Speaking of conservative critiques of hipsterism: George Will’s column about the evils of wearing denim is one of the greatest things I think I have ever read. It seems as though it could have run in The Onion without a single word changed. It reads like some bizarre and awesome parody of Adorno—“denim is the infantile uniform of a nation in which entertainment frequently features childlike adults”—made all the more hysterical by the assumption we must make that he is serious. Presumably Daniel Akst wasn’t also actually serious in the WSJ editorial that Will cites, in which Akst declares of denim that “despite its air of innocence, no fabric has ever been so insidiously effective at undermining national discipline.”
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An interesting point from a commenter at the American Scene blog, called out in this post by Dara Lind, about whether hipsters are important:
It boils down to a question of where a generation of educated, privileged, creative class sorts of people are ending up. As a group, those who wind up being hipsters tend to have a good deal of opportunity, so if hipsterism is a kind of psychological/cultural zombie state (suggested by the Time Out New York article, and the Adbusters article from a couple years ago “Hipsters: The Dead End of Western Civilization”) then there is a vast amount of potential being wasted.
I think that’s partly right: People are aware of this negative possibility of becoming a hipster, and it’s important to figure out what cultural forces conjure that possibility and make it such a powerful and pervasive archetype. I don’t think hipsters constitute a lost generation of young people who were distracted from some important cultural work by skinny jeans and Animal Collective, though. Instead, I think there may be something more pernicious in how the category is feared, how the threat of the label may be brandished to stifle creativity. (Which I suppose makes some want to seize the mantle in a radical act of reappropriation, the way the term queer was salvaged by academics and activists.)
picture taken from soundcoremusic.com
Now that we’ve nearly settled into a post-record label era, a time when big labels are losing money and the only bands big enough to sell large quantities of albums and concert tickets are bands from the past, it makes sense that sensibilities have returned to lo-fi. It made sense in the ‘80s too, when there was the rebellion against the over-produced, super-slick synth sounds, but when grunge took off it kind of trivialized lo-fi’s relevance as a counter-cultural sound.
So, now that it’s easy for a kid in his bedroom to make something sound like the newest Kanye record, it seems like it’s really taking a stand to make your band/recording sound shitty, and the almost counter culture focuses its interest in lo-fi once more. It’s hard to define what is counter culture or indie at this point (I’m sure someone’s already written something about this and given it much more thought than me), when certain online music sites are the source for a certain sort of music fan and bands that would’ve been far too difficult years ago now appeal to every other college kid, this also confuses the genre.
In France, newspapers are in trouble, just as they are in the United States. Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, wants to give 18-year-olds a free subscription to the paper of their choice.
In America, the news media don’t take financial aid from the government, even when it’s indirect. Still, major newspapers are shutting down, and owners are telling others that the end is nigh. As they say, pending death tends to focus the mind. So let’s focus on this: How can an industry survive if it allows other companies, like Google News, to use its content without any compensation?
At a conference last year, I was chatting with Bill Keller, executive editor of the New York Times, and Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google. Half joking, Keller asked him, “When are you going to start paying for our content?” Schmidt stiffened a bit and declared: “We will pay when everyone pays” - everyone with an Internet site, that is. There’s an impossible standard.
Think back a decade to when the music industry was facing its own pirates, Napster and other Web sites that were sharing music files. What would have happened to that industry if a record-company executive had asked the CEO of Napster a question similar to Keller’s - and then simply walked away when he gave a dismissive answer like Schmidt’s?
“We would be in a world with thousands of pirates,” Johnathan Lamy, a senior vice president for the Recording Industry Association of America, told me. If the RIAA had not sued Napster, “the exciting legal, online marketplace we now have would never have been allowed to get oxygen.”
Online sales now provide one-third of his industry’s income. At best, the music business would be a hollow shell of what it is today.
I asked Schmidt to comment; he did not respond to my e-mail. But he did speak to the Newspaper Association of America last week, and promised: “We can build a business with you. That is the only solution we can see.”
There’s another solution. The courthouse. The Associated Press announced last week that it would “seek legal and legislative remedies” to stop Web sites from pirating AP content. The nation’s newspapers own the AP. Shouldn’t newspapers stand up for themselves? (Google, by the way, does pay the AP for its stories.)
You might ask: Why does it matter? Several studies have shown that more than three-quarters of the news you see, hear or read anywhere is at least derivative of something that originally appeared in a newspaper.
Television news has always been especially dependent on newspapers. Years ago, John Chancellor, who was then the anchor of the “NBC Nightly News,” told me of his morning ritual: He would pad to his front door and pick up the New York Times, then urgently look over the front page “to see if we had played our stories correctly.” That was a long time ago, but quite recently a reporter for a major network news show told me of her exasperation with her producers’ timidity. They wouldn’t run her stories unless they had been “validated,” by appearing first in the Times or the Washington Post. The point is, without newspaper journalism, the nation would have little original journalism left.
Speaking at Stanford University last week, Keller expressed his own exasperation over Google and other news aggregators.
“I wince as they run long excerpts of our material,” he said. “I’ll leave it to the lawyers to decide if that is piracy. But it’s certainly freeloading.”
Lamy had a stronger view. “If you are a consumer, and if there is no disincentive to go to illegitimate Web sites, then that becomes the cultural norm - a world in which people don’t understand the difference between what is legitimate and illegitimate.”
Newspapers offer aggregators an easy target when they give their Web content away for free. In a previous column, I argued that it’s time to start charging. A robust debate has flowered over different strategies for doing that.
Meantime, Keller said he frequently encounters the lofty ethos of the Internet age: Information should be free! Wouldn’t that be nice. Wouldn’t it be nice if metropolitan newspapers didn’t have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for their reporting staffs? Wouldn’t it be nice if Keller’s paper didn’t have to pay $2 million a year to maintain its Baghdad bureau? Newspapers provide an expensive product. They deserve to be paid for it.
Keller said executives at his company are poring over precedents.
“We’re looking very closely,” he said, “at what the music industry is doing.”
ABOUT THE WRITER
Joel Brinkley is a former Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign correspondent for The New York Times and now a professor of journalism at Stanford University. Readers may send him e-mail at: brinkley AT foreign-matters.com.
Every Little Step
Director and Producer: James D. Stern & Adam Del Deo
Opening: 17 April 2009
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Plot summary: Every Little Step explores the incredible journey of A Chorus Line, from ambitious idea to international phenomenon. Through 15 years of continuous performances from the ‘70s to ‘90s and a revival beginning last year, A Chorus Line has touched generations around the world with stories so poignant, they could only have come from truth. The film compares and contrasts the original musical with the current revival. It investigates the societies in which they’ve debuted, and why the themes are so timeless and universal.
The film goes behind the scenes with exclusive interviews and footage of the revival’s audition process, revealing the dramatic journey of the performers, and unfolding the story of life imitating art. The real dead-of-night conversations in a dance studio that inspired A Chorus Line were recorded to audio tapes which have been locked away for decades. The filmmakers, James D. Stern and Adam Del Deo, were granted unprecedented access. Interviews, then and now, with the creative minds who shaped A Chorus Line and the cast who realized it provide fascinating insights and reveal the truths behind the genesis of the show. [Sony Pictures Classics]