Why the hipster must die

A modest proposal to save New York cool

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Illustration Credit: Jesse Philips


Illustration Credit: Jesse Philips

Has the hipster killed cool in New York? Did it die the day Wes Anderson proved too precious for his own good, or was it when Chlo Sevigny fellated Vincent Gallo onscreen? Did it vanish along with Kokie's, International Bar and Tonic? Or when McSweeney's moved shop to San Francisco and Bright Eyes signed a lease on the Lower East Side? Was it possible to be a hipster once a band that played Northsix one night was heard the next day on NPR's Weekend Edition? Did it hurt to have American Apparel marketing soft-porn style to young bankers? Was something lost the day Ecstasy made the cover of the Times Magazine? Or was it the day Bloomberg banned smoking in bars? And how many times an hour could one check e-mail and still have an honest, or even ironic, claim on being cool?

Yes, the assassins of cool still walk our streets: Any night of the week finds the East Village, the Lower East Side and Williamsburg teeming with youth—a pageant of the bohemian undead. These hipster zombies—now more likely to be brokers or lawyers than art-school dropouts—are the idols of the style pages, the darlings of viral marketers and the marks of predatory real-estate agents. And they must be buried for cool to be reborn.

It was in the real-estate section of one of the city's lesser dailies, under the headline luxury seems to be set for the lower east side, that I found an astonishing remark attributed to Michael Desjadon, the director of sales at Massey Knakal: "The profile of the typical renter in the area is changing from the 'counterculture hipster' to the 'more mainstream' hipster and young professional."

"I wish I'd thought of this phrase, but we call the Lower East Side 'the last real neighborhood in New York,'" Desjadon, an amiable fellow and a patron of LES bars, told me when I called him up. "The mainstream hipster," he explained, "is not an artist or a musician. He has an office job, and wears one hat to work and another at night." Presumably, the latter is a trucker—or a porkpie—hat.

The mouth of a real-estate agent is rarely the source of truth, but Mr. Desjadon knows his territory (and is no doubt cashing in on this knowledge). He has unwittingly explicated the transformation of the hipster into the "indie yuppie," an avatar we might imagine as the fusion of Kurt Cobain and Adam Gopnik. The indie yuppie is (literally) the child of the bobo, and just as his father the baby boomer did, he has learned to simulate rebellion while procuring and furnishing a comfortable two-bedroom. His haircut may be asymmetrical, but his dog never misses a walk. And around the corner, sleeping on couches, neophyte slackers dream until they wake up late for their temp jobs. The savvy among them soon grasp that they've arrived at the party too late.


Photo: Alexander Milligan

Under the guise of "irony," hipsterism fetishizes the authentic and regurgitates it with a winking inauthenticity. Those 18-to-34-year-olds called hipsters have defanged, skinned and consumed the fringe movements of the postwar era—Beat, hippie, punk, even grunge. Hungry for more, and sick with the anxiety of influence, they feed as well from the trough of the uncool, turning white trash chic, and gouging the husks of long-expired subcultures—vaudeville, burlesque, cowboys and pirates.

Of course, hipsterism being originally, and still mostly, the province of whites (the pastiest of whites), its acolytes raid the cultural stores of every unmelted ethnicity in the pot. Similarly, they devour gay style: Witness the cultural burp known as metrosexuality. As the hipster ambles from the thrift store to a $100 haircut at Freemans Sporting Club, these aesthetics are assimilated—cannibalized—into a repertoire of meaninglessness, from which the hipster can construct an identity in the manner of a collage, or a shuffled playlist on an iPod.

All isms seek dominance of human affairs, and in this, hipsterism in New York City has proved more virulent than any of its forebears. (Punk, after all, never really broke—except in the form of hipsterism.) At last there was nothing left for hipsters to do but to convert the squares, take them to the bar and let them pick up the tab. Secrets were shared. The hipster hooked up with the common consumer; he woke up a zombie.

How can this be undone? I propose that the only hope for a reanimated bohemia, if not a dezombified hipsterdom, is civil war.

Hipsters in their present undead incarnation are essentially people who think of themselves as being cooler than America. But they are afflicted by that other ism sociologists made an industry of decrying in the 20th century: narcissism. The late prophet of our current moment, George W. S. Trow, posited that television had obliterated the context of American life. The only refuges remaining were TV, God and the self. Young people who live in cities notoriously shun God and television to cultivate themselves. Now, as the age of MySpace comes due for a backlash and the former teen idols of our crypto-ironic fascination start to show their age, the time has come for the hipsters in the garden of Union Pool to open their eyes, realize that they are surrounded by jackasses and milquetoasts, and stage their own dive-bar putsch.

The fault lines are clear enough already. We know that there are Sweet hipsters, who practice the sort of irony you can take home to meet the parents, and there are those Vicious hipsters, who practice the form of not-quite-passive aggression called snark.

On the Sweet end of the spectrum, The Believer lavishes its literary and pop-culture idols with a uniform layer of affection that renders it near impossible to distinguish the great from the mediocre. This aesthetic of relativism grants everybody an A for effort and allows anyone projecting the image of an artist to conceive of himself as such. It proliferates as a social plague among hipsters who invite their entire address book to readings, shows and art openings. The e-mails arrive, and though it is known in advance that the art will be nothing much,the trek is made. The avant-garde illusion ultimately sustains itself on free beer.

As the war claims its casualties, the Sweet may discover that behind their aesthetic relativism is an impulse more political than cultural: They are rightfully activists. Their cause has emerged in the form of global warming, and I would not be surprised if the color of cool in their future is green. Along the way they might rediscover a concept hipsters have lately had little use for: love.

Meanwhile, among those who adopt the Vicious pose, a lighthearted scorn perfected by Gawker is roundly applied to the objects of pop celebrity, both talented and (mostly) otherwise. The effect is akin to dipping sushi in wasabi sauce: The flavor is a little less bland, but it's still mostly rice. The hipster who keeps up with the antics of Hilton, Lohan and Spears does so sneeringly, and her knowingness introduces one degree of difference between herself and the Midwestern housewife who buys Us Weekly at the Wal-Mart checkout line.

When I asked Gawker managing editor Choire Sicha whether it was possible to ignore talentless celebrities, he responded with the remorse of a custodian of cultural decline: "Everyone can, and should, be ignored. We were warned about this situation we find ourselves in by philosophers, and well before it happened. It's just too bad we weren't warned by celebrities, or we would have listened to them."

So the Sweet will turn on the Vicious, and the Vicious will shun the Sweet. The sniping in the blogosphere will escalate, and turf wars will ensue. Power will be consolidated in the frontiers of the outer boroughs as the Vicious tighten their grip on Bushwick and the Sweet flee south to Kensington and Windsor Terrace, or give up and move to Queens (better yet, to their rightful home: the West Coast).

If they can vanquish the Sweet, the path for the Vicious is less obvious. A good first step might entail purging the lawyers and bankers lurking in their company. But on the other hand, those guys are good at footing the bill. Another tactic would require the conversion of snark to self-criticism, and that would necessarily involve ignoring no-talent celebrities, and mean an end to playing it safe. The safest game in town—in fashion and music especially—is retro, and if there is no Ezra Pound in corduroys out there to say, "Make it new," let me be the one to say, "Stop making it old."

What distinguishes the zombie hipsters at large today from the "white Negroes" Norman Mailer described in the 1950s is a lack of menace. The original hipster—Mailer had in mind James Dean and the Neal Cassady who inspired On the Road—was a "philosophical psychopath" who might steal your car and drive it to Mexico. The myth of menace survives in the pages of Vice, but the magazine's signature feature—the "Do's and Don't's"—suggests a safe path to transgression, a notion as oxymoronic as the "mainstream hipster." Mailer, who traced hipster psychosis to the Holocaust and the atom bomb, would likely point to September 11 as the event that left hordes of twentysomethings whispering, "We would be safe," to quote the Sweet hipster novelist Jonathan Safran Foer. Menace is now lost on anyone older than 20. It is left to those born after 1990 to move to town, frighten the zombies away, destabilize the real-estate market and restore something unsavory to what used to be called hip.

Until then, the battle will rage. Which side are you on?

Users say

29 comments
Bob
Bob

As some one who is called 'hipster' daily, I laugh, because guess what I'm reading this wearing my pork-pie hat and over sized glasses. Problem? Probably. Best of luck killing an entire sub-culture.

david
david

hey i did not read this but guess what swaggy swag swerve swaggy swag swag

david
david

hey i did not read this but guess what swaggy swag swerve swaggy swag swag

Heather Taylor
Heather Taylor

This is the most vain self conscious, self obsessed article I've ever read. If anyone is actually this concerned about the vanishing of the "truly cool" I feel sorry for him.

Nekkocite
Nekkocite

War yes, but I your camp enraged dim lit...dare I say "hipster-esq" snarl tainted light not in the least. They is still viable well of subcultures in the American and global sphere (last i checked global cultural exchange was an honorable goal, even if its "true" meaning is lost in translation), but why would you report on them? They are trash, childish, under-the-radar, non-profiteering (and by who's definition and what currency...money isn't everything) and mostly they just don't pull in ratings. Albeit the hipster culture is bland, amorphous and pretentious...but, save for blandness the can be said about all post-Internet cultures. This is a landscape of ideological, cultural and aesthetic warfare...and while they hipsters, and they really "do," have the cool have the hook...they lack the punch and depth. Still their successes and suitability say a great deal. I suggest you look deeper in your quest for cultural righteousness (start maybe with hardcore/emo/punk, they wide range or club and rave monsters that exists as ghostly entities loosely connected by social networking, bubble/cyber goths, the growing anti hiphop movements, anything metal (and yes they culture is abundant in the likes of tattoo artists...but who is the human body not an acceptable medium...have you scene some of these great artists work...my guess is, no), the vast of net peoples (though most are furries, perverts and psychopaths...furries are cute thoughugh. Atleast the artwork is), ghetto/redneck/hoarder trash cultures...the list could go on forever. Bearing in mind a hipster is 70% of the time a pretty unbearable thing to witness. They still find meaning in there vile consumption of iconic counter culture, a meaning I think you have yet to understand. It's like bubble gum pop for the sake of how sweet it tastes...there is depth in the shallowness, and it is often a reflection of your self...and in a negative light of your own insecurities. A culture of regurgitation is still a culture...it probably just wont last long. Then again, what does anyway. Misanthoughpy dosn't solve much if thoughse devil wings aren't supporting an angels heart! Nekkocite Troll Attack! BLAM!

hunter
hunter

@jdubbaj: So, basically, "metamodernism" boils down to excessive use of oxymorons and a refusal to hew to any tenet or idea whatsoever. Like cultural ADD. Sounds about right, actually - and like a complete and utter copout, in my humble opinion. Style, no matter how convincingly convoluted the arguments of cultural theorists, is not substance.

Skelly
Skelly

all hipsters should kill themselves!!!!!!!

jdubbsj
jdubbsj

Hipsters are Metamodern: In 2010, the cultural theorists Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van den Akker introduced the term metamodernism as an intervention in the post-postmodernism debate. In their article 'Notes on metamodernism' they assert that the 2000s are characterized by the emergence of a sensibility that oscillates between, and must be situated beyond, modern positions and postmodern strategies. As examples of the metamodern sensibility Vermeulen and van den Akker cite the 'informed naivety', 'pragmatic idealism' and 'moderate fanaticism' of the various cultural responses to, among others, climate change, the financial crisis, and (geo)political instability. Van den Akker and Vermeulen define metamodernism as a continuous oscillation, a constant repositioning between positions and mindsets that are evocative of the modern and of the postmodern but are ultimately suggestive of another sensibility that is neither of them: one that negotiates between a yearning for universal truths on the one hand and an (a)political relativism on the other, between hope and doubt, sincerity and irony, knowingness and naivety, construction and deconstruction. They suggest that the metamodern attitude longs for another future, another metanarrative, whilst acknowledging that future or narrative might not exist, or materialize, or, if it does materialize, is inherently problematic. The answers to the postmodern paradox are what us "Hipsters" are "performing." Those who criticize are simply clinging to now outdated modernist concepts of absolute truth agendas. The irony is that we're taking all of the fashion, music, art, literature, etc. from past generations and molding our own individual styles out of them to prove this point. That there are no longer any boundaries. That truth in objectivity died with postmodernism. Only sincerity in action creates a sense of what's good. Which is why we believe in pragmatic creativity, environmental conscientiousness, sense of community, and democratized history and culture.

Anonymous
Anonymous

I think that hipster-style caught on because it's easy and affordable to emmulate and young pro's don't make as much money as they used to on account of the tough economy. A lot of hipster looking people work really hard to survive and pay their massive student loans (accrued because their parents don't give them everything on a silver platter - and yes they worked when they were in school as well) and are trying to be socially acceptable to do that. Hipsters are just the new people that it's cool to hate.

Tom
Tom

Well said human, well said.

dissapointed
dissapointed

after reading this blog (and the comments) i gotta say i have lost all faith in humanity.

Anonymous
Anonymous

This is the best article I've read about the hipster revolution that is ruining NYC. I'm living with a self-described hipster-yuppy right now that recently explained to me how $40 for her cowboy shirt at Uniqlo was a good deal. She only shops at Whole Foods, and will not eat meat because of animal cruelty but has no problem with the mass production of milk. She has a MacBook, iPhone, and iPad all running at the exact same time. It's insanity. I've told her about establishments in our neighborhood (Washington Heights) and she says she only likes to eat out when she's away from home. Translation: Upper East Side. She's an art history major looking for an art museum job, effectively blending professionalism and creativity. She wants to live in West Village but would never live in Brooklyn, because those kind of hipsters do drugs and stuff. It's beyond me. Whatever happened to being yourself? If you can read the book "Stuff White People Like" and check off every single item, you need to rethink yourself.

Julia
Julia

All the "ad hominem" b.s. aside, this article and it's accompanying comments provided the perfect context for a complete social commentary on hipster culture, i.e.: the cheap knockoff shallow bull-#$%^ that is this so called "hipster culture". Personally, I have a deep desire to keep working class culture for me and my people. Rock n Roll, Punk, whatever. I feel that we have paid or dues and this is ours to keep. $H*# we created it, not you! Hipster's destroy what is not theirs to destroy, that is the bottom line. It is extremely offensive for these middle class transplants to come into our neighborhoods and adopt out music and our influences and then act as if they are so above the very people that this music was created for and by. God help us all.

Clero Batista
Clero Batista

Well here it is ladies and gentlemen- the dead end of Western Civilization. I read through just about everyone's comments and I thought most of you have some sort of clue about something. I'm just not sure what it is. My two cents is as follows- what's wrong with being a hipster? It, like hip-hop (and I mean hip-hop of today, not how it started), it's a FAILED CULTURE. What do I mean by failed culture? A culture is supposed to mean something, something sacred. This one based entirely on fashion and narcissism. What makes someone a hipster isn't how they dress, or the computer they use, or the music they listen to- it's the fact that they have no balls behind any of their beliefs or ideals. Say what you want about the idiot (yes idiot) redneck who talks about fighting for his country. At least he's willing to stand up and fight for something. Forget that it's a rotten, corrupt, bloated sow, that is going to leave everyone under the age of forty completely screwed in the years to come with it's rampant criminality and military industrial complex. Our idiot redneck believes in it and is willing to sign up for the military and go fight a few thousand miles away in a desert to preserve something. I think that whole ideology is B.S. but he's READY TO FIGHT. What is a hipster ready to do? He'll go to an art/fashion/indie music/ show and talk philosophy and wax poetic about the beats and the '60s and the counterculture. He may even get high and write really cool blogs about the way things used to be or the corruption we face now or how the end is nigh or how "the hipster must die". But is he ready to fight? If just one tenth of the people who claim to really want change actually got together and did more about it then sign a petition or march at some protest (HOW MANY PROTESTS DO THERE NEED TO BE BEFORE WE SEE THEY DON'T WORK) we could have a real revolution on our hands. That's the difference between now and then. Then, people were ready to act, ready to fight, and as one of the greatest emcees ever said READY TO DIE for something. Today no one is willing to die for anything. No one will even sacrifice anything. I like idiot rednecks, because there is a degree of nobility in their ignorance- they'll die for what they believe in. Pick up a gun to defend it. What will a hipster or anti-hipster do? Write a clever, snarky, article or blog about it for a bunch of other people unwilling to sacrifice to comment on. When push comes to shove, I'd rather be with the redneck.

gido
gido

I think the article is very thoughtfully crafted with some excellent points. We are talking about people that go out of their way to look/ be cool and the flowering of unbridled narcissism that occurs in the vacuum created when the values of traditional society/ the masses are shunned... but it's really just their youthful becoming... it looks different because this is a different time... more information and connectivity and still learning as humans how to handle the input and expectations of living in such a time. The article points out the schism between espoused values and actions and that's a relevant point for all to consider... not just the mac addicted all-organic hipster. Getting what we say and do in line with what we think is a life-long challenge for all to be mindful of. I suppose I'm sweet but much too old for the classification of hipster... and I've never been cool except to my own friends... but I don't hold it against anyone if they think they're super cool for their politics, recycled clothing, or musical tastes. I have seen my and my friends attitudes change as we got older, had kids, and figured out what was important to us... I am sure many of these folks will, too. In the meantime, let's all lead the kind of lives that are true to ourselves and set the best example of action-oriented living that we can. I strive to keep in mind that being informed and siding with the good guys doesn't actually make any change happen... you have to get out there and live the difference.

Jason
Jason

I'm not the least bit surprised that much the attacks against the writer of this article are not only ad hominid, but epitomize the very attitudes which the author is concerned about in the first place. Alice provides an excellent example of this; all force and no content. It's simply a bitter and pretentious response to an article that a reader took too personally.

TheDoctor
TheDoctor

@HipsTERMINATOR:Baby, that's just ignorant. the point of this article, in case you didn't realize, is to be FUNNY, yet talk about something that's, you know, kind of true. So, before you get all defensive-serious on the commenting, let's just keep that in mind. Oh, and check your grammar. It's hard to take seriously people who don't know the different between "you're" and "your".

Anonymous
Anonymous

I totally agree with this article. HIPSTERS DIE NOW PLZ!

Anonehmous
Anonehmous

As much as I cringed through this, I will applaud the following: The safest game in town [...] is retro. "Make it new/Stop making it old." Menace is now lost on anyone older than 20. The time has come for the hipsters to open their eyes, realize that they are surrounded by jackasses and milquetoasts, and stage their own putsch. Bravo.

HAUS
HAUS

Quite possibly the most superficial, vindictive & misdirected attack I've ever read on the internet.

Anonymous
Anonymous

@anon from 2/04/2011 The point he makes is a generic validation of what the movement was at the time and still is. Where as it started as harmless homage now a days its a roaring beast of the brainless machine. By brainless he doesn't mean these people are idiots, though I am questioning your intellect, he talks about the mob mentality of the movement. Where as most movements, such as rock, did spawn many groups which were rather generic they still inspired greatness that has been remembered throughout the ages and spawned new ideas and ideals. His argument is simple to point out that this movement has no brain of its own, only the desire to become more obscure to the mainstream populous, though this is the true irony of your movement since it has become the mainstream and hence all your ideals lost. Now this seems to be nothing more then crowds of attention seeking people feeding into the popular idea instead being what it was suppose to be, a tribute to the past and its fashions. So I declare the true hipsters now are the people who wake up everyday and do what they please and think for themselves instead of following in the footsteps of what is now a mob of groupies.

anon
anon

this is a stupid article, good writing though..people need to re examine their hatred of "hipsters", subcategories run the gamut. and how insulting to "midwestern mothers" or whatever, are you calling them brainless? are you calling hipsters brainless for buying apple products? hipsters don't claim to know what is cool. They just have better taste than you do (usually). What is wrong with taking dogs on walks? You can't have love the beat generation and be punctual? I've seen and appreciate restrepo. I'm anti-war, I work..on thinking. Did you think that maybe instead of inauthenticity, "hipsters" are paying homage to these time periods? Have you learned about them? Are they revolutionizing society, or consumer zombies like the rest of us? Don't hate, assimilate.

anon
anon

this is a stupid article, good writing though..people need to re examine their hatred of "hipsters", subcategories run the gamut. and how insulting to "midwestern mothers" or whatever, are you calling them brainless? are you calling hipsters brainless for buying apple products? hipsters don't claim to know what is cool. They just have better taste than you do (usually). What is wrong with taking dogs on walks? You can't have love the beat generation and be punctual? I've seen and appreciate restrepo. I'm anti-war, I work..on thinking. Did you think that maybe instead of inauthenticity, "hipsters" are paying homage to these time periods? Have you learned about them? Are they revolutionizing society, or consumer zombies like the rest of us? Don't hate, assimilate.

Evil1
Evil1

Yeah... I'm on the "metal" side... And all I can see is that most metalheads in my city are either vanishing, or in hiding. The ones that remain most obvious are old people with no future. And goths are a kind of dark hipsters of doom these days. As for hipsters... I feel it's like a disease. I'm already so sick and tired of it. Whenever someone I know turns into a hipster it's like you're telling me they are getting cancer. And why is it always the people that are in a weak or pathetic point in their lives that buy those uglifying glasses? My sweetest angelic friend broke up with her ex and went with this "musician". Now she pumps drugs like there's no tomorrow. In college I see all sorts of girls dressed up as Super Mario... Or guys trying to convey the message "my sphincter is larger than my eyeglass frame" (sorry if it's offensive but it's true). Narcissism and fake "awesomeness" spreading everywhere, but if you pinch them they cry like babies. I also don't get why you'd be proud of looking like a person with sexual disfunctions... People stopped valuing being human and started valuing clothing and bizzare organic urges. Wake up people! I have my own quarter life crisis like you do, but at least I try to keep my dignity! Hipsterdom is just as appealing as overweight 70 year olds plucking their eyebrows and drawing them on, while wearing neon pink mini skirts and go-go boots!

Anonymous
Anonymous

seriously? i guess i would be considered a "hipster", but i'm not trying to be "cooler than everyone else in america" for me, its just a fashion statement. sure i like indie bands, but thats good for them, supporting them. i do like to shop at a thrift store, but it's cheap, and not to mention good for the environment. i'm 15, and i love the whole fashion part of it. crop tops, short shorts, and a lot of jewelery. and to be truthful, the majority of us aren't "pasty". all of my "hipster" friends are all super tan. your persuasion is so opinionated, no facts, just what you happened to Google, and from looking at young adults on the street. if you actually took time to research and hung out with us, you might change your mind.

Anonymous
Anonymous

well said. hipsters aren't revolutionary by any means. they just recycle themselves. that's why everyone knows what they dress like, act like,and talk like. they are counter-revolutionary and a parasite in today's modern evolving culture. worst of all, they're just annoying.

amir
amir

genius. perfect.