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Hipster hatred

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Friday, Aug 1, 2008

Rob Walker and PSFK both point to this Adbusters article about hipsters. You’ll be shocked to hear that the author of the article, Douglas Haddow, doesn’t approve of them.


An artificial appropriation of different styles from different eras, the hipster represents the end of Western civilization – a culture lost in the superficiality of its past and unable to create any new meaning. Not only is it unsustainable, it is suicidal. While previous youth movements have challenged the dysfunction and decadence of their elders, today we have the “hipster” – a youth subculture that mirrors the doomed shallowness of mainstream society.


I’ve done my share of hipster bashing on this blog, because the word offers a shorthand way of referring to a nebulous but nonetheless nefarious phenomenon that is related to emptying out progressive and transgressive and subversive movements in culture of their power. Whenever something countercultural gets cooking, a squad of arrivistes appears to forcibly reintegrate the breakaway sect into the prevailing commercial culture, reducing any political intentions expressed into fashion statements by mouthing them vacuously or directly contradicting the upshot of the politics with the way they practice their everyday life. But like yuppie and poseur, the term hipster has exhausted itself, and now it’s hipper to proudly proclaim you are a hipster then it is to pretend you aren’t one. That is to say, the term at this point yields semantic arguments rather than social critique, as Dan Gould at PSFK noted in linking to the Adbusters piece.


As the excerpt above makes clear, Haddow doesn’t see hipsters as parasitical arrivistes but as the people who now make up the ersatz counter-cultural movements from the start. And he regards them as harbingers of the end of creativity. “The hipster represents the end of Western civilization – a culture so detached and disconnected that it has stopped giving birth to anything new.” This is because hipsters allegedly are ecumenical in their appropriations from culture and don’t subscribe to traditional notions of authenticity.


Hipsterdom is the first “counterculture” to be born under the advertising industry’s microscope, leaving it open to constant manipulation but also forcing its participants to continually shift their interests and affiliations. Less a subculture, the hipster is a consumer group – using their capital to purchase empty authenticity and rebellion. But the moment a trend, band, sound, style or feeling gains too much exposure, it is suddenly looked upon with disdain. Hipsters cannot afford to maintain any cultural loyalties or affiliations for fear they will lose relevance.



The aggressiveness of advertising forces hipsters into aggressive countermoves, quick shifts in allegiance to avoid seeming like marketing’s dupes. Eventually, collaborating with the forces of marketing, or conceiving of yourself as a brand, becomes an even more sophisticated strategy for evading marketing’s manipulation. Becoming collaborators becomes a kind of advanced subversive strategy. It seems unfair to blame hipsters for this when the degree to which life has become media saturated has made marketing that much harder to escape. Hipsterism is a symptom of a larger cultural disease.

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