October 27, 2010

The Hipster Never Was

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I am not now nor have I ever been a hipster. No member of my family, no close friend, no enemy, no rival, no lover, no teacher, no coworker, no classmate, no bandmate, no client, no barkeep, no dance partner, no party guest, no doctor, no lawyer, no broker, no banker, no blogger, no artist, no singer, no guitar player, no DJ, no model, no photographer, no author, no editor, no pilot, no stewardess, no actor, no actress, no television personality, no robber, no cop, no priest, no deacon, no nun, no hooker, no pimp, no poet, no acquaintance known to me has ever been a hipster. Indeed, I have never met a hipster. I deny that there ever existed any such thing. I deny this categorically, and I denounce the very category. I despise it.

So it is that I come before you today to condemn myself, to apologize to the public, and to beg your forgiveness. For I have been party to a massive fraud, one that lingers to this very day, though in a diminished and sclerotic form. The fraud held that there were people called hipsters who followed a creed called hipsterism and existed in a realm known as hipsterdom. The truth was that there was no culture worth speaking of, and the people called hipsters just happened to be young and, more often than not, funny-looking.

…Irony did not die in 9/11. Rather, irony perpetrated 9/11.

I entered this fraud voluntarily, at some times delusional, at other times motivated solely by the desire for personal gain, to attract attention to myself, and to alleviate massive credit card debt. For example, on May 11, 2007, I received the following email from an editor at a popular weekly magazine:

Hello Christian,

I’m writing to commission an essay from you for an upcoming cover package devoted to killing off the Hipster, once and for all. We think it’ll be an attentiongetting issue, and a perfect fit for your sensibility. (I happened to come across an old review of The Life Aquatic and thought you’d be perfect.) In short, our premise is that hipsters—those too-cool kids who snarkily reduce everything to kitsch — have retarded cool. Years ago, they took over Williamsburg, with a legitimately fresh look, but now every 18-to-34-year-old is wearing a faded GI Joe T-shirt, playing bingo ironically and listening to bands on Matador and Thrill Jockey. What started as an organic, cheeky, post-modern lifestyle is now a carbon copy of a copy — co-opted by Urban Outfitters and sold like fast food.

This was true years ago, but it still hasn’t abated.

Your essay would wonder, when everything cool in an urban context automatically gets subsumed by now uncool hipsterism, how can anything be cool again?

How can cool recover?

We’d need 1,000 words

Deadline: May 18 (or 21, if need be)
Payment: $2,000

Our editor-in-chief would love to talk more with you about the package. Let me know if there’s any interest.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

[Name withheld]

.

Such flattery! And such a high word rate! How can cool recover? And how can one go on looking in the mirror every morning after using the word “cool” as a noun? But let’s keep our cool.

At their behest, I executed the assignment. It was published, a letter appeared in the next issue saying that the article was useful for picking up dog feces, and a few months later I was paid.

This of course was not the first time I had written lies about hipsters. I had previously published reviews of several movies directed by individuals I erroneously described as hipsters adhering to a hipster aesthetic. I confess to making and now recant in full the following claims:

1. That “the problem with hipsters” is what “happens when a generation refuses to grow up.”

This was a misjudgment. Not growing up — that is, the refusal to put away childish things and indeed to maintain and affirm one’s inner child, even to the extent that it may blossom into an outer child, though with the wrinkled face of a seeming adult—this is in no sense a problem. Childhood is the only source of authenticity in America. It is America’s greatest and most glorious invention—our gift to the world. Permanent childhood is the ultimate form of maturity.

2. That our generation had yet to produce either any lasting artistic achievements or even a decent serial killer on par with Charles Manson.

Here I was wrong on two counts. Firstly, every single artwork created in the current era is guaranteed by recent technological developments to last forever—to attest permanently to its own artisticness and to inspire infinite artistic regeneration and proliferation. All art is now great art.

Secondly, in evaluating the achievements of murder among those I erroneously identified as hipsters, I neglected to consider two epochal events.

As Gus Van Sant’s film Elephant illustrated, had the perpetrators of the Columbine massacre sublimated their homicidal impulses, their destiny may well have been to move to Williamsburg.

And further, to adopt a global view, the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks fall roughly within the demographic under consideration. It was often said after the events that the terrorists, by destroying the World Trade Center, had destroyed irony itself. But as the years have passed and the concept of blowback has gained wider recognition, we have come to understand that irony did not die in 9/11. Rather, irony perpetrated 9/11.

3. That hipsters exist in a state of perpetual luxuriant slumming and that rich people and people who grew up poor colluded in a group project of class confusion, conspiring to blur class boundaries temporarily in order to allow themselves to socialize and sleep with each other.

A blatant lie. As we all know, there is no such thing as a class structure in America. While there may be mild disparities among us in terms of wealth and status, we the people, as our founding documents mandate, are all created equal, we enjoy equal opportunities, and by the time we reach the age of twenty-five, no matter the circumstances of our birth, we all enjoy the same level of attractiveness to the opposite sex, which, on a scale of one to ten, would be a seven.

As Laurie Anderson sings, Let X = X.

4. That hipsters, mostly white (the pastiest of whites), prided themselves on having ethnic friends, that they considered themselves “post-racial,” and that when they told racist jokes they were being post-racist.

Inaccurate. I had neglected to notice that racism in America effectively expired during the 1990s, the decade of Bill Clinton, O. J. Simpson, Rodney King, and Vanilla Ice. Anything that might seem like racism today is merely a sign of nostalgia for our naughty past.

5. That the Age of Twee was finally over.

This was my attempt to bury once and for all Wes Anderson and Belle and Sebastian. To my surprise, both of them returned. Anderson’s characters had abandoned the thrift-store dresses and corduroys for designer suits. Belle and Sebastian released new albums with obviously higher production values than their earlier works. Tweeness not only survived and thrived but became highly lucrative. I meanwhile continued to be broke. I have not bought any new clothes since 2005.

6. That hipsters were disgusted by anything erotic and had little use for the concept of love.

I was blind to contemporary realities, for it is obvious to all of us—and to all of our ex-girlfriends or ex-boyfriends —that the past decade has been the most glorious decade love has ever known. Eros attained powers never imagined by our greatest romantic poets. Lovers burst through shrouds of anonymity into instantaneous fits of impassioned eloquence. Arousal infested our apartments like mice. Telephone poles never seemed so tumescent. There were so many people to meet, and eventually so many people to break up with. Luckily you could just text them, and if you felt bad about it, text them again later to meet up. Love was like a lottery that everybody won. It was so beautiful that sometimes you even missed being lonesome.

7. That hipsterism was simply the aftermath of suburban childhood and that its expiration in one’s mid-thirties presented the hipster with two horrifying options: marriage, procreation, and a bloated return to suburbia; or life in the city as an aging hipster.

This was a falsehood. As one of my heroes recently argued in the Wall Street Journal, the life of a nuclear family in an American suburb is an unalloyed ecstasy. I remember my own suburban childhood. I spent many hours every summer day throwing a tennis ball against the door of my barn in a vain attempt to train myself to be an infielder. By the time I was thirteen, I had learned to ride a bike—I’m a slow learner. I was gently mocked by my youth basketball teammates for wearing Brooks brand basketball sneakers, rather than Reeboks or Nike Airs. “Did you get those shoes at the pharmacy?” they asked. “No, my mom got them,” I said. I joined the Cub Scouts but dropped out after the den mother’s son pushed me to the ground and administered several running jumping knee slams to my stomach, causing me to cry. These experiences build character, and without them I would not be in front of you today. Oh, what a paradise it was.

8. That there might emerge a hipster pro-life movement.

I did not actually mean this when I said it, but I realized I should never have even uttered the notion when I saw the movie Juno. I am now of the opinion that procreation should be prohibited before the age of thirty, except among the rich and in Alaska.

9. That the hipster had transformed into the Indie Yuppie, which we might imagine as the fusion of Kurt Cobain and Adam Gopnik.

Here I experienced a failure of imagination. What would have happened to Kurt Cobain if he had pulled through his depression and come out the other end to experience the joys of fatherhood? He may well have stopped touring, moved his family to a co-op on the Upper West Side, had a few more kids, applied his considerable literary talents to writing prose, mellowed into the drollery of prosperous middle age, developed a taste for smoked mozzarella, and become a New Yorker staff writer. In the final analysis, Kurt Cobain and Adam Gopnik are the same person, and all of us are that person, too. Me and you and everyone we know.

10. That hipsterdom would soon be the field of a civil war between the mean hipsters and the nice hipsters.

It is never wise to predict the future, and what has since come to pass is the opposite of what I three years ago predicted. Among the young, the nice people and the mean people joined forces, surrendered all claims to irony and stood as one in support of the man whom they elected our president. I was too busy to register or to vote, but I agreed with them. And soon I came to see that whereas the era I had just lived through, which some call the Aughts and others the Naughts, had elicited only one appropriate response — nihilism—the new era of change we can believe in demands earnestness. And in this new era I am but a pathetic relic. What they used to call a second-rate hipster.

So now I offer you my apology, and I offer it specifically to the young, to those whose twenties are now transpiring. I have heard about you. I have heard that you love the internet and think the future will be just great. I have heard that you are never bored. I have heard that you said one of the best things about cocaine is that if you snort it at a dinner party the mess gets cleaned up really fast. One of you wrote to me yesterday and said this:

Hipster is a derogatory term for someone who is interested in culture. The term would not exist were the phenomenon [of interest in culture] any more than a scum atop the vast shallow pond of American society. It assumes self-consciousness, deceit, and affectation, because everyone here is so fucking unbelieving that anyone could take unmediated pleasure in art.

Arf. New York is toxic.

I was that poison. I was the toxic bachelor. Now I will get out of the way, and you can go way, and you can go forth and believe and take your unmediated pleasure. My advice is to stay out of debt. TC mark

This speech was originally delivered at a panel at the New School in April 2009. It appears under the title I Was Wrong in the n+1 book What Was the Hipster.

Christian Lorentzen contributes to Thought Catalog

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