Tuesday, June 30, 2009

T-1 day

Did I do that right? I woke up at 4; anxiety is nature's alarm clock. I was having a dream that I'd been cast in a play ('night, Mother, to be exact) that was opening soon and I didn't have any of the lines memorized. That's the second time this month I've had a not-knowing-the-script anxiety dream. I am not an actress, but I did play one in 9th grade. BTW, have you read Tony Tost's poem, "I Am Not the Pilot"? You'll enjoy that.

You may also enjoy "Look at This Fucking Hipster Basher," confirming that hipsters as a concept are still very interesting. To me anyway. This article takes a different tack than the usual hipster bashing piece, analyzing "knee-jerk hipster rage" more than hipsters themselves. He postulates that great artists of the past, e.g. Jimi Hendrix and Andy Warhol, would be dismissed as hipsters in this day and age. That may sound ridiculous, but Kathy recently conducted an experiment in which she and a coworker took pictures of well-known non-hipsters such as Rachael Ray and the Jonas Brothers, blacked out their faces and asked people if they were hipsters, and most people said yes.

I'm also enjoying (Ew. Who says "enjoy"?) an article in Harper's about the legal causes of the "current economic crisis"; I usually skip the pieces that appear too econ-politico-current-event-heavy, as I prefer my journalism on the barely relevant side, which is a testament to the article's "readability"; Billy Collins would approve. The author argues that one of the biggest causes of our financial system's collapse was our rejection of the law against usury, a law that's been a staple in like, every society since 3000 BC or some shit. Once bankers started charging exorbitant interest rates on loans, they stopped caring if lendees could ever pay the loans back; in fact it was in their interest if they couldn't. The other shitty thing companies/our legal system did is decide that promises made to employees could be wiped out by declaring bankruptcy. You could get out of paying a pension or whatever just by filing for Chapter 11; this happened so much that people no longer saw any value in saving for the future, since your future could so easily be fucked by the man anyway.

It's supposed to rain tomorrow, of course. Thank God we hired movers. They must have some magical system of keeping everything safe and dry. Like antiperspirant. Little known fact: It works better if you put it on at night.


  1. Good article. I don't agree with some of it though. It says hipsters were first identified as a demographic in 1998. Weren't there hipsters in, like, the 50s? And isn't that where the word hippie came from? Also, if owning the complete works of Johnny Cash on vinyl makes you a hipster, I guess there are a lot of 70-year-old redneck hipsters out there...(I say redneck affectionately, I like Johnny Cash). I don't know. I feel like a lot of it is just stereotyping.

    I disagree with this: "Throw in an unwavering certainty that your tastes are superior to everyone else’s, and you’re on your way to establishing a hipster aesthetic."

    Come on, who doesn't feel certain their tastes are superior? People who listen only to Toby Keith think their taste is superior to people who listen to opera, but nobody calls them hipsters...

    I get his general point though. The last paragraph is good.

  2. I agree, that's a feature of having any aesthetic whatsoever.

    But I think the author meant the hipster in its current incarnation as opposed to the origin of the word itself. I don't know if 1998 is really The Year, but it seems like a reasonable estimate. I graduated from high school that year; there were plenty of indie/alt kids in HS but it was a different flavor. I recognize a certain "proto-hipster" from that era but you had to work a little harder to achieve the look because it wasn't as mass-produced.

    But yeah the article isn't a standout in terms of defining the movement, I just like the angle on the downsides of hipster bashing.

  3. i think hipsters are great & i'm always happy to meet one. i aspire to be one, in fact.

    Actually, i'm just saying that to be contrary, which is a very hip thing to do.

    i think that williamsburg has been the undoing of hipsterism. nowhere before were they so concentrated than in williamsburg starting around 2000 or so. it became a problem. i was spending every other weekend there around that time for a couple years. it was exciting to see all the cool shops, particularly the mini-mall. and there were a lot of really creative people hanging around - writers, performance artists, etc. Genuine freaks. At some point though it turned the corner into a horrorshow. there were TOO MANY OF THEM/US! It was homogenous. I'm sure this happened in other cities too. It became a look. Bedford Ave is just scary to walk down though. It makes me feel totally uncool.

    And I would agree with Matt. the concept of a Hipster has been around since the beat days in white culture and probably further back in black culture.

    to be honest it's a fairly deadly designation. it speaks to the surface of people, not what's inside. so it's a sort of alienating kind of discourse. in the old days i guess the word would have been dandy. i don't like to think about 'hip' but when i see something that is, i can't help saying inside, "that's hip." i try never to say it out loud though. i try to identify what i *really* like about the thing and call that out. like you could say a neighborhood is diverse instead of saying it's hip. or mention an individual thing you like. like a bar that doesn't have 5 flat screen tvs. that's a lot more work and leads to saying more interesting things. which if you're with dull people might just get you stared at and called weird.

  4. I really don't have a problem with using labels as long as there's an understanding that that's all it is, superficial labeling and not some deep level of analysis. I find the term "hipster" useful in this regard, in much the same way that "School of Quietude" is a useful shorthand if deeply flawed as an actual category. Same goes for the work "geek" which you'll notice is in my sidebar of labels. It's a way to have an ongoing discourse around familiar topics without having to define and redefine the terms every time.

    But yes, it's certainly more interesting to try to describe things and people in other less superficial ways. So I commend your efforts in that area, Chris!

    I'll restate that while "hipster" isn't a new word (I'm pretty sure it actually comes from the jazz scene) I feel like it's reference in this decade is fairly narrow, applying to a specific kind of "counter culture" much as "hippie" is associated with its own, different counter culture. Hippies had pot and LSD and hipsters have PBR, etc. Similarly "geek" doesn't mean what it used to.

  5. Good article. I also really "enjoyed" it.

    And I shared it with my hipster-obsessed co-workers. One of the things Dave and I were trying to show with our experiment is that the term hipster--whenever or howeer it originated--has by now become grossly over-applied to the point where it's almost meaningless. If Chloe Sevigny is a hipster, but so is Rachael Ray, then WTF? Also, it seems like hipster-bashers toss the term around carelessly and try to attach it not just to actual hipsters, whoever they are, but to anyone who is in any way culturally aware or involved in "the arts." Which seems sort of unfair. Like if you express an active interest in anything besides watching the Cubs and listening to pop country, you must be a hipster.

  6. I liked your experiment, but I actually disagree with the conclusion that the word is meaningless. I think what it demonstrates is that the word is poorly defined and misunderstood. I mean, you could probably perform the same experiment with pictures of Catholics and Muslims and get people to say they were Jewish; that doesn't mean the word "Jewish" is meaningless. Er, my point being that misuse, overapplication and sloppy stereotypes don't necessarily negate the denotation of a word. (As another example I think we had a conversation recently about how over- and misused the word "random" was when we were 16 or so.)

    Despite all the abuse I still find it semantically and culturally interesting to try to pin down what hipsterism "really" is...I almost went to grad school in semantics but I understand most people use the label "semantics" to mean silly/academic/boring. Semantics is my counter culture.

  7. Yeah, good point EG. I guess we weren't trying to say it's literally (talk about overused words) "meaningless" but more that people slap the word on things without really considering what exactly it is that they mean. Which is sloppy and irritating, especially since I also really like to pin down what words mean/put things into categories. But thoughtful ones, not stereotypical kneejerk ones.

  8. Also of interest, from Stephen Elliott: http://therumpus.net/2009/03/the-editors-desk-what-it-means-to-be-a-hipster/#more-11247

    The only way I feel comfortable walking down Bedford is if I'm wearing my 9-5 Wall Street clothes--so totally square that I don't have to worry about trying to appear hip. I pretend to myself that I work for the FBI. It's nice.

    Along those lines I also find it empowering to listen unironically to Prairie Home Companion. Right now I'm listening to my Chieftains station on Pandora. (Once again, I stress: unironically.)

    ("Random" seems never to have gone out of style, by the way....)

  9. Matt you are a provider of great links. I like that Elliot doesn't want "hipster" to become a pejorative. Definite overlap w/ the other article in terms of identifying hipster self-hatred. Though I guess even the much-ballyhooed Adbusters article noted that.

    People are still misusing 'random'? How precious.

  10. @ Matt, good article. And good Wall Street clothes idea. Back in like 2003, when people were protesting the Iraq War, Martin would make a point of showing up to protests in a suit, banker-style, so he'd be less likely to be dismissed as a stereotypical hipster "activist."

  11. I remember talking about hipsters in 1996, so I was totally on to the hipsters when they were still cool.

  12. Dang, there were hipsters when I was in high school? We called the people who carried lunch boxes to school "freaks." They were a slightly different flavor, of course -- rainbow-dyed hair, etc.