Top

The Style of Subversion: An Introduction

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : August 4, 2008

It has been a really difficult week. As I sit down at my favorite urban coffeeship, sipping iced coffee, and begin to catch up on last-week’s work, I realize that what I am about to write could easily be hypocritical. What follows is the first in a series challenging the rise in pseudo radicalism. Challenging pseudo radicalism could very well render me a hypocrite because I am not sure whether or not I am, after all, a pseudo radical. So, as you read what follows, recognize that even though I’m pointing out the speck in hipsterism’s eye, I am open to counter-challenge that I may have, upon further relfection, a log in my own eye.

I had been meaning to read Hipster: The Dead End of Western Civilization on Adbusters all weekend, but only just finished it. The article points to the rise of the hipster and, therefore, the end of the counter culture. If you haven’t read it, I HIGHLY recommend the article (and the additional comments). It was one of the funniest, yet most tragic, things I’ve read all month. The closing paragraph sums up the article well:

We are a lost generation, desperately clinging to anything that feels real, but too afraid to become it ourselves. We are a defeated generation, resigned to the hypocrisy of those before us, who once sang songs of rebellion and now sell them back to us. We are the last generation, a culmination of all previous things, destroyed by the vapidity that surrounds us. The hipster represents the end of Western civilization – a culture so detached and disconnected that it has stopped giving birth to anything new.

This article from Adbusters isn’t offering anything new. Books like a Nation of Rebels have explored the commodification of the counter culture and its vapid outcome (that book prompted a brief post in October 2005 about the nature of the Gospel and the counter culture). And David Brooks’ Bobos in Paradise is a classic look at what happens when the affluent class adopts some of the external sensibilities of the counter culture.

While hipsters aren’t exactly a unique phenomenon, being part of our rich tradition of commodified counter cultures, I am tempted to think that hipsters are, perhaps, the mostly highly evolved form of pseudo radical.

What, pray tell, is a “hipster?”

There isn’t an authoritative defintion for “hipster.” But most sources tend to agree with this basic defintion (as found on wikipedia):

…young, well-educated urban middle class and upper class adults with leftist and/or liberal social and political views and interests in a non-mainstream fashion and cultural aesthetics. Actually defining what a hipster is can be a difficult task considering the idea that hipsters are thought to exist as a “mutating, trans-Atlantic melting pot of styles, tastes and behavior[s].”[1] Nonetheless hipsters are often associated with non-mainstream music and film and other products such as second-hand and or vintage clothing. But there are many different hipster scenes throughout the world and some incorporate influences that others might not. Hipster identity is generally always in flux.

Hipster “culture” has been almost universally trashed. Christian Lorentzen, captures anti-hipster sentiments well when she writes:

Under the guise of “irony,” hipsterism fetishizes the authentic and regurgitates it with a winking inauthenticity. Those 18-to-34-year-olds called hipsters have defanged, skinned and consumed the fringe movements of the postwar era—Beat, hippie, punk, even grunge. Hungry for more, and sick with the anxiety of influence, they feed as well from the trough of the uncool, turning white trash chic, and gouging the husks of long-expired subcultures—vaudeville, burlesque, cowboys and pirates…these aesthetics are assimilated—cannibalized—into a repertoire of meaninglessness, from which the hipster can construct an identity in the manner of a collage, or a shuffled playlist on an iPod.

There are certainly other youth sub-cultures other than hipsterism. But almost every youth counter-culture has been hipsterized, for the most part. For example, it isn’t rare to be at a gathering of anarchists (who hold a fairly intense counter-cultural ethic) and find the growing inroads of hipsterism.

It doesn’t take much imagination to notice the strong hipsterist vein among emerging church and new monastic circles.

Hipsters, Punk Monks, And Pseudo-Alterity

Earlier this summer, when I was at PAPA fest, I was confronted with a profound sense of cognitive dissonance. You see, I came of age in the mid 90s. The commodification of the counter-culture was well under way, but it could hardly be called mainstream yet. Because of this, most of the “alternative” folks that I knew were social outcasts, or at least were socially akward. Like me. To put it indelicately, most of the counter cultural types I knew weren’t academic enough to be nerds, weren’t athletic enough to be jocks, and weren’t attractive enough to be popular. The counter cultural types tended to hang out together with all the other lower-order social groupings. And since I was unpopular (in fact, one poll that the girls did in junior high put me as the 3rd from the bottom in the social pecking order).

So, my brain was confounded by what I saw at PAPA Fest. Most of the 20 something crowd was attractive. There were young men aplenty with chiseled, shirtless, chest throwing footballs in a perfect spiral to other young men with similarly perfectly chiseled chests. In fact, if it weren’t for their dreads, I would swear that they were jocks.

And the women were similarly attractive…and, for the most part, cutely dressed. In my day, counter cultural women dressed in defiance to popular expectations of what constitutes femininity. These young women, in contrast, seemed, for the most part, to be wearing clothing that accentuated the female form.

I’m not saying that everyone at PAPA Fest was young and attractive. Or am I saying that everyone there were poseurs. I’m not sure I would even say that anyone there was a poseur. But when socially mainstream (or even socially popular) people are begining to connect with events that, a generation ago, would have been populated with social outcasts, we should pause to reflect the social dynamics at play.

It would be easy to dismiss my observations as the jealous musings of a once-unpopular chubby 32 year old. It would be easy, because I’m convinced that my inner junior higher is coming out as I write this article. My primary goal in writing this, however, isn’t to condemn PAPA Fest attendees for being too attractive. Rather, it is to demonstrate that subversiveness and counter-culturality is no longer a provocative choice.

One way of understanding this phenomenon is to be happily excited that so many young people are beginning to join arms in solidarity with social outcasts, with the poor, and the downtrodden. We should be excited about the growing number of radicals are rising up to challenge the status quo.

Another way of understanding this phenomenon is to be a little concerned at how easy it is for young people to take up pseudo alterity.

Alterity is the quality of being an “other.” Pseudo alterity is what happens when someone tries to “other” themselves in a way that isn’t real. It is what happens when someone claims the status of “other” for one’s self as they, for example, attempt to acheive solidarity with a marginalized group in a way that is superficial or trite or inauthentic. Another way that pseudo alterity happens is when someone considers themselves to be “othered” by the dominant group when, in reality, they are still members of the dominant group.

Members of a majority or dominant group may (perhaps) achieve alterity by being ostracized as a subversive or deviant. However, we live in a culture where it is easy for mainstream twenty-somethings (and younger) to embrace the style of subversion. And because they speak a certain lingo, wear certain clothes, and use certain products, it is socially understood that these stylish subversives care about social outcasts, the poor, and the downtrodden, even if no tangible evidence exists of that care. In other words: it is great when people begin to challenge the status quo as they pursue justice and mercy, but how excited should we be when it is very easy in our society to look, sound, and act radical without it costing anything?

Even more, what happens when hipsterism gets so tied into consumer capitalism (you know: Messenger Bags, Hot Topic, Ipod, Apple, Moleskine, American Apparel…) that you become a radical in appearance, but a profound reinforcer of the status quo in your way of life?

I’ve gotta wonder, how much of the current radical turn is simply hipsterism? How much is an actual flesh-and-blood movement away from an unsustainable, soul-toxic way of life into a more hopeful way of life grounded on simplicity and the tangible fostering of a creative alternative? Is there any way to separate the two?

No. I’m convinced that the line between radical and hipster is harder to discern than I would like. Futhermore, it is hard to determine, even in my own self, just where I land in the spectrum between radical and hipster.

Besides, figuring out who is a hipster and who is not isn’t a helpful exercise. Rather, our energy should be focused on how we can resist the tendency towards pseudo alterity in our own hearts as we create a meaningful, flesh-and-blood, alternative to the snazzy consumer capitalist Empire that so quickly permeates our imaginations.

Next: The Style of Subversion: Resisting Pseudo Alterity

Mark Van Steenwyk is the editor of JesusManifesto.com. He is a Mennonite pastor (Missio Dei in Minneapolis), writer, speaker, and grassroots educator. He lives in South Minneapolis with his wife (Amy), son (Jonas) and some of their friends.


If you appreciate articles like this, consider making a donation to help Jesus Manifesto pay the bills.



Print This Article Print This Article

for further reading . . .

Comments

Viewing 32 Comments

    • ^
    • v
    Part of the problem is in language; when you identify with the label 'radical', what happens when that label is inevitably co-opted? I've been there and back with punk, hacker, goth, Christian and others, and without exception the label takes on a meaning foreign to my own.

    Is that necessarily a problem? I'll admit that there are certain labels that I enjoy bearing and some that I am not so keen on. But is it really the end of the world if I'm called normal? Mainstream? Freak? Alien? Bigoted? Tepid? Luddite? Racist? Hypocrite? In each case I must see what truth there is in any term, positive or derogatory, throw my way and accept what truth there is, rejecting the rest.

    So I would desire less that people worry about being tied to a title, or a scene, or a denomination or affiliation. In a sense, what these terms allow us to do is 'know' one another without truly knowing one another. We can gain credit via proximity to people enacting change without really making that change - cf. the Stuff White People Like article about 'raising awareness'.

    And I'll admit I'm a hypocrite. I'm too in love with my own consumerism to give up wholesale parts of life that steal away some of my ability to love, to change and be changed. But then again, I said that a year ago and change still occurs despite my best efforts.

    In an ideal world, we would all move transparent through the challenges and changes brought to us, together as a body that loves and respects one another. But in the real world we work with broken people; hipsters, people on all sides of the fence that are concerned about appearance, credibility, connection and the rest.

    I don't think merely preaching shallowness of culture will make it deep, as much as grabbing a shovel and digging will. And perhaps others will slip into the ditch you dig.
    • ^
    • v
    "The hipster represents the end of Western civilization – a culture so detached and disconnected that it has stopped giving birth to anything new."

    So what does one call the children and grandchildren of Nietzsche's last man if that is what we are? If the chaos within man oscillates like a spring between generations and now the spring is practically done moving, does that mean all future generations are doomed to be just like us? Will we bide our time by exporting our detached and disconnected ideals to the rest of the world until all are just like us (or the return of Christ)?
    • ^
    • v
    Damn, Mark. Beautiful, thoughtful, amusing, and convicting. And wise.

    The temptation to hipsterize is a steady presence in my life. And I don't mean "dress like Napoleon Dynamite and drink Pabst," though I confess to partaking in the latter regularly.

    No, I'm thinking of the temptation to somehow need to prove my convictions by what I eat, wear, listen to, read, etc. I started wanting to be more hippie-activist in my style while in college in Eugene, Oregon. But I realized, I had a generous wardrobe full of otherwise bourgeois or middle-class style clothes that were perfectly good. What would the point be in buying even used clothes to patch up and hippify, when I have all this. It'd just be more consumerism and overuse of Creation's fruitfulness. So, I resolved to keep wearing my khakis. I wanted to "show" my radical creds, but refused to buy crap to prove it.

    So, I grew a ponytail -- take that, status quo! I gardened in khakis instead of courds, but only because I refused to use more resources to show my simplicity-values. *sigh*

    And all of this is immensely disorienting when you throw in trying to find a soulmate, to be perfectly honest. I dig the hippie style Christian gals, but I don't always immediately display the conventional radical-style-badges. I don't have all that many patches in my clothes, nor do I have dreadlocks or a Psalters patch or a Macbook or witty tatoo to "prove my radical creds". I just have a scruffy-as-heck beard. Am I being stubborn, then, in preferring to just wear what I have, instead of buying into the "radical look"? Which speaks more to simplicity: using more, or using what you've got?

    Man, now I'm all flustered up. :) I'm in a hipster-heavy part of Portland (off of Belmont, for those who know the place) so this is kinda one of my shorter fuses...

    Thanks for this article, though, man. Definitely one to be shared...
    • ^
    • v
    oh Brandon! don't worry, when I met you I could tell you were hipster cool ; )

    I can kind of relate, but maybe in an opposite way. For a long time I really didn't want to be identified as some "liberal, environmentalist, artsy, hipster." I guess that is a result of going to a church with a lot of less liberal looking people who I wanted to maintain "cred" with. I thought maybe if I looked enough like them they would listen to me when I talked about my ideas (seriously I thought this out, ha), so I refraimed from getting tattoos or piercings and maybe accepted some brands and habits too easily when they became "acceptable" to the people I've been around.

    At one point though I decided to go ahead and embrace my "hipster" leanings, bought some American Apparel and Mac products, starting writing in Moleskines, and even got some dreads (which I hate and am now in the process of taking out!). On one level I'm embarressed by this, on another I throughly enjoy ironically musing about it all, which still the only thing I respect about self-aware hipsters (my favourite hipster-friend is the first to admit that his investment in a fixed-gear bike, and dabbling in ghetto culture is 70% fueled by it being cool... which then always launches us into very interesting, and ironic discussions on socialization and culture).

    anyway, as I read the Adbuster's ariticle, and this one, I was torn. First of all, the Adbuster's article wasn't really saying anything that a self-aware hipster doesn't already know. The hipster's irony is based on a sense of futility and disrespect for the self-congradulating "counter-cultural" person. It is a recognition of how meaningless cultural identifiers really are, and thus the person chooses to rob it of its power. It is also a comment on how little activism seems to really accomplish. This is much like what Duchamp and Dadaism did to the art world, the effects of which are still present. I go back and forth between finding all of this annoying or interesting and intelligent (both in the art world and wider culture).

    Of course, I probably think about this way more than the average "hipster," especially since a vast majority of them would probably not like being called a hipster in the first place... But the point is, hipsterism is one of the areas I feel some cognitive dissonance about. Here is the dilemma:

    1. I actually just thoroughly like, aesthetically and for my own personal humor, a lot of hipster culture (probably because it is the culture I have been associated with the most).
    2. When attempt to step outside myself and consider my own "culture" I find hipsterism incrediably interesting, funny, and surprisingly intelligent.
    3. While I've always been attracted to musings on meaninglessness (existentialism, dadaism, hipsterism etc) I don't really believe in meaninglessness and thus am forced to consider how my values can be reflected in all areas of my life... this really ruins the fun of point 1 and 2.
    4. I'm not really sure how to better represent my values in the clothing/music/external culture part of my life, and definently don't think throwing everything away and making a bunch of plain clothing is economical (nor does it really make sense when I think it all the way out)

    so, whatever. Here I am, with all my self-contradictions trailing behind. I will say though that I do think this is an important topic, and its something I am increasingly critical of in myself.
    • ^
    • v
    MacBook? Dude, that is like, so crass commercialism. Linux geeks all the way.

    ...the sad thing is, I'm only half-joking there. Strike that, I'm dead serious.
    • ^
    • v
    Okay, I confess -- I have a computer in my basement with Ubuntu on it. Does that count? :)
    • ^
    • v
    We'll let it slide this once...
    • ^
    • v
    I have ubuntu on my computers, does that make me a hipster? Actually, I doubt that anyone would mistake me for a hipster. First of all, my bike has 21 speeds. Second, I don't own clothing that could be considered cool. My wife tells me that I dress like an old man (but I don't wear my pants above my waist). Third, I don't live the spoiled middle class kid kind of life. I bust my ass every day working as a mechanic. Well, I work as a mechanic for a utility company so I don't really have to work all that hard, but the job is still dirty and sweaty.

    On the serious side, while the Adbusters article had some good points, I found it to be shallow and near sighted. These kids that are labeled as hipsters are simply trying to find where they fit in this world just like all the previous generations did. I don't envy them though. Everything is so scrutinized by the media and comercialized now that it is nearly impossible to find a unique identity for one's self.
    • ^
    • v
    I thought drinking Pabst was a form of penance, like wearing a hair shirt.
    • ^
    • v
    Brandon, with all due respect, you're not getting it. What you're supposed to do is give away your nice clothes to a homeless shelter or the Salvation Army so some genuinely poor person can look nice while you spend money trying to look poor.

    Ouch, I think I bit my tongue, I had it crammed so hard in my cheek there....
    • ^
    • v
    I really like your conclusion Mark.

    I think it is in the nature of teenagers and young people to take on the appearance of rebellion. It seems that it is part of their coming into their own as independent adults. It takes an extensive heart change to really effect change in one's person though.

    I find it interesting that the children and now maybe the grandchildren of those who were part of white flight are choosing to move into the city and trying to identify in appearance with the poor (with expensive ripped up jeans, mind you). For the most part, I do not see those who are moving into the city as leaving their suburban consumer values behind. Rather, they are importing them into their new habitats.
    • ^
    • v
    [rhymes with kerouac] 2 months ago
    We only know our own identity in relation to others, in relation to family and tribe. Without this we are lost, adrift, alone, homeless. Even outcasts, as you have said, will band together. This is, I suspect, why the kids in the article would not assume the hipster brand, as this is the outsider's term, someone else's definition. I also suspect that the article - based on what appears to be a one night foray into the club scene - fails to appreciate the complexity of the social networks that are present in that environment. It also fails to recognize the use of language, clothing, music, cigarettes, beer - and a myriad of other places, things and even attitudes - as icons that repersent no higher ideal or movement but instead illuminate the longing of self to belong - to be whole, self aware and self contained while completely absorbed in otherness of family and tribe at the same time. This is what urban hipsterism is about. It's what cool has always been about. Does it really meet that soul-deep need at the core of every human? Of course not - it's the pale imitation we've invented in the absence of the real thing. Truly knowing ourselves in the context of deeply satisfying, loving relationships is the Garden of Eden. The emptiness of 'cool' is us trying to find our way back, it's us living a mystery without any clues. We're trying to be loved. We're desperate to be recognized. We're trying - so very hard, it seems - to belong.
    • ^
    • v
    Beautifully put.
    • ^
    • v
    Mark, I really appreciated this article. I've wrestled with many of the same thoughts. So often when I have been around the "Christian radicals" or the New Monastics or the people living in "intentional community" I've come away wondering whether I was just finished hanging out with the "cool kids." I almost came to PAPA fest, but I couldn't for various reasons; however, I remember distinctly having a sense of dread before I left- "Is this really going to be different? Or is it just another cool thing to do, which also seems radical?"

    Ultimately, for me, it isn't about the hipster or authentic question but about whether the gospel can be lived out by we who make up the dominant group?
    • ^
    • v
    Good reflection Mark. It is always necessary to question ourselves about the motivations and the things that must be done... and do those things. The people who move only because of the "coolness" will someday realize that doing the good things is usually dificult, rewardless and perhaps not so cool.

    Ps: Anyway, it is a lot better being "countercultural" than "coultercultural" (christianity is supposed to be the former, but has been the later for the most of the las 17 centuries).
    • ^
    • v
    I always found my own fascination with the "hipster"/ "radical" crew a bit odd. I certainly don't look the part. I don't use the cool words or the cool products (which are actually not "cool" right? I don't know, I can't keep up when being not-cool became the cool). In private conversation with Mark, I tended to lament my non-hipster status, wondering how the JM readers would take my picture with my beautiful wife in my pressed and collared button-up. If I met Mark at a local grunge cafe, should I dress down (which for me was jeans and a t-shirt), or will that not even work, and the locals will smell the yuppy from a mile away.

    At some point, I just got over it.

    Thanks for this look into your heart Mark. We all have a lot of introspection to do, but it will only take us so far. And displaying that heart for others to look at has to be the only way around this "hipsterdom" that we've created.
    • ^
    • v
    You gotta love the yuppy and the hippy and everyone in between. Peace to you two :)
    • ^
    • v
    I just want to be the best me I can be.
    • ^
    • v
    I was 21 years old at a coffee house with other punk-goth-alterna soon-to-be-hipsters when I realized that everyone around me was trying so hard to be different, trying to stand out, trying to be weird. Weird was the word I clung on to. I realized that some people thought god was everywhere, that god was in the trees, that god was a cosmic force, that they were god, but I believed God was living inside of me, like something out of Alien. I realized I was weirder than all of them, utterly different, changed. Ten years later Haurwas gave me the right word for it: peculiar.
    It is when we are trying to fit in to a worldly patter, mainstream, hipster, professional, or whatever that we remake ourselves in man's image rather than God's. We fail to be peculiar. We try so hard to fit in. We regress to junior high.
    First, we need to love our Lord, second we need to love His Bride, the Church. Though the other members may grieve us, our responses must be tempered in love.
    • ^
    • v
    Hipster/Radical

    Not this, Not that, Not not this, Not not that :-)

    Between fashion and statement, how small the divide - between conformity and rebellion how great the divide.

    1 Samuel 16:7b

    (was that profound? - I'm not sure. - Sure sounded good.)
    • ^
    • v
    One thing I'm wondering is that if this might have more to do with motivation than actual outcome...at least in some respects. For instance, certain people find beauty and comfort in certain modes of dress, behavior, etc. However, is it entirely their responsibility for the co-option of their lifestyle which occurs by the popular culture? If I were someone who chose to dress in such a way as to challenge cultural norms--i.e., by wearing women's pants (which would be impossible, size wise)--but then that very trait is taken and exploited by the masses, should I be to blame? Should I refrain simply because how I have chosen to express myself has now become "cool"?

    In the end, I really just think it comes down to motivation. If one is choosing to behave in such a way because of what others think, then one should refrain. If, however, you find that this type of choice meshes with who you are personally and what you believe, regardless of what outside "benefits" may come, then by all means continue to live as you wish. Too often I think we get too hung up on what others think, which comes through a bit in this article, and we waste a whole lot of time.

    Just my two cents.
    • ^
    • v
    Intent is exactly where it's at. If your intent is to conform out of fear, or lack of self-esteem, or to convey a message that is not already conveyed by your actions (or to showcase your own ability to 'check the right boxes') it's probably not necessary or beneficial.

    Growing up in Kuwait, I grew an attachment to goth/punk culture despite there being no 'scene' of any sort...moving to Australia, I continued in that vein, but I realized that in some situations, the beat-to-hell trenchcoat and throat spikes weren't helping my ability to connect with people. So I dropped the throat spikes, and eventually the coat as well. The mohawk became a shaved head, which became a 'normal' haircut. I did this not in an attempt to 'conform' as much as to allow for better relationships.

    I still provoke and press people toward change, but because it's no longer tied to my appearance, I can pick and choose the times and the people I do it with...so that the people willing and able to be stretched, are, without hurting or offending those who cannot handle it.
    • ^
    • v
    I don't know. What if the hipsters are pissed that Christian "radicals" are copping their style?

    Okay, so I couldn't resist that.

    This really is a fascinating topic, and when I first read it my reaction was "welcome to the desert of the Real." It would seem that there is nothing, not even anti-capitalist resistance, that capitalism can't co-opt and then market back to you as an identity marker. If global capitalism (neoliberalism) is the new shape of Empire, there is basically no outside. It really is a life-size map of reality. It's like Narcissistic Personality Disorder, which is resistant to treatment because anything can become fodder for one's narcissistic drama. If the hipsters have an edge, it's that they get this -- at least the more self-aware ones that SarahLynne mentioned.

    All of which is to say that you're right to feel this tension, to sense the ironies, to lament the contradictions. I look forward to the next installment.
    • ^
    • v
    As I was reading this my friend started playing MGMT, who decided to join a huge label because it was so trendy to join an independent label (I think they were aware of the ridiculousness involved in making that decision). Hipsterism at its finest. I thought it was kind of funny it started playing and everyone in the house said "oh I looove MGMT" right when I was reading this post : )
    • ^
    • v
    Back in my day, being a child of the late 60's, the Hippies had a funeral in Haight-Ashbury. Hippie was declared dead, because it had become mainstream.
    Abby Hoffman eventually committed suicide and Jerry Rubin went on to become a neo-con stockbroker, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steal_this_book if you don't know who they were.

    In the 60's the beats were absorbed, note the popularity of Manard G. Krebs in the TV series Dobbie Gillis.
    In the 70' and 80's all the mainstream stores sold tie-died clothes.

    Society absorbs, neutralizes, and regurgitates anything that is seen as a threat. By making counter-culture chic, the counter-culture becomes impotent. That was attempted with the Amish and other plain societies, with little effect. So it doesn't always succeed, but we need to remember that we need to stay on the fringe.
    J.H. Yoder and others put it rather well - ecclesia semper reformanda.

    As a side note, I've run Linux in one form or another since rel 0.9p13.
    • ^
    • v
    Wow, and the geeks come out of the closet. I had an abortive attempt with Gentoo back in '99, got sucked in a few months later with Mandrake (v7 I think).
    • ^
    • v
    The goal of a social movement is to take it mainstream and change the way the world operates. But then when it starts to grow we despise what it becomes because we're no longer special, we're just a part of the whole.
    • ^
    • v
    I agree, but what usually happens is that mainstream co-opts the movement. I knew that hip-hop had been co-opted when I saw a Rice Krispies commercial where Snap, Krackle and Pop did their little song as a hip-hop piece.
    I don't think it that we despise what the movement became, so much as we despise what we let happen to it.
    • ^
    • v
    I read the adbusters article a few days ago and was really hoping someone was going to chime in on it. thanks mark. So after recently justifying in numerous ways my latest craigslist steal of a Chrome Metropolis bag, and reading the adbusters article, and now this, ive been doing some thinking. I find all stereotypes and identity groups so interesting, and especially growing up in milwaukee in various punk/hardcore/straightedge scenes and now years later seeing it morph, and also experiencing the various scenes in the Twin Cities, I have taken on a specially affection for the "hipster" crowd, particularly because it is so unspecific.

    I think we've all identified how the mainstream co-opts counter cultures to neutralize them. we've all expressed our own hipsterisms and geek outs. I think its important for individuals to have a continuum of relationships and time and experiences allotted to those groups. to every kid who had a club house, or their special place by the creek, was shy at family gatherings, or really liked the attention at school or birthday parties, it is evident that they like a variety of groups, both in size and purpose, to be involved in. I know a classic case twin cities hipster. or atleast he looks like it. little do many of his nightime and cafe friends know that he is a elementary school teacher. i dont think that is a very popular profession yet, at least among fixed gear bikers. correct me if im wrong. Another spot on gutter punk friend of mine has been enjoying employment as a nanny for several years. he doesnt talk about work much in bigger crowds.

    other things in the same vein, like sarahlynne's "trail of contradicitons", arent really contradictions at all. I mean, we are people. we are really really complex, multifaceted, and operate in 3 dimensions. we change our minds, switch allegiances, and ultimately make mistakes. and thats ok. we all need alone time, time with a best friend, or our secret club that no one else can be in, or a bigger group where the more that come the better the fun.

    I liked mark's response and the adbusters article a lot. their criticisms and thoughts i think were right on. I wonder if though this isnt just another conversation about ultra specific class identity crises. But when I think of the 100,000 march on Washington in the 60's or the riots in France, and the millions of high school and university political activists in Latin America, I stop wondering, and start thinking again. They cant all be hipster/artsy/analog/fixed gear/urban/hippie/punk/grunge/alt/liberal arts students, can they? they must have something binding them together past sharp shoes, messy hair, and thick rimmed glasses...

    i apologize if this seems incoherent. i think im a coffee glutton.
    • ^
    • v
    I think your are spot on with this post. Nicely done.
    • ^
    • v
    Mark,
    great article. very honest.

    two things: the first is that I'm not sure the pseudo-alterity issues is so much a social issues (while of course it is) but also an economic issue. See "merchants of cool" by frontline for cool hunters and all that (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4YuO8Zw9vJo).

    Also, for me the defining thing about hipters and our generation is the ironic distance (or cynical distance) we have toward everything. Hipters are immune to criticism because whenever you expose their superficiality they just say, "Duh, I already knew that."

    For me, the hard work of being radical...and the work of discipleship is to get rid of this ironic distance and actually live. Our relationships to others, to God, and even to ourselves are mediated through this distance, through these phrases of disavowal, through little gestures of insecurity, through voice inflections and sarcasms which say "I don't know who I am or what I'm really doing."

    I would even venture, because I think I'm doing it myself, that church leadership suffers and congregational worship suffers because of the deep (might I even say 'unconscious') practices of ironic distance.

    (an instance of ironic distance would be to conclude this comment with a mild phrase of self-deprecation so that you all didn't think I was some fundy)
    • ^
    • v
    Self-reflection is always important, but don't worry this really is nothing new. From the Beats to the hippies to headbangers, grunge, etc. social trends have always been co-opted. And this pattern has been consistent in Western culture of the modern era. You could go back to the Lost Generation, Jazz age, etc.

    A good example is the so-called hippies of the 60's and early 70's. It's been well-documented that they sold out and became yuppies and that's true of the vast majority of those who joined that movement in their youth because it was part of a trend. But if you look around you will still find aging hippies that stayed true to those ideals, they always were part of a minority even when it seemed "everybody" was a hippy.

    I'm a product of the little neo-hippy movement of the late 80's and early 90's and I've seen the same thing. I might never have discovered those ideals had it not become "trendy" but unlike so many others, I took certain values to heart and still try to live by them -- I don't wear tie-dyes and have long hair anymore, that's the superficial of that particular trend, but I retain the values of peace, love and sustainability when so many others who appeared equally committed "back in the day" have moved on. But some of us have retained those values to one degree or another.

    I may look and smell pretty much like your typical mainstream person, but maybe that just gives me a better opportunity to expose people to my radical ideas without them instantly having their guard up. If I still had long hair or dreads and reeked of patchouli, those same people probably would never get to know me at all.

    But if they see someone who seems pretty much like them gardening organically, driving a hybrid, refusing to shop at Wal-Mart, raising beef on only grass instead of grain, etc. maybe they'll give more serious consideration to making small alterations in their own lives. They may not become radicalized, but maybe they'll take some steps in the right direction.

Trackbacks

close Reblog this comment
Powered by Disqus · Learn more
blog comments powered by Disqus
Bottom