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Saturday, 23 August 2014

Hipsters: Why They're Not The End, Part 2

 Hello, hello!

So, this article came out not long ago. And more recently, we saw this one. And this one. And this one. Now, it's well-known that I technically participate in several of these cultures to a certain extent. Hippie and bohemian styles influence my wardrobe heavily, and writing from the romantic era of the 19th century is some of my favorite. And, yes, I've even been known to listen to a lot of 'indie' music and drink microbrews, and yes, there's a lot more black velvet and Victorian trappings and lace in my wardrobe than statistically average. So take that for what it's worth: I could be lumped into some of 'these people' and these tribes (in the Doctorow sense of the word).

Also, I haven't included the geek culture in this discussion because it's actually a departure from the trend, but there are some similarities. However, I don't want to get sidelined into some sort of 'geeks and nerds are morally superior' crapsack of an endless debate, so let's set that to the side. Why hipsters? Well, I got started with this post, so here's the rest of it--the how and the why, the rhyme and the reason.

Source. Even Victor Hugo liked to make fun of those damn bohemians.

How did this whole thing happen, anyway? When did being poor and dressing strangely become cool? 

I got started on it last week, but let's go deeper.

There's an element of classism here that cuts both ways in these aesthetics. Rich or middle-class kids pretending to be poor, poor kids pretending to be rich--British 'Chav' kids, for instance--and a tendency for the movements to be centred on white (Euro/American) kids while borrowing from other cultures to be cool, without providing context for them. The rapper kids are another glaring example of this trend, borrowing the aesthetic and struggles of African-Americans to provide a cool factor. Obviously, my knowledge here is limited to North America's trends, but I know quite a few of these actually originated in Europe, and that Europe partook in the phenomena, so that's something. (If anyone has more cultural context they want to share in the comments, awesome.)

Another thing about the rich-people-pretending-to-be-poor element common to all of these is that it lends a sort of false dignity and nobility to the kids who practice the lifestyles. I've read On the Road by Kerouac a couple of times, and The Great Gatsby as well, and they both exemplify this nicely. People love to slum it, partaking in what's perceived to be a 'more difficult' lifestyle to make them feel that their own wheel-spinning has context and meaning. After all, if you're poor, you must be doing something hard, right? And if you're suffering, life has meaning. Oh, sure, it may suck, but life without resistance and struggle is the most boring thing imaginable. "We droids are made to suffer, it's our lot in life", but if we didn't, we wouldn't be human.

Less philosophically, there's also the whole nasty 'noble poverty' culture we've been bequeathed from Regency and Victorian-era philosophers. Telling oneself that one's serfs are 'better people' for their suffering and that a reward awaits in the Great (Theoretical) Hereafter, and that everything will be better, is a great way to shut your conscience up. But the Victorian Calvinists weren't the only ones at it--there's certainly some traces of that line of thought in the Feudal era. Though admittedly, Victorian fascination for the Middle Ages has kind of messed up our understanding of what they were actually like, so this might just be another one of those industrial-era-guilt-and-inequality things.

So...isn't this still a cultural cancer? 

Are hipsters the polo and hair-gelled vanguard of the apocalypse? Nah. The movements above are definitely products of inequality, but realistically speaking, we're not going to stop having obnoxious rich/middle-class people pretending to be poor until we fix widespread economic inequality. And even then, that could worsen the problem--given the current exploitative structure of our economic system, there's a chance that hipsters/poverty fetishization would worsen as it became rarer. Seems like a small price to pay, frankly.

With life being easier for those in the middle and upper classes than it ever was before, and a large (though apparently shrinking) middle class, the fake struggle in hipsterdom certainly has a weird kind of appeal. Consider the flannels and Pabst Blue Ribbon and keffiahs--all of them were symbols of the lower class and of oppressed people. Ironically, by appropriating these symbols, they've lost their original meaning.

However, wailing and gnashing our teeth over fashion isn't the answer. People make new symbols. The old ones endure in spite of fashion trends, and even if ubiquity has deleterious effects on sacredness, it can't erase that sacredness completely. Irony, too, is probably safe as a form of expression. At worst, it's going to fall out of favour, but that just means it'll be cool again in twenty years. We can slag the fashion industry for borrowing and recycling and basically doing a one-man Human Centipede with trends, but that's been going on for several hundred years. We borrow, we steal, we modify, we file off serial numbers--this is human nature.

I don't think it's possible to eradicate hipsters, because by the very nature of cultural cycles, something else will rise up to replace them. Again, geek culture is kind of doing this right now, but the poor-is-cool aspect isn't as predominant. It has its own issues, such as racism and misogyny, but it's kind of a step forward in the whole trend cycle.


Do we need to fix it?

Yes? No? Maybe? As noted above, this isn't something you really fix. It's a chronic condition, something you live with and try to ameliorate. But who knows? Maybe we'll some day come up with a happy drug that makes people treat each other with respect and not steal from each other's cultures disrespectfully and not idolize being poor because it somehow makes you a better person. I tend to doubt it, but I guess we could try borrowing from bonobos--those little guys seem to have the whole diffusing conflict thing worked out pretty well. In the meantime, being aware that colonialism hasn't really stopped might help. At least people are starting to figure that out. Starting.

I'd like to end with a non-ironic Kurt Vonnegut quote that sticks in my head on a regular basis:

“Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. On the outside, babies, you've got a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies-"God damn it, you've got to be kind.”

Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Don't miss any of the phuquerie. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

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