I think, at this point, it is fair to say we were all rather reactionary regarding hipsters – which is actually ironic and, indeed, perhaps the greatest irony of hipsterdom as there has scarcely been a more reactionary cultural trend of such near-ubiquity in the West and especially North America. Remembering such popular blog-essays as “Hipsterism: The Death Of Western Culture” (or something thereabouts) and a plethora of cultural debates and diatribes on the state of our contemporary youth including the inexorable determinism of hipsterism for the individual-minded: you become some variant of hipster, be it the double-hipster, the proto-hipster, the rustic hipster, the innocent hipster, etc. hipster. Now there are the hippsies – but I might touch on them later. Some of us were rather animated by the topic – unless you were hip, in which case that wasn’t cool. Now, it does follow a logic, that so many, myself included, responded in kind to the reactionary nature of hipsterism. There are, of course, the myriad personal reasons why one might reject or accept a movement or trend but I am going to instead propose an anthropological or sociological theory instead…. We’ll see which direction my argument develops in.
First off, it must be agreed that hipsters can be legitimately interpreted as reactionary rather than revolutionary, culturally speaking; that the movement tends towards droll idolatry, rather than attend in fidelity to its rhetorical trappings of iconoclasm. The explanation for one of the major cultural motives to react to hipsterism is actually one in the same. The culture of Millenials (relevancy of the generation-gap being another discussion altogether) – or the culture Millenials were born into – is a Tower Of Babel. The digital-information age is still sorting its way through archetypal materiels accumulated since the 60s and in the post-modernist tradition (also accumulated) of pastiche and cultural collage, we as a culture have stacked them one on top of the other building our tower higher. Of course, this might yield an image more akin to a Jenga tower than an antediluvian masterwork of architecture; this is perhaps not coincidental. Hereunto now we’d accumulated all these pieces: youthful rebelliousness of the sixties, Punk D.I.Y. attitudes of the 70s, the digital dream of the 80s, Grunge aesthetics of the ninties (coupling nicely with some of nihilistic elements of Punk but more ready to accept it as feeling rather than .absolute fact), the mass-communications boom of the 2000s – just to give the paltriest list possible.
The mock-fifties aesthetic of the hipster flies in the face of this progress. The modern look throws itself backwards into the tepid waters in the tub of mid-century American plaid, hornrims, chino pants, uncomfortable sneakers…. Beards are back, nomore vain but perhaps accidentally less masculine than ever, meanwhile electric razors have fallen to razor-blades and there is even a rise in straight razors! Vintage is now, in my opinion, an obsolete term. Underrunning throughout the decades has been, of course, the Great White of commercial capitalism’s pet and meal: Consumerism. That hipsters flaunted consumerism ironically is a lie to save individualist face. Also, that [individualist claims] was a waste of time because the effort to fit into the individualist hip role negates the individual aspect. If it can be taught but not learned, bought or rewarded but not earned, it is bupkis. In this case, the idol I promised is the mannequin: the everlasting fantasy that what you see can define anyone you want it to be. It is a promise of self-invention, of possibility. But, in a culture where in the business world “Creatives” are an asset to tally amongst the cogs of corporate structure, the promise is more Faustian than Promethean.
Emphasize this with the fact that a blatant return to the powerhouse character-traits of the fifties throws the Jenga table over outright in favour of something the flavour of a promise rather than a raw, disenfranchising deal. Frankly, they have every right to crave this. 20-somethings live at home collecting school-debt into ages when their parents and grandparents were paying down mortgages and collecting baby-photos. The lucky ones rent four or five to a house. If information is the new economy it has to be treated as such very shortly because the goods economy doesn’t provide the same jobs thanks to mechanical inventions and services are liminal as the rebalance between what goods require what services, and what services are goods (such as telecommunications and internet provides) still sorts out its shuffle. Frankly, if a young person wants the promise of the old American Dream, they should get a 50s-style job and learn a trade. The trades actually need people. Most youths end up in service industry positions or marketing – a fitting fate.
The mannequin kills the woman, kills the man, kills their history. Another casualty is the global characterization of globalization. I keep using the fashion examples, however, the old adage “the clothes make the man” is not an entirely asinine idiom. They do represent a functional aspect of one’s relationship to the world and, as observation affects results, and as prejudice and snap-judgement run deep through both the conscious and unconscious mind – particularly the collective subconscious mind when we are exploring trends on the macro level as I am indulging in here. If you take a Barbadian, a Taiwanese, a Diné, a Greek, a Russian, a Frank, an Egyptian, a Brazilian, and a Canadian and dress everyone up the same, give them an i-phone, and a couple used up slogans about anti-establishment and you have it, right there: the establishment of a, if not homogeneous, then a rather amplitude-shy consortium. You meet very few people these days, you engage their commodity.
Now, the hipster was champion of an era of “neo-” fashionism. The neo-hipsters went right to the first post-war source. They took their name from an architype itself: the hipster is simply the mannequin to hang however hip cuts contemporarily upon, a rack for cool and if you’re lucky that rack is you. I’ve seen the fading signs; we are now post-hipsterism. To be clear, I mean post-“hipster” of the early 2010s, not hipster: the artist of the artifact. The cult of cool always keeps beat. The arts jockey for position to be the most avant-garde, then the most quintessential of any period, the most nostalgic. Just look at music right now: every genre has a “post-” variant. We are now in the post-period period. Post-post-modern has to be my favourite. Post-post. The hipster’s paradox was to be a nostalgic modernist, perhaps a reflex to confusion and helplessness. The nostalgia defining the culture has now set to shifting forwards again. How this will manifest is still unknown. But the post-people will have felt themselves by now to be on the other side of something. However, this smacks falsely to me in these early stages. To define as post-anything still requires that antecedent to fulfil definition. This tension will serve for a little while as the comfort, the nostalgia of conflict. Conflicts like Occupy, the Toronto’s G20, the current fight over Trans-rights, the many “springs” overseas. We now have a real war started by other people to scape-goat fears again. The personal conflicts require to change the world of people through the people of the world were too much and too present for the hipster movement and I fear too real and urgent for any post-meandering.
The reaction came from teenagers, twentysomethings, and even “the man” making the killing. It was never youth vs. establishment; Left vs. Right; new vs. old (though, perhaps now, will we see a brief skirmish of Neo vs. Post?)…. Hipsters as reactionaries stood for a return to the status-quo that promised prosperity, the coming of liberties not yet attained, the stirrings of personal and spiritual freedom – I say again the stirrings, and those stirring were the hipsters. Don’t get me wrong, I love bebop and I love the Beats. The reaction to the reactionaries feared for the loss of a status-quo of decades of cultural revolution that has burned out and been bottled and shelved, available in bulk-pricing. Both are nostalgia. Both burn empty. But I see the irony of conformism turns out to have been a manifesto bound by impurities and poor humour and the post-aping of Toronto hippsies also doesn’t have a sense of humour – which is the surest sign to single-out a lack of sense-of-self.
A Self one must always becoming upon always in the present-tense.