Friday, August 1, 2008

Nab sinless progressive in soulless world!!!

If you're a politician, and you have enough big rallies to get somewhere, it's inevitable. No matter how good a conservative you are, no matter how strongly you support the Defense of Marriage Act, you will at some point shake hands with a guy who's fisted another guy.

Similarly, if you want to build any kind of lasting social movement, if you want to advance goals related to environmental sanity and economic justice, you need to deal with the young people. Them with their Myspace and Facebook and flavored cell phones and skateboarder drinks. You can think to yourself how trivial and pointless their ways are, but you still have to get your hands dirty.

That's why it's amusing to me that an influential left-wing magazine like Adbusters is running a cover story that amounts to a prolonged "You lousy kids get off my lawn!" Even more rich is the fact that the author--if his photo in the print edition is any indication--is a good deal younger than I am. Not that I don't have friends in the "Kids today" stage of their lives.

The exposé runs into some problems.

Ever since the Allies bombed the Axis into submission, Western civilization has had a succession of counter-culture movements that have energetically challenged the status quo. Each successive decade of the post-war era has seen it smash social standards, riot and fight to revolutionize every aspect of music, art, government and civil society.

But after punk was plasticized and hip hop lost its impetus for social change, all of the formerly dominant streams of “counter-culture” have merged together. Now, one mutating, trans-Atlantic melting pot of styles, tastes and behavior has come to define the generally indefinable idea of the “Hipster.”

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.

And yet...

Standing outside an art-party next to a neat row of locked-up fixed-gear bikes, I come across a couple girls who exemplify hipster homogeneity. I ask one of the girls if her being at an art party and wearing fake eyeglasses, leggings and a flannel shirt makes her a hipster.

“I’m not comfortable with that term,” she replies.

Her friend adds, with just a flicker of menace in her eyes, “Yeah, I don’t know, you shouldn’t use that word, it’s just…”


“No… it’s just, well… if you don’t know why then you just shouldn’t even use it.”

“Ok, so what are you girls doing tonight after this party?”

“Ummm… We’re going to the after-party.”

You're way ahead of me. Even though the "hipster" subculture has supposedly swallowed everything in its path, the author has little luck finding anyone who actually identifies as a hipster. It's only the label he imposes on them, just as Rush Limbaugh will always find reasons to call Brian Williams a liberal.

Note also that the article follows big city (Vancouver?) youth through late night partying and clubbing. In this context, it would be an uncomfortable surprise not to find some shallow and obnoxious behavior. Which means that you'll find shallow and obnoxious people, and you'll see more of them if your own criteria are somewhat superficial.

The point here is not to mock Douglas Maddow, whose byline is on the article. But to reiterate, he appears to be quite young himself. I know that when I was in college, I wrote a lot of papers which--looking back on it--were somewhat weak in the analysis department. It's best not to cling too tightly to the conclusions you draw early in life. And it's unwise to throw the first stone at other silly people in the early phases of their own.


susan said...

I agree with your conclusion that when going out to look for idiots it's a bit disingenuous to act surprised when you find them. We used to read Adbusters and have appreciation for Kalle Lassen's philosphy but the zine often takes itself far too seriously. This will be bound to rub off on young writers.

Ben said...

I'm sure that Adbusters does serve a purpose, in that there's an elite that relies on people being complacent and lackadaisical. But when you find yourself walking down the street yelling "Impure! Unclean!" it's probably time to take a breather.