Oct 212008
Authors: Ryan Nowell

So there have been a lot of people lately calling for the streets to run red with the blood of the hipsters. Justifications range from “they’ve killed cool,” to “they’re the death of modern creativity,” to “they’re an extension of a larger cultural suicide.”

And while a lot of that strikes me as simply alarmist, I can’t say I disagree with the bottom line.

The trend, already well beyond obnoxious, has become increasingly transparent — indie-ness, in its current, painfully hip state, seems to hold little of the credibility it has fetishized.

For those of you not following, hipsterdom is the catch-all for the growing community of blogs, nightclubs and persons who associate themselves with the “alternative” market share. You may have noticed the skinny jeans, the ironic leg-warmers, the resurgence of thick-framed Velma glasses, the way all your friends, every two months, talk about a hot new indie band that, in another two months, will never be spoken of again.

These are the byproducts of hipsterdom, the marriage of irony and idolatry.

The mold of the hipster — the hyper-literate, highly ironic, style-conscious intellectual with a knack for music trivia and unrepentant smarm — has been with us for quite a while, just not in any pervasive sense.

The stereotype of the Gen X record store clerk is a clear predecessor, and in a way, the hipster community is an organic (if malignant) outgrowth of the same tradition of rock critics and aficionados that have been quietly canonizing underground music since the late sixties.

With the advent of the Internet and the unlimited networking potential therein, all of those left-of-center secrets — the out-of-print, the expensive, the obscure — became available to anyone with a modem and interest. This indie music canon, long the territory of journalists and obsessives, was now a conversation for everyone.

But it’s not this eclecticism that has caused such an angry backlash against hipsters.

What bothers people is that they adopt a broad mixture of genres for the music’s cultural authenticity, not because of it. The hipster does not discriminate between genres, because they are collecting. It is currency, needed to perpetuate a self-myth of authenticity-by-association.

There’s a radicalism in most of the great music made since the middle of last century that underlies other classifications. Hipsters have dismissed this in place of plain, raw significance. To put it bluntly: “What does this band say about our world?” has been replaced with “What does this band say about me?”

Further, this psychological commodification is getting exacerbated by the full-scale, actual commodification of hipster culture.

Marketing teams have caught on to their healthy wallets and compulsive habits. Ever wonder why you can buy Shaft T-shirts all of a sudden? Why they’re selling Labyrinth at Wal-Mart?

Any indie-kid who’s seen a commercial for “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” should be aware that they’re being flagrantly courted by the powers that be.

Most of them don’t, though.

There’s plenty of chortling at the pop over-culture as it churns forth its latest Idols, but hipsters have only replaced one system of deference for another. Having McSweeney’s and Pitchfork tell you what to think instead of Entertainment Tonight, while an improvement, has been the cause for much unjustified smugness.

All of this is more complicated then simply telling off a pack of trendies. Hipsterdom may just be the prototype of a new youth culture where commercialism isn’t something to rail against, but revel in.

On some level or another, the ways I’ve described a hipster can also describe everyone I’ve met in the past five years worth having a conversation with. And yet, when you meet one, it’s unmistakable. “Damn,” you say, “what a hipster tool.”

Further, no one considers themself a hipster. It is universally derogatory.

So with no one owning it, and no consistent definition, one comes to the conclusion that hipster is really a snotty codeword for people you don’t like. And if everyone is interchangeably a hipster, peel back a layer of equivocation, and you’re left with everyone being a hipster.

And the idea that you me, and every like-aged person in the country having been stamped with the indelible thumb print of capitalism to warp our understanding of art and culture leaves me with a chill down my spine that only the smooth, douche-y rhythms of Vampire Weekend can alleviate.

Ryan Nowell is a senior English major. His column appears Wednesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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