A seriously broken social scene…

16 09 2008

It appears that we can add destroying western civilization to our “stuff hipsters like” list:

That’s right. According to this recent cover story from Adbusters, the hipster subculture represents a dead end of society. An excerpt:

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.

That’s the main thesis, though the whole article is worth reading. So the question is: are hipsters really that worthless?  

Here’s my thesis: The same way punks rebelled against a repressive political order (anarchy in UK and all that) and rappers tried to overthrow a racist and stifling social order (i.e. f*** the police…), hipsters rebel against the commoditization of culture by global corporations. Adbusters mentions this relationship:

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.

I think they miss the point here though. True hipsters (of which I would not count myself one) who stay on the vanguard aren’t the ones buying “empty authenticity and culture”. They’re purchasing things (ironic t’s, obscure albums etc…) precisely because they have not yet been co-opted by corporate america. They’re the “subculture”. The “consumer group” is the legions of kids who try to emulate this aesthetic by buying trendy stuff at American Apparel. This division is the same as the division between true punks and posers, and no punk would want the movement judged based on the appearance of those pansy, Hurley-wearing, sell-out posers.

The real question is how valuable this fetishizing of anti-corporate authenticity is. Maybe the reason there are no hipster ideologues is that all the true hipsters spend so much time running from corporate america they don’t have time to do anything else. If this is true, then, as much as I hate to admit it, Adbusters might be right and eventually hipsters will get run off a cliff, taking youth culture with them. 

I don’t rule out the possibility that hipster culture does make a positive contribution to society, but exploring that is probably best left to another post. For now, let’s here some comments. Also, I’d like to put out an open call for anyone who like to create and/or define a coherent hipster ideology. Anyone? Anyone…?




3 responses

26 09 2008
Lola Wakefield

“Also, I’d like to put out an open call for anyone who like to create and/or define a coherent hipster ideology. Anyone? Anyone…?”

I’ve been trying for the past month or so, and having fun doing it:


29 04 2009
A. Hill

I’m not sure I really agree. Certainly, hipsters, like many other people these days, are not pro-corporate-america, but their resistance thereof does not strike me as a central, uniting characteristic. It’s just that coporations are under all circumstances not hip — but is all indie music beloved by hipsters, simply because it’s indie? All indie movies? Do hipsters love vintage clothes because they come from a non-corporate source, or do they love them because they are the most effective way to ironically and superficially appropriate youth movements of the past? I would argue the latter. Hipsters reduce past youth subcultures to the clothes they wore, discarding the ideas altogether. Perhaps that’s because the ideas can no longer be considered relevant in a changed society, but no hipster I’ve met has come up with something to fill the void. They are ironic and superficial whereas countercultures of the past made earnest commentaries on mainstream society and had ideals around which they were more-or-less united. The hipsters we have today may rebel against the commoditization of culture, but they do so by commoditizing past youth cultures and styles. I don’t really think there is any ideology to it at all; although you could wrench a message out of it, I have yet to meet a hipster who actively, deliberately wears his/her ironic ’80s sunglasses specifically as a mockery of the commoditization of culture. You could certainly spin it that way, and that would be kind of cool, but the hipsters I’ve met are totally uncritical about consumerism, the commoditization of culture, etc.

29 04 2009
A. Hill

It’s just that coporations are under all circumstances not hip

And actually, that’s not even true. They may not like the concept of corporations, but how many of them wear Pumas, or Converse, or Adidas, or designer jeans? So I guess it’s more like the idea of liking corporations is not hip.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: