Wednesday, 4 July 2007

the secret pain of the hipster

For hipsters, prevailing ideas and values are not necessarily oppressive, just stupid; not necessarily worthy of anger, just ridicule. (They generally focus on cultural output from the recent past, for reasons we have yet to consider.) Thus for example hipsterism encourages its adherents to propose, in writing, on their t-shirts, to sell moustache rides for five cents, not because they intend to give anyone a moustache ride, and not even because the apposition of ‘moustache’ and ‘ride’ is seen as a source of humor. What is humorous is that in some imagined Country Comfort Lounge in Amarillo or Cheyenne a generation ago some big slab of a man actually sported a moustache of which he was proud, which he believed could function directly and un-ironically as a sexual attractant.
This from Justin E.H. Smith, who says hipsters
construct their social identity primarily in opposition to the prevailing sensibilities of the age, without however conceiving this opposition as political.
This, I think, takes me out of the running for hipsterhood for good. The only thing that annoys me more than justifying actions based on accord with prevailing sensibilities is justifying actions based on opposing prevailing sensibilities. Perhaps this is what unsettles me slighly about hipster irony, or "snarkiness." There's an insidiousness to it. Hipster irony avoids the heavy-duty destructiveness of traditional against-the-man political opposition, but it isn't exactly lighthearted. Snark is smug, and it's not constructive. It serves to point out the absurdity of the status quo, but it offers no real alternative. There is, I think, some frustration there, as in John Mayer's ├╝ber-hip Waiting on the World to Change:
me and all my friends
we're all misunderstood
they say we stand for nothing and
there's no way we ever could
now we see everything that's going wrong
with the world and those who lead it
we just feel like we don't have the means
to rise above and beat it

so we keep waiting
waiting on the world to change
Step three, I'd say.


Stephen said...

i think quoting john mayer takes you out of the running for hipsterhood. while i agree with you that often there is nothing worse than a critic with nothing better to offer, there is some sage advice contained in the latin phrase 'castigat ridendo mores', which means something to the effect of 'correct customs through humour/ridicule/mockery'. for a modern incarnation, see 'the daily show'.

Isaac said...

If quoting john mayer takes me out of the running for hipsterhood, then Mission Accomplished, sez I. And look, I didn't even have to stand on the deck of an aircraft carrier to say so! I am unfortunately in a daily show-free zone for the next month, and I already miss it dearly.