Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Robert Lanham at The Morning News

From this article, on hipsters and inward facing negativity:

As was true with the hippie, another contemporary archetype that’s proven to be here for the long haul, there’s obviously plenty of cultural baggage that accompanies the hipster. All of which, of course, has been thoroughly and exhaustively mocked. Apathy. Trust funds and entitlement. Nihilism. Gentrification. Celebrity worship. Lack of originality. Naiveté. Random stupidity. None of these annoyances is essential to the DNA of the hipster, but all too often, well, you meet some self-absorbed, entitled moron in a panda suit.

But let’s get real. For every cynical slacker sitting around “ironically” watching The Real Housewives of Orange County and turning his beard orange with Sparks spittle, there’s a legitimate artist who’s working his/her ass off, dare I say it, doing something cool. There’s no contrived lack of aesthetic to the films of Michel Gondry. He’s an artist, and yes, he’s cool. There’s no artificial, ironic detachment to the music that TV on the Radio produce. They’re artists too, and yes, they’re cool. And perhaps it should go without saying, but hipster profiling is about as effective as racial profiling. Owning a pair of skinny jeans and living in Bushwick doesn’t make someone cool. But it doesn’t make them a hipster douchebag either.

That’s why the knee-jerk hipster rage, perhaps best exemplified by Douglas Haddow in the Adbusters article,“Hipster: The Dead End of Western Civilization,” seems so overblown. “The hipster represents the end of Western civilization,” writes Haddow. “[A] culture lost in the superficiality of its past and unable to create any new meaning. Not only is it unsustainable, it is suicidal.”

I hate to call bullshit, but a quick Google search of the author reveals an article about hipsters who paint graffiti murals in their bedrooms and an author photo that looks suspiciously like something you’d find on Look at This Fucking Hipster.

Which reinforces my point. The rage and self-loathing associated with hipsters has become more annoying, more naive, and more artificial than hipsters could ever hope to be.

After all, in the rubble of this fury, what remains for artists and bohemians who are legitimately trying to be part of a counterculture? You get the sense that if Jimi Hendrix were to show up in Echo Park today, he’d be publicly mocked in a style section piece on blipsters for wearing a feathered fedora. Duchamp would have given up as soon as he appeared on And Warhol would be demonized as a hipster gentrifier for setting up his factory in a Brooklyn warehouse. Critics continue to complain that we live in an era where all art is derivative and devoid of substance. But if Hendrix, Duchamp, or Warhol were alive today, we’d be doing our damnedest to derail their self-expression, dismissing them as fucking hipsters.

As Pandamonium illustrates, there’s no shortage of hipsters worthy of our mocking. But our challenge is to make the distinction between the artists and the pandas. Otherwise, when the next generation finds its own Jackson Pollock, John Coltrane, or Dorothy Parker, we’re likely to stifle their talents with our misappropriated cynicism. Or worse, we’ll turn them into a joke.

Lanham points out the worst side of adbusters, and similar publications, which often have quite intelligent commentary: they can also border on shock jock style outrage, instead of complex reporting. It should be obvious that “hipster,” just like “suit” or any other coded social placement, isn’t a satisfactory way of understanding a person. One can hope that we’d be a little beyond pointing fingers and spouting lines like “the dead end of western civilization” for something so frivolious and undefinable.

I could go on for a long time about this, but the article mostly speaks for itself.

Irony is healthy, to an extent, and commentators like Carles use pop culture as a launching point for sometimes poignant and sometimes hilarious questioning. However, hate, and self hate, is not productive in the long run, and blogs like Look At This Fucking Hipster, while good for a quick laugh at times, aren’t really any different than hypothetical albums of white trash and rednecks, or fat businessmen. Laughing at other people because we think we are better than them is nothing new and will never disappear.

Now, if you desire to laugh because the human race in general is insane, please do so. We shouldn’t take ourselves so seriously.

posted by Ian Aleksander Adams at 7:23 am