governmental/societal opposition. But who is gonna feel threatened by some douchebag in horn rimmed glasses and a Cosby sweater?

John said...

Douglas Haddow and Adbusters, apparently.

I think it would be interesting to do a study on how often the words "hipster" and "douchebag" are used in conjunction. I bet 80% of the time they at least show up in the same paragraph.

soul man said...

their mommy's think it is cute and their grandparents are stoked that they are finally wearing the clothes they have been buying them for the past five years.

laurie said...

The thing that drives me crazy about any of these counterculture groups is that they seem incapable of seeing themselves objectively, which basically leads to taking themselves too seriously. I mean, it's cool if you want to adopt a counterculture image or protest agribusiness or whatever, but at least try to keep some perspective. You know what I mean?

John said...

"O wad some Power the giftie gie us. To see oursels as ithers see us!"

--Robert Burnes, Ode to a Louse.

HedgeWitch said...

Every young person feels like they have something to struggle against. Pointing blame and feeling hard done to. It's natural. The counter culture they choose to band with to act out these frustrations really doesn't matter. Most will grow out of it. Those that don't will have the honour of looking back at their lives and not cringing at just how stupid they were. Feel free to substitute "i" and "we" for "they" if needs be. We're all guilty of youth.

John said...

I think you're right about youth needing something to push against to find its own meaning, but wrong about how the counterculture with which it chooses to do so doesn't matter. Yes, the zeitgeist is recursive, but it's also cumulative. North American counterculture since the second world war has been riffing on the same theme over and over again, but the "mass culture" critique, wherein capitalism makes everyone want to be alike and the way to fight it is to be "subversively" fashionable and fashionably subversive, is not only basically wrong, it's what drives capitalism.

Which I guess is fine. It'd be nice, however, to see the energy and idealism of youth given over to something other than cocaine and endless irony. And if I can kick a dying Adbusters I will--I bought into their bad, self-righteous ideas for a time, and ended up spiritually disappointed and intellectually confused.