A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
Recently, I was unwittingly placed in a position to observe a cultural phenomenon: the hipster. Sometimes life just throws the dice. You can read about it here. Unable to let opportunity knock without at least saying hello I found myself going mano a mano with Mason (not his real name) a man of high property. He allowed me to question him closely about the hipster subculture. Although his answers were not what I expected, a good journalist rolls with the punches and jabs hard to get real answers. I think you’ll agree this was a hard nut to crack. I offer his interview here – unedited and raw – like the urban streets that are Mason’s home. Once again, make no mistake: this is a work of fiction. The only thing I’ve added are a few notes (in square brackets) that remember the conversation vividly.
Question: In his novel, Pattern Recognition, William Gibson, although he didn’t coin the phrase, uses coolhunter as a motif for society’s search for meaningful dialogue with its future. In an increasingly monochromatic culture, would you say that hipsters are the coolhunters among us? By deliberately turning their backs on what many believe is a media-generated world, are hipsters actually leading society away from itself? As they create fashion and style and then move on, aren’t they inadvertently dragging the rest of us after them?
Question: Wait! Wait! Hear me out. We live in a cultural hegemony which is both narcissistic and artificial. Our fashion and fragrance are celebrity driven and repetitive. Our films are weak fables, espousing the triumph of good over evil; our politics reduced to sound bytes; and our philosophies marketed like breakfast bars. Aren’t hipsters the antithesis of all that? By rejecting contemporary style and lifestyle, aren’t they cultural paladins, warring on their own monolithic civilization, which is seeking to deny them their cultural imperative?
Question: Are you being ironic?
Answer: [He gave me a look of constipation.]
Question: Okay, let’s take a different tack. Hipsters were born out of the 21st Century’s economic instability, which has, in turn, led to a decrease in social mobility. Since we can no longer economically guarantee that we will even maintain our social position — never mind rise above our class — young people have become disillusioned with the very ethos of our society. They believe that we are approaching a social stagnation that can lead only to cultural bankruptcy. Therefore, they have abandoned traditional long-term social mores in favour of immediate urban credibility – street creds — credits. They gather this cultural currency by stylistic innovation. Thus, they not only maintain their social status but can enhance it through anticipating the avant garde. Would you say this is a fair statement?
Answer: No. This is easy.
Question: Okay, then. Ironic is the hipster’s stock in trade. Isn’t it the greatest irony in the world that hipsters are actually the parents of cultural change? They conceive it in their very lifestyle. The time between when the first hipster moves in and the last hipster moves on is the gestation period, and its birth is when it’s adopted by mainstream culture.
Answer: [He looked at me as if he was seeing me for the first time. I knew I had him]
Question: Then what would you say about the hipster subculture? [I pointed a journalistic finger.]
Answer: Tintin is the original hipster. And you are obviously not from Indiana.