Thursday, July 31, 2008

not me

The Lonely Seagull is, by nature, skeptical, especially of broad, negative generalizations focused narrowly on easy--though possibly deserving--targets. So, though something deeply felt clicked in recognition and sympathy while reading an article called "Hipster: The Dead End of Western Civilization" by Douglas Haddow in the current issue of Adbusters, it might be best appreciated in the spirit of intriguing writing hidden in a scathing polemic. The concluding paragraph--which is a good condensation of the whole article--especially calls for this sort of critical appreciation:
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.

The stark choice between hedonism and revolution seems like an especially strained argument. The Lost Generation (of Hemingway, et al) probably looked just as apathetic and materialistic to ambivalent observer-participants in its own time. But neither an unhealthy taste for whiskey nor an excessive affection for fixed-gear bicycles and fake eyeglasses preclude an interest in political action. The fallacious notion that one must choose between a complete devotion to a total anti-materialist revolution or suffer in an apathetic purgatory, prey to savvy marketers does a disservice to more realistic hopes for practical change. Since at least the 1930's, critics have been sounding the same alarm. The hipster might represent some of the more lamentable aspects of late capitalism but, unless it is understood as a progress toward the perfection of irony and the ubiquitous sporting of American Apparel clothing*, the hipster does not represent the "end" of Western Civilization.

*As he writes this, the author is wearing two pieces of American Apparel clothing, a fact that brings to mind Louis Althusser, who worried about the same thing in a different way:
In this preliminary remark and these concrete illustrations, I only wish to point out that you and I are always already subjects, and as such constantly practice the rituals of ideological recognition, which guarantee for us that we are indeed concrete, individual, distinguishable and (naturally) irreplaceable subjects. The writing I am currently executing and the reading you are currently performing are also in this respect rituals of ideological recognition, including the ‘obviousness’ with which the ‘truth’ or ‘error’ of my reflections may impose itself on you.

1 comment:

SWhetonian said...

Indeed! But while the Lost Generation may have appeared apathetic and materialistic, at least they created something. Central to Haddow’s argument is the idea that true hipsters/scenesters don’t create anything. They simply appropriate, consume, and move on. The same could be said for the majority of the punks, hippies, beatniks, and whatever other countercultural group is up for discussion. Any counter-cultural movement (and I think he’s mistaken in depicting hipsterdom as a movement) has its producers and leaders, its consumers and followers. Haddow makes a broad claim by assuming hipsters define the current generation’s youth culture, when every generation has those who end up shining through, who actually do something—and maybe even end up redefining cool for everyone else, so that a new cycle of marketing and consumption may begin—as well as those who don’t.
Anyway, I’d much rather see an analysis about why this materialism and apathy is so pervasive in the younger generation. Depicting the hipster as harbinger of the end of Western Civilization does nothing to get at why belief and commitment are so hard to come by in our generation as a whole, and not just amongst the hipster faction.