Meditating on Hipsters, Irony, and the Role of Status


Ethan Gach

I write about comics, video games and American politics. I fear death above all things. Just below that is waking up in the morning to go to work. You can follow me on Twitter at @ethangach or at my blog, And though my opinions aren’t for hire, my virtue is.

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72 Responses

  1. Avatar NewDealer says:

    This was a very good essay.

    I don’t know where I fit in on the Hipster milleau. I was born at the tail-end of Generation X in 1980. This probably makes me part of the first wave of hipsterdom. I graduated from one of those elite liberal arts colleges that are a hot bed of liberalism. Most of my cultural likes are firmly in the Brooklyn-San Francisco liberal category but I’d like to think this is out of sincerity and education over irony. And I can’t wear skinny jeans! But I do have an MFA.

    My thoughts are largely along the Thomas Frank line and that Hipsters are largely a continuing of the early-90s grunge and Generation X culture. In San Francisco and Brooklyn, you see some prime Generation Xers (people born between 1968-1973) who easily transformed from grunge into Hipster. And they can still listen to Wilco! Sometimes these prime Gen Xers have children and families and sometimes they do not. I think that Gen X is a bit different from the Baby Boomers in that there is a resistance against being seen as uncool. They don’t want to become square like their parents and drop the Stones and Hendrix for Kenny G and Michael Bolton. Hence, Madison Avenue and the “rebel consumer”. So you are right that this is partially status seeking, becoming a parent no longer means needing to drop out of the cool scene. The ultimate eptiome of this was a birthday party for a child I saw at the Brooklyn Brewery. The kids got to run around and the parents did not have to be anywhere uncool like a Chucky Cheese or something else more kid-appropriate.

    I think there is a social status thing in the DIY-small batch economy but it is also born of economic privilege. A lot of these products are sold at premium prices: 9 dollars for a chocolate bar, 12 dollars for a jar of jam, 14 dollars for a four-pack of Dogfish Head beer, 95 dollars for a tie made of chambray, etc. It takes money to afford these products and the people buying them are wither white-collar professionals like me or people with independent sources of income. I am not sure where to put Community Supported Agriculture on this social status list.

    I know a lot of people who qualify as hipsters. Some people might think I qualify as one (even though my body type rebels against skinny jeans and I dislike facial hair on myself), they are largely sweet and good people but some of them seem to be pre-empting their burnout (by announcing that they know it will come.) Only time will tell if these people stay hipster and rebel consumers as they get older (and as parents) or switch to being square suburban parents.
    Only time will tell.

    Though I do think straight, white, male is a bit wrong. I think straight and white is a better co-opter.

    One thing I can’t tell is how many hipsters come from working-class families and then escaped to the elite schools or big cities as compared to how many are children of the upper-middle suburban/urban class. The co-opting of blue collar culture is one of the most problematic aspects of hipster culture to me. A place like this is the ultimate hipster bar and one of my least favorite bars in SF:

    The whole rural, working class hunting lounge in San Francisco seems odd to me. Plus they play their music too loud* What I can’t tell is whether the appeal is because people come from these communities and miss it or they are just upper-middle class suburban kids co-opting working class culture. A bunch of the hipsters I know of do seem to come from rural and working class roots. I think the Mast Brothers (creators of ten dollar chocolate bars in Brooklyn) are from rural working class routes but can’t remember where I got this information from. The creator of Dogfish Head is a farm kid.

    One thing that is interesting about hipsters is that they seem to be marrying a lot earlier than their Baby Boomer parents and Generation Xers. A lot of Generation Xers I know did not get married until their mid-30s or later. Many are still unmarried in their early 40s. I seem to know many hipsters who married their college sweethearts right after college. This is intriguing to me for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on. When I was 25, very few of my friends and cohort were married. Now I see a lot of people who are 25 and married and they come from the same upper-middle class/education and career first background as me.Report

    • Avatar dhex says:

      mast is a pretty good bar of chocolate.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:

        I don’t doubt it but this whole DIY/Artisnal culture makes me wonder:

        What does it mean for a country to have a vast middle class?

        The Industrial Revolution of the Victorian Era turned luxury goods like Chocolate and Soap and Tea and made them products available to everyone. When I was in middle and high school, the GAP was considered a great equalizer because most students seemed to get their clothing at the GAP.

        The Mast Brothers seems to be indicative of a return to taking a product available to everyone and wanting it to be a luxury good again because big corporations make a bad product for whatever.

        Politics creates strange bedfellows sometimes. I am not opposed to the Mast Brother existing or fancy hipster coffee places but I would like them to acknowledge that a 9 dollar chocolate bar is a luxury product.Report

        • Avatar dhex says:

          it would seem to me that they do so by charging nine bucks for it.

          i dunno, i don’t even know what the term hipster means at this point. as i was discussing with a friend yesterday, i can remember when it meant “unemployable dirtbag/art school dropout from the midwest” as opposed to “cool kids/the other” or whatever it means now.Report

          • Avatar NewDealer says:

            Implicitly yes.

            However, I have met people who do think that there is some kind of moral imperative for all people to shop local over big supermarket. They don’t realize that if everyone shopped local, most people would not be able to afford the jams and chocolates, and other little luxuries.Report

            • Avatar dhex says:

              sure, but most people can’t do so, and thus the system grinds on. there’s also a tremendous gulf between small pockets of relatively wealthy people buying gourmet foods (which is what that market is, really) and the collapse of large scale industrial agriculture and inter-state food trade.

              nyc and related large cities with large pockets of wealthy folk are like a reality distortion field. most people aren’t concerned about artisanal mayonnaise, nor will ever say those words, even if they make their own mayonnaise. they certainly won’t generally be walking past an entire shop dedicated to such:

              i lived close enough to park slope for long enough to dig what we’ll call the general “ugh” factor of people telling you to spend many a multiplier of your budget on non-necessities. they are not my idea of a good time, by and large – they match up a little too well with what i though as a kid when i imagined what life in a family with people who had to been to college was like. friends of mine whose families retired after selling their houses in carroll gardens and boreum hill seemed to think along similar lines, though they obviously desired a better life for their kids and grandkids that didn’t involve a 20 and out retirement program in fdny/nypd/etc. it also caused quite a bit of racial upheaval as the old deal had been well into the early 90s that the nonwhite folk stay to the east of smith and south of 4th and no one had to get stabbed. and vice versa of course.

              anyway, that “ugh” factor is further compounded by a whole load of mental nonsense – hence the slopian overlap one sees with high income, high education level anti-vaxxers, anti-gmo, pro “natural” types and the like. it’s an instinctual/moral/aesthetic whole (foods) package as it were(har har), and one could no more argue them out of it than you could argue someone out of liking the color blue. shorter version of the last four paragraphs: sometimes people with money got no damn sense of the world around them, and people with all sorts of money or not can turn anything into a moral crusade if they’re willing to be enough of a jackass about it.

              as a general note i’ve been having this discussion with people in some variationor another since 1999 or so, and much like “the yuppie”, “the hipster” is a hated cultural other that doesn’t exist so much as emerge from the veil of one’s own envy and desires. to what ends? certainly the kids running the diy art space filled with painted sneakers or 7 person accordion bands don’t really give a hoot. the wampole piece has been written a few hundred times already – i remember reading stuff like that (largely in print) pre 9/11. back then it was “vintage” or “goofy old crap” rather than simulations of such, i suppose. he should pay royalties. or maybe stop giving shitty gifts for xmas. that would be my suggestion, but i am a simple man.

              so yeah i guess i’m a hipster hipster or hipster hipster hipster or something? anyway this has gone on far too long, and i apologize. tune in next time for my lecture “gentrification: white people should only live in some places, and for the purposes of this discussion russian immigrants will not be considered white as such, we mean more like, you know, white people who buy artisanal mayonnaise, not light skinned people who talk funny.” 🙂Report

              • Avatar NewDealer says:

                Hey, I lived in Carroll Gardens and consider that one of the best places I have ever lived. I still miss it and would move back in a heartbeat if possible.

                Specifically I lived on Degraw between Smith and Hoyt. This was in 2006-2008 when the neighborhood was already really gentrified. It is even more developed now with a Barneys Co-Op on Atlantic Avenue and some fancier supermarkets.Report

              • Avatar dhex says:

                we lived not too far from each other for a bit.

                if we take gentrified to mean “people who move somewhere without a familial connection” that process started in the 80s.Report

              • Avatar NewDealer says:

                No doubt. It was pretty gentrified during my time there.

                But there is gentrification and then there is gentrification via the opening of a Barneys.Report

              • Avatar dhex says:

                ehhhhhhh tomato tomatoe change is change. and that’s what people are generally objecting to (if they don’t live in the neighborhood) or rising costs, mostly rental related (if they do). at least in nyc, it’s probably different elsewhere.Report

        • Avatar North says:

          ND on one hand I sympathize but on the other hand my economics side see’s this as a positive economic development.
          In the beginning a small amount of high quality and indifferent quality product is available only to a small number of consumers in privileged positions.
          Then economics develop and eventually indifferent quality product is available widely to almost all consumers.
          Now the economics develop further and now high quality product is emerging in niche markets which makes higher quality product available to greater numbers of people while doing nothing that restricts the availability of the indifferent quality product to the masses.

          This strikes me as a net gain. When we look at economic and technological development in a big picture sweep what initially comes off as inefficient up close looks richer and more useful in the big picture. If technology and economics continue to allow economies to diminish scarcity while using decreasing amounts of human labor then the development of niche luxury markets that use some of this labor up to make high quality product is potentially very useful. It’s not like we are suffering from labor scarcity.Report

  2. Avatar Chris says:

    The problem that I have with hipsters, and this is intimately connected to their irony-as-affect way of being in the world, has to do with their fondness for “color.” And by color, I mean both people of different races (’cause most of them are white) and “poverty.” So they move into the edges of a poor, minority-majority neighborhood (always the edges, though I do occasionally see a “brave” explorer venturing into the middle), and then the rents go up, and they move a bit further in, and then the rents go up some more, and then they move further in, repeating the process until everyone who had lived in that neighborhood is gone because they can no longer afford the rent, and now you have a little Yuppie, upper-middle class white neighborhood filled with Starbucks (and anti-Starbucks), Jamba Juices, and boutique grocery stores, all in a combination of run-down buildings from the old neighborhood (completely renovated inside, of course) and new, mixed-use condo developments, with a bunch of dog-walking 20- and 30-somethings in skinny jeans and trucker hats. This isn’t just your old-fashioned gentrification, it’s an ironic takeover by people who see getting close to poverty as a cool thing to do. And it irks me, both on moral and aesthetic grounds.

    (For examples of this, witness the East 6th neighborhood in Austin, and increasingly, the entirety of North East Austin from Cameron Rd through Colony Park and the Manor Rd area.)Report

    • Avatar Ethan Gach says:

      I debated bringing in that element.

      It deserves its own (several even) post. And I am certainly one of those people.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer says:

      Gentrification is a tricky issue. I think every neighborhood except one that I have lived in post-college was gentrified.

      Here is where the trick comes in though: Where are young people supposed to live when they get out of college?

      Imagine you are a 22 year old college graduate who was born and raised somewhere far away from a major city. You land a job in a major city at 45,000 USD a year. This is a decent but not great income. These 22-year olds can’t afford to live in the already upper-middle class parts of the city so they head to said neighborhoods that you described above.

      Do you think that kids who are born into the suburbs have a moral imperative to remain in suburbs as to not displace anyone? Should they live at home with mom and dad until they can afford an upper-middle class district of the city on their own?

      These are serious questions.Report

    • Avatar greginak says:

      I don’t have much actual experience with hipsters. Do people really move close to poverty because its cool? Or is it moving to low rent areas because the rent is cheaper. Gentrification has been going on for a long time and usually due to people wanting to live in urban areas but only being able to afford the cheapest areas.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        See Lawrenceville, in Pittsburgh. Total hipster zone.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:

        I think it depends on when people move in, you can probably chart it in waves and there is a bit of both.

        The first wave of people in gentrification seems to be real artists looking for spaces that are cheap and large, so they can live and create without too many big day jobs. In Williamsburg, this happened in the mid to late 1990s.

        Then you have the young people right out of college or middle-class professional types with an artistic streak who say “Hey this looks like a cool neighborhood” and they move in. Eventually businesses open up to cater to this crowd.

        The final wave seems to be that a neighborhood etches itself into the conscious of a generation and just become’s the place you move to because that is where young people move to. Examples include Williamsburg (or Brooklyn in general), The Mission in San Francisco, Silver Lake in Los Angeles, The Pearl District in Portland, etc.

        There is a second-type of gentrification though as is done in neighborhoods like Park Slope and Carroll Gardens. Artists were not the first people to move in but families who were outpriced of Manhattan but unwilling to move to the suburbs. These families discovered that while they could not afford a house in Manhattan, they could buy and renovate a classic Brooklyn brownstone in Park Slope, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn Heights, Fort Greene, etc. Now such things are probably out of my price range for a while if not forever.

        I picked my current apartment because it was a 12-minute walk to my law school. It just happened to also be centrally located in the city and in a gentrifying neighborhood.Report

      • Avatar Ethan Gach says:

        I think if the economics didn’t support it, it certainly wouldn’t happen.

        BUT, I do think there is something to the “it’s cool,” part. And to a degree there are the initial immigrants who struggle to adapt to the community and learn to be a part of it (shared gardens, neighborhood watches, civic organization), who are then followed by the rest who look to take advantage of a historic neighborhood with cheap housing that now already has a coffee shop and a food co-op and some people that look like them. So I don’t necessarily want to mix those two groups together.

        But there is definitely an element of “the real urban experience,” which means taking on an identity that was never actually lived; trying to co-opt a street cred that was never earned by injustice and lack of privilige.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Greg, New Dealer, et al.,

        I think the old dynamic was the one you saw in Williamsburg, where people bought or rented cheap spaces because it was what they could afford straight out of college with a BA in art history, and then people with money moved to be close to the artists and cool people with no money, and then more money moved in, and more, and more. The new dynamic is an imitation of that, where people with money move in to be close to the poverty because of its association with the artists and cool people with no money, even though the artists and cool people with no money haven’t moved into that neighborhood yet (and never will, because the rent goes up so quickly). In other words, what happened in Williamsburg has become so much of a thing that it skips the in between steps and just becomes present-day Williamsburg.Report

        • Avatar greginak says:

          Okay. My essential problem with talking about hipsters is i don’t what a real “authentic” hipster is. Hipster is one of those labels that has taken on some many connotations and has so much baggage its hard to know what it really means. Most of the talk about hipsters seems to be about fashion and consumption patterns. The discussion of why they have moved where they have doesn’t seem any different from why most people have moved where they have in cities.Report

          • Avatar NewDealer says:

            This seems to be the universal problem. Everyone can identify a hipster by sight but no one can define it.

            There have been whole articles and symposiums to address this issue. N plus One had a symposium several years ago on this vexing problem. Or non-problem possibly.

            This definition from the article is as good as any:

            “The hipster haunts every city street and university town. Manifesting a nostalgia for times he never lived himself, this contemporary urban harlequin appropriates outmoded fashions (the mustache, the tiny shorts), mechanisms (fixed-gear bicycles, portable record players) and hobbies (home brewing, playing trombone). He harvests awkwardness and self-consciousness. Before he makes any choice, he has proceeded through several stages of self-scrutiny. The hipster is a scholar of social forms, a student of cool. He studies relentlessly, foraging for what has yet to be found by the mainstream. He is a walking citation; his clothes refer to much more than themselves. He tries to negotiate the age-old problem of individuality, not with concepts, but with material things.”Report

        • Avatar NewDealer says:

          Fair points and this probably does happen. You probably do have 25 year old MBAs with Goldman offers moving into Williamsburg.

          However, I still think there are plenty of young people just out of college who move to the city for jobs with low and moderate salaries who get lumped in with the people above. Where are these people supposed to move to?Report

          • Avatar Rufus F. says:

            Our city is now perceived less as, “that dirty industrial town that we can all make fun of because they’re poor, but they’re white” to “the next cool place to live because the rents are cheap and the people are nice, so let’s move there and change all that!” Or, at least, the sort of people who use words like “rebranding” tell us it is:

            So far, it’s mostly a matter of perception- I don’t see the changes they talk about, aside from there being more hangouts that would rather book laptop DJs than bands. I don’t know what one does about gentrification. Crime can only scare them away for so long.Report

            • Avatar NewDealer says:

              Gentrification seems to be the problem that no one knows what to do anything about. People either think it is a natural good or can’t come up with any suggestions. One friend did go so radical as to declare that perhaps those who are born in the suburbs should stay in the suburbs but that will never happen.

              I’ve noticed gentrifcation happen and it is a bit interesting. What is remarkable about the story you posted is that it provides a basic blueprint for gentrification everywhere. Hamilton might as well be Oakland (California).

              Though I am surprised that anyone thought Buffalo could gentrify.

              The problem with the Creative Class notion is that they generally all want to flock to the same few metro areas. Hamilton seems close enough to Toronto to be a commuting town. Buffalo is too far away from NYC.Report

          • Avatar Kim says:

            Anywhere but Lawrenceville.
            There’s plenty of places that aren’t hipster.Report

  3. Avatar Kim says:

    Hipsters seem rather boring people, only knowing how to sneer at others.

    Is irony that disarming?
    Consider the man who creates a vintage 1950’s movie poster, and then sells it for 100 times what it is worth (as it is in fact brand new), because the person they are selling to, refuses to admit that they’ve never heard of the movie.Report

  4. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    Hipster-ism isn’t a disease. It’s an allergic reaction to bullshit, the histamine released by earnest young people in search of something authentic. If their response to bullshit is irony, it’s better than passive acceptance or some histrionic rejection thereof. They don’t have much money, they don’t own houses yet, they’re still figuring out who they are. Hell, they haven’t even gotten into a meaningful job yet.

    Greif’s conclusions are ridiculous. Where’s America’s rebellious subculture? Nelly hangs out with Willy Nelson and Snoop Dogg and they all smoke big weed in Maui. Rebellion’s gone mainstream. It rides the corporate jet, folks.

    Hipsters didn’t emerge in San Francisco or Lower East Side, they came out of farm towns, them and their baseball caps and wifebeaters and a taste for Pabst Beer. And all the other kids started emulating them, just like all those hip-hop artistes starting emulating the poor kids wearing their older brothers’ jeans sliding down over their asses.

    These young hipsters are the marvel of the age, a welcome sight to this old man. Finally, a generation of kids with the good sense to look at the world and have a quiet laugh at its expense.

    There were two waves of hippies, well, really three. First there was Kerouac and the Beats. Then came the folks who read On the Road and listened to Miles Davis and Woody Guthrie. That second generation would produce Bob Dylan, who, may I add was a small town kid from Upper Peninsula Michigan.

    The third wave of hippies was a herd of poseurs. Sears Roebuck started stocking bell bottom jeans and their fate was sealed.

    Greif’s wrong about the Savant Hipster, allegedly picking up the tiny changes of rapidly cycling consumer distinction. That’s just pretentious nonsense. The first two waves of hippies, particularly the first wave, the Beats, were alienated from the world of consumerism around them, mostly because they didn’t have a lot of money to spend on it. They wore clothes which would eventually become cool, but the second and third waves of hippies followed on the trail blazed by people who didn’t give a damn about the consumer.

    Irony isn’t a credit card you never have to pay back. Irony is the bill of sale for the goods the merchant won’t take back.Report

    • Avatar Ethan Gach says:

      BlaiseP, some thoughts:

      “kids with the good sense to look at the world and have a quiet laugh at its expense.”

      There is nothing “quiet” about it, since most of it is steeped in exhibitionism. That’s not to say this is necesarily bad, but it goes beyond a quiet laugh at the absurd to a drowning out and sometimes complete ridcule of anything that actually tries to activiate real social evolution.

      Also, you note the Beats, which I did as well in passing. I don’t think the two are very similar, and in fact the contrast they draw is significant. The current movement has no literature, and its music is incredibly disposable, which is to say not worth hanging onto. Unlike the authentic creatures from 50+ years ago from whom they draw inspiration (and appropriate meaning), today’s young, educated and predominately white millenials (which is to say, at the very least, that the MSM branding of millenial is white), are part of a cultural machinery of diminishing returns that sucks up the milieu of yesteryear and exploits it for whatever it can.

      And it is of course about degrees. The hipster archetype is just that, an archetype. And so it is really about how much people associated with that mode of expression choose to feed off the meaning of others, disengage politically, and degrade the ecosystems (physical, digital, cultural) they move into.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        You’re kinda sounding like a hipster yourself, Ethan, saying the hipsters don’t have music. C’mon, they all have those bulky Dre Beats headphones on their heads half the time I see them. Every generation has its hipsters who look back to find the great stuff.

        I’m not a hipster but I am a musician. Musicians never invent anything. Dylan wasn’t inventing. Woody Guthrie wasn’t inventing. Mozart wasn’t inventing. It’s still the same cycle of fifths and fourths and the same bass and treble clef it ever was. Maybe Brian Eno and Robert Fripp gave us some new insights and techniques. But Eno and Fripp were only reprocessing other signals to make it all new again. With the addition of tape and scissors and synthesisers, recycling would give rise of the samplers and keymappers. It was entirely predictable.

        The hipsters are a bit young to have written anything substantial yet. Hard to write anything good when you don’t have anything to say yet. That takes time in grade. Have to grow some scar tissue. Out of the strong came forth sweetness. They’re still reading what will shape them as writers.

        Of course these kids are exhibitionists. Anyone with a twenty year old body and doesn’t realise that’s about as good as it gets is a moron. You’ll have the rest of your life to wear a suit or Dress Business Casual.

        If the hipsters are disengaged, they’re the only smart ones in the bunch. May I lay a bit of wisdom from the ineffable David Bowie upon you?

        There’s a brand new dance
        But I don’t know its name
        That people from bad homes
        Do again and again
        It’s big and it’s bland
        Full of tension and fear
        They do it over there but we don’t do it here

        Oh tempura o morels. They who wax wroth and snideful at what emerges from change are all Young Fogies.Report

        • Avatar Ethan Gach says:

          What I actually said: “The current movement has no literature, and its music is incredibly disposable”

          As for having a literature, by this I mean two things, 1) they don’t have a political literature, or any apparent ontological compass which guides their gyrations, and 2) Late twenties is a vibrant time for literature–just see JK’s generation, or DFW’s.Report

          • Avatar Dhex says:

            How much small press stuff do you read or listen to?Report

            • Avatar Ethan Gach says:

              Probably not enough. But if you have good examples, references, I’d love to see them.

              My assumption is that the aesthetic and style movement of hipsterism doesn’t have a literature, even if there are still lots of good writers doing social critique, but that could well be bunk.Report

              • Avatar dhex says:

                to start things off, though i’ve recommended this book before, i think you would find simon reynold’s latest book, “retromania”, right up your alley. it’s about references/obsessions/infinite recursion to the past within pop and outre music alike, and bounces off many of the topics referenced above.

                we’re probably not only argumentally (?) far apart on this topic, but probably aesthetically as well – as i see dfw* as the genesis of so many of the things you’re mad about/are wrong with america, most of which seem to boil down to “kids these days ain’t politically involved”.

                so the things i point towards may just seem like so much nonsense to you.

                i see the whole “hipster” thing – if it even exists, a point of which i’m not sure about despite having lived in brooklyn for over a decade – as a largely aesthetic judgement, as i know plenty of people with ill-advised facial hair and totally shit taste in music doing all sorts of social justice stuff that would make you happy. and i’m not even really sure what “irony” means. mocking? sarcasm 2.0? (the simpsons episode about lolapalooza so many years ago comes to mind)

                anyhoo, when i say “there is no better moment for a lover of music than today” i mean it’s baffling to me that anyone could possibly feel otherwise. local scenes? tons. fucking tons. metric tons. metric fucktons. specialization beyond what even i care about, and i care about it more than i should because i love talking and writing about it.

                perhaps people mean stuff like bon iver or what have you, to which i’d raise the point that you’re picking something you can buy in starbucks, which is the opposite of exclusive and avoids all posturing.

                i find the following publications helpful:
       (sadly defunct)

                and label suggestions:
                profound lore records
                gilead media
                modern love
                southern lord
                sacred bones
                skull disco
                blast first petite
                mordant music
                woe to the septic heart
                constellation records
                mexican summer
                editions mego
                blackest ever black

                and so on. i’m tired of typing at this point.

                what’s interesting (to me), as a side note, is that within some metal circles, “hipster” also means dilettante, unengaged, fashionable, etc, but in relation to legitimate fans and bands. so it’s not unusual to hear the term “hipster black metal” to refer to liturgy or krallice or wolves in the throne room. the only real unifying thread is their fanbase as they’re distinct outfits from distinct scenes on opposite coasts. it doesn’t help that liturgy’s frontman is kind of a pretentious dink. i don’t use the term pretentious lightly, as it tends to be a dismissive blank check of little utility, but he’s pretty ridiculous.

                * i’d call him and dave eggars history’s greatest monsters but i’m afraid people would think i’m being ironic/”ironic” rather than quite-sincere-and-deeply-unhinged.Report

  5. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    And would you damn kids stay off my lawn?

    (No, seriously. Ironic mockery is this age’s commonly-accepted mode of humor. I’m pretty sure that people looked at the Dadaists and said “this absurdist mentality is destroying the brains of our youth and will lead to a permanent decline of civilization!”)Report

    • Avatar Ethan Gach says:

      ““this absurdist mentality is destroying the brains of our youth and will lead to a permanent decline of civilization!”

      Yes, and look what has come of it? There is no Dadaism this time though. Thereare only smirks.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck says:

        Snark is the new absurdist humor. I’d argue that the whole image-macro thing, aka “memes”, is tapping into the same vein.Report

  6. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    “Vast databases of cheap and easily accessed music have reignited a passion for vinyl and HD television and Blu-Ray have brought with them a re-evaluation of VHS. A subset of gamers fetishize 8-bit pixels, 16-bit sprites, and the clumsy edge work of 32-bit polygons.”

    Remember the “unplugged” albums that were a thing back in the Nineties? (And “Dogma 95”, from roughly the same time period.)

    Also, remember the (still ongoing) debate over how tube amps have a “warmer” sound than transistors?

    And there’s a thriving market in pressed vinyl records and the turntables to play them.

    And we’re now seeing a movement that tells us all how awful those “eee-book” things are, and how it’s much better to lug around five pounds of honest paper because the experience of reading is what really matters. (which has an interesting tie-in to the copyright debate, because it acts like the value is not in the text but in the physical token, like a John Grisham paid-by-the-word is just as valuable as “The Grapes Of Wrath” because they’re both printed on paper)

    It wasn’t hipsters who invented the idea that the methods of artistic expression of the just-preceding age were superior to the ones we’ve got now.Report

    • Avatar Ethan Gach says:

      They did not invent the idea, but they have been instrumental to marketing (and to some degree manufacturing) its current iteration.

      And I think it’s not insignificant that their aesthetic preferences date back several generations, and not just to the directly preceeding one.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck says:

        Fine; delete “just-preceding age”, insert “less technologically-sophisticated time”, doesn’t change my point a bit.

        And heck, it wasn’t even hipsters that made Let’s Play Oldey-Timey Dress-Up a thing. People were dressing in “Sixties styles” for a while there (although that mostly meant tie-die T-shirts and jeans cut with a flare at the cuffs.)

        I’m kind of looking forward to the Eighties revival; I like the idea of coming in to work and seeing one guy wearing ripped-knee acid-washed jeans and a black plastic “leather” jacket with lots of stainless-steel studs and grommets, sitting next to a woman wearing a peach-and-purple unitard with a padded-shoulder blazer (and one of those fe-mullet hairdos with short permed hair on top and a rat-tail in the back), and I’ve got on my own black-pinstripes-on-white blazer with a teal shirt, pleated Dockers, and a tie the width of a pencil.

        (I’m not going back to Eighties eyeglasses, though. Eurgh.)Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. says:

        I guess my question is what if past methods of expression really are superior? I don’t mean as a whole, but what if tomorrow the culture decides that throwing rocks through windows with notes on them is now superior to Facebook wall messages? If you say, “I actually preferred the old way because I kept my windows intact,” do people sigh, “ugh, fishing hipster!”Report

    • Avatar NewDealer says:

      Plus a five pound book allows for impromptu bicep curls!

      More seriously, this is why I said above that I think hipsters are just a continuing of Generation X. I was 12 in 1992 but remember 20-somethings saying the same things back then that 20-somethings are saying today.Report

      • Avatar Ethan Gach says:

        I don’t think there is a precise break, and Greif and to some degree Warmpole both get at the evolution from X to Y to M.

        And certainly the hipster is old enough by now to be a cliche (which is one common reaction to Warmpole’s piece: how tired!)

        What I think changes the game entirely though, and which I might try to pin-down better in a follow-up post, is the role that the Internet plays in all of this, especially social media and the proliferation of emails, texts, tweets, posts, updates, photos, articles and so on.Report

        • Avatar NewDealer says:

          What I think the Internet does it get rid of a lot of local flavor.

          The goals of the hipster seem universal and each city might have their own individual companies but the product is largely the same.

          I’ve heard people refer to this process as Brooklynization. All young areas resemble Brooklyn now. The general aesthetics are the same in terms of coffee, beer, design (steal, wood, and edison bulb), etc.Report

          • Avatar Ethan Gach says:

            It definitely feels like this. And I think the Internet (despite a capacity to be otherwise) has done a lot to destroy local advocacy as well. It combines entertainment with a penchant for focusing upwards rather on what’s visible outside your door. This is just a pet theory though, and lacks strong evidence at this point, but my hunch is that while the Internet has empowered certain groups, it has also made it more difficult to reach critical mass because it emphasizes the national and international over the city and state.Report

            • Avatar NewDealer says:

              Yes and no.

              I think the Internet has created the inverse of Tip O’Neill’s famous observation that all politics are local. All politics are now national and this causes game changers.

              There are plenty examples from the 2012 election. Akin’s idiotic remarks would not have gained traction but for the immediacy of the Internet and blogs. There were also some really local Republicans (like state representatives) who lost elections because their stupid comments became national. In a pre-Internet era, their comments might not have even made the local news. The same can be said for the racism of the GOP guy from Maine or the local county Texas GOP treasurer who wants to leave the United States.Report

        • Avatar NewDealer says:

          The other major complaint I hear about the Internet is that it is destroying local music and local sounds.

          I.e. every rock band now sounds like the are an indie band from Brooklyn even if they live in Lexington, Kentucky.Report

  7. Avatar MikeSchilling says:

    I’m sure this is a cogent and well-reasoned essay but I didn’t understand a word of it. On the other hand, Duck’s two preceding comments both make a lot of sense to me.

    Premature senility, no doubt.Report

  8. Avatar Damon says:


    I read this and I came to the conclusion that hipsters were a bunch of pretentious posers trying too hard not to fit in all the while conforming to their own subgroup, like the goths, etc., only they are more annoying.

    Heaven forbid they were passionate about something….
    God those posers annoy me.Report

    • Avatar Ethan Gach says:

      Perhaps I very poorly made my point then. My argument is that the architype (I’m trying to stay away from individual people) is actually quite passion-less.

      And I make it clear that this isn’t a critique from annoyance, but one bent on how this mentality affects politics. It’s a style-ization that emphasizes tone and presentation over substance and ideology.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        But Ethan, the Young Fogies were saying the same thing about me and my kind back in the 60s and 70s. The hippies despised us. But I can look back on photographs of myself back then, in my black jeans and white button down shirts and my Bill Evans affected cool and my Baldassare Castiglione Book of the Courtier ideas about romance and manhood — and yes, it was all affected — and not feel like I was a dork.

        The same cannot be said for those Mainstream Hippies, them and their witless passion. They drifted into drugs and their tubes were scarred by all the gonorrhoea they gave each other. Their communes and their ideals all came crashing down around their ears after Kent State and the Blitz Kids took over in their wake.

        Substance and ideology be damned. Nobody knows anything at the age of 20. They only think they know everything. Big difference. Take it from an old guy who’s had occasion to find smart kids in every generation which followed mine: the hipsters are more than an archetype. A few kids, in their insecurity, have the good sense to look back and not to either side for their inspiration. Their birth of the cool is just a resurrection of an ancient trope, that the tree blooms every spring.Report

        • Avatar Ethan Gach says:

          “Their communes and their ideals ”

          First, just because someone said something once, and now is saying it again, doesn’t mean the thing they are saying that about is necessarily the same. My argument, and I grant you that it’s not an easy one to make, is that the zeitgeist of hipsters/millenials (admittedly a small segment of the nation’s actual youth, and yet a rich, connected, and powerful segment of it) is not one of ideals, principles, or movement politics, but rather appropriated moods and styles.

          Which is to say that, for example, the hipster hippie is in love with the image (by this point a largely corporate product) of the late 60/searly 70s hippie, not their ideals, passiong for drugs and love, or anti-war-ism.Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP says:

            You’re just not getting it, Ethan. I went to all that trouble of explaining how this works, that some kids look to each side in their insecurity — and some look back. The ones who look back don’t look like idiots in four decades.

            If the hipsters have appropriated some pastiche of the 60s and 70s, well, we of those years were appropriating our own pastiche of the 40s and 50s and thus it has ever been sic transit gloria mundi amen. These kids emerged in the wake of 9/11 and have never pissed in a toilet when this nation was not at war. And you wonder why they don’t appropriate their symbols from present times?Report

            • Avatar Ethan Gach says:

              BlaiseP, for me it’s not about the appropriation as appropriation. And I am not surprised, and not unsettled by the drive to appropriate the things of their parents and their grandparents.

              What I see as the problem, and if you don’t you should nail me on this specific point, is that I don’t see any of these people appropriating the values, principles, beliefs, or politics *along* with those symbols, objects, styles, etc.

              They’re is no remixing, or re-working, or any apparent creation of a political counter-culture, whether it’s dressed in bell-bottoms or Jackie-O sleevless tops, and instead the reaction to Obama is the same as the reaction to Bieber: memes, jokes, idoltry.

              It could be, and I think this is your contention, that such is the age of silly disregard of every young generation. In which case the youth support for Obama is no different then the youth support for McGovern/Bobby K.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Belief is a process of being convinced of the underlying truth of something. A process, not a conclusion. Why should kids in their 20s take on the values, principles, beliefs of their elders? They have their own minds to make up. If they seize on some new trend coming out of Harajuku or Kastanien Allee, that’s what kids do.

                Obama appropriated his own cool in his turn, picking and choosing from the buffet of the Kennedys and Clintons and the black culture he had to learn from scratch in New York and Chicago. Obama’s message of Hope and Change resonated with people because he wasn’t some Establishment Figure. He was that fresh new spiral ring notebook and the box of new pens your parents gave you when school started.

                Hope’s what you have when nothing’s happened yet. You’re sounding like a Young Fogey. I mean that in the kindest possible way. Just stop and smell the roses, kid. You’ll have time enough to be a curmudgeon later in life.Report

        • Avatar Ethan Gach says:

          And the point isn’t to say, hey, look at all these 20 somethings (of which I am one)..why don’t they know stuff! look how childish and silly they are! When will they ever get serious and do the work of the future!?

          My point is that they grew up in an age of war, financial malfeasance, and unsustainable economic development and environmental exploitation, and have nothing sincere with which to confront these (and other) crises, but instead just make an ironic meme involving babies or cats or a fox news pundit before hopping on their one-speed to go buy an etsy cover for their iPhone that just says something about them in a way nothing else ever could.Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP says:

            Waaay back when, in 1967, Marshall McLuhan said Youth instinctively understand the present environment – the electric drama. It lives mythically and in depth

            Kids live mythically. I’m sorta past all that now, looking forward to real old age. Talking to old people, learning what that’s like. It seems there’s a reversion to that mythical living, lots of things come back into scope, lost under the welter of a career and raising kids and the daily grind.

            Sincerity is the province of the stupid. It’s buying into something you don’t really understand. It’s faith in a faithless world. My old business partner, now long dead, once had a globe of the world hanging on a chain by his desk. Hanging on the chain was a laughing leprechaun. “Don’t take the world too seriously” he told me. Irony is a rejection of all such quasi-religious buyin’ into that Electric Drama fed to us 24/7 by Marketing Weasels.Report

            • Avatar Ethan Gach says:

              How do you have political progress or social change without sincerity?Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                It’s really simple. You look at the world as it is, you learn to observe trends. That means taking into account all that came before. You learn the nature of power. You learn the art of conversation. In the words of Gandhi, you become the change you want to see in the world. Castiglione:

                Therefore he who wishes to be a good pupil, besides performing his task well, must put forth every effort to resemble his master, and, if it were possible, to transform himself into his master. And when he feels that he has made some progress, it will be very profitable to observe different men of the same calling and governing himself with that good judgement which must ever be his guide, to go about selecting now this thing from one and that thing from another. And as the bee in the green meadows is ever wont to rob the flowers among the grass, so our Courtier must steal this grace from all who seem to possess it….Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                How do you have political progress or social change without sincerity?

                I don’t understand the question. Isn’t what people do more significant to social change than what theyfeel?Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                More to the point, how can anyone wish for change without some measure of doubt? The world is forever changing and the laws which govern us are always irrelevant to some extent. Sincerity, like religion, is the evidence of things not seen. Not all change is wise nor is all wisdom derived from the ancients.

                Society will change without our consent or dissent anyway. But we can affect the outcome if we participate in those changes.Report

              • Avatar Ethan Gach says:

                I’m assuming those things are somehow related. That is, people act based on how they actually feel (moral outrage, fear, hope, etc.)

                So my question is how you can affect change, or participate positively in democracy when you either a.) don’t have any beliefs, even tentative ones, or b.) every belief you have is buried in so much ironic winking and escoteric referentialism that it becomes null and void because no one can effectively interpret the belief and the belief loses power as a motivating force for the individual because they have obscured it even from themselves.Report

      • Avatar Damon says:

        Honestly, my comments were not necessarily related to your post. I just find them annoying and was venting. 🙂Report

  9. Avatar NewDealer says:

    Another thing I’ve noticed about hipster irony is how much distress it causes the non-ironic and is also terribly hard to explain.

    This happened on another internet community. We were talking about hipster irony especially the resurgence of cupcakes and 1950s style cakes and how part of the appeal is “ironic”. Another member came in very concerned and said “But what if you just like cupcakes and whopee pies? They are convenient handheld snacks!”Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck says:

      Well, you can like convenient handheld snacks just fine, but they have to be artisan handheld snacks made from locally-sourced ingredients by local bakers working in a nontraditional facility. And limited availability is a feature–it puts us more in tune with our agrarian ancestors who had to live off the land and make do with what they could find, rather than guzzling fossil fuels and belching out carbon dioxide to get chemically-mutated “strawberries” (I use the quotes because nothing that unnatural should really be considered food) from, like, a thousand miles away just so you can have your “strawberry filling” (which is mostly just corn syrup anyway, because the Coke corporation has got us all addicted to it, seriously there have been actual studies showing that you can get addicted to corn syrup!)Report

  10. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    As you describe them, hipsters sound a bit like courtiers each with their own hand-held Versailles, offering up airy bon mots, but not actually saying anything that might allow the opposition a handle to take them down with. One of the beauties of French is you can construct gorgeous sentences that don’t actually say anything. Maybe it’s now the same with English.Report