Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Hipster

N+1's foray into the trampled fire pit circle of hipster-critique is by far the most well-toned, rigorous and funny, intellectually important contribution to date. Appropriate, too, as Mark Greif says in his preface:

A number of people have sniggered–non-participants and participants both (you'll hear their teasing in the debate transcript)–at the idea of n+1, "a journal of literature, intellect, and politics" founded in New York in 2004 (and physically produced in the hipster neighborhoods of the Lower East Side and then Dumbo), initiating a highbrow discussion of hipsters. Partly the challenge is that the topic seems too stupid and demeaning. One of our readers emailed us as soon as the panel was announced, to say: "Is this a joke? If it isn't, that's very, very sad." For others, the trouble was that it was too much like us–this challenge is one of what the sociologist would call "inadequate reflexivity." The charge is that n+1 is itself a hipster journal, and molded by the same social forces. I think the former is false, the latter true. The hipster represents, in a deep way, a tendency we founded the magazine to combat; yet he exists on our ground, in our neighborhood and particular world, and is an intimate enemy–also a danger and temptation.

[...] The hipster represents what can happen to middle class white, particularly, and to all elites, generally, when they focus on the struggles for their own pleasures and luxuries–seeing these as daring and confrontational–rather than asking what makes their sort of people entitled to them, who else suffers for their pleasures, and where their "rebellion" adjoins social struggles that should obligate anybody who hates authority.

Or worse, the hipster is the subcultural type generated by neoliberalism, that infamous tendency of our time to privatize public goods and make an upward redistribution of wealth. Hipster values exalt political reaction, masquerading as rebellion, behind the mask of "vice" (a hipster keyword). Hipster art and thought, where they exist, to often champion repetition and childhood, primitivism and plush animal masks. and hipster anti-authoritarianism bespeaks a ruse by which the middle-class young can forgive themselves for abandoning the claims of counterculture–whether punk, anti-capitalist, anarchist, nerdy or '60s–while retaining the coolness of subculture. It risks turning future avant-gardes into communities of "early-adopters."

The Guardian has more.

Or, looking back, and deeply ironic coming from AdBusters (that magazine practicing intentional ignorance of class, convinced the coming revolution will first and foremost be "aesthetic") back in 2008:
Hipsterdom is the first "counterculture" to be born under the advertising industry’s microscope, leaving it open to constant manipulation but also forcing its participants to continually shift their interests and affiliations. Less a subculture, the hipster is a consumer group – using their capital to purchase empty authenticity and rebellion. But the moment a trend, band, sound, style or feeling gains too much exposure, it is suddenly looked upon with disdain. Hipsters cannot afford to maintain any cultural loyalties or affiliations for fear they will lose relevance.

An amalgamation of its own history, the youth of the West are left with consuming cool rather that creating it. The cultural zeitgeists of the past have always been sparked by furious indignation and are reactionary movements. But the hipster’s self-involved and isolated maintenance does nothing to feed cultural evolution. Western civilization’s well has run dry.

It goes without saying, N+1's new symposium is less pessimistic than all that, in that it ultimately aims (with a healthy dose of self-awareness and humor) to empower, by way of "seeing things more clearly."

If anyone would like a free copy, please send me an email. (Update: All gone; thanks everyone.)

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