Monday, October 8, 2012

The Man Returns... Part IIa... HIPSTERS

We have covered the basic types of bro, the quintessential replacement-male in this day and age. But now it's time to get interesting. 
Because I have limited acquaintance with "bros," I had to depend on those few experiences and many other sources on the internet and among my friends to be able to understand brodom. The analysis that follows, however, is largely my own, and may bring to light groups and nuances within groups that are not commonly discussed. All that I ask is that if you use my terminology, you cite me. 
Just kidding. This is the internet.


On to the more nuanced (or at least more confusing) responses to the Great Emasculation.

The Hipster - A postmodern version of bohemian artiste dragged through the beat generation and hippie age, the hipster is a much-disputed modern phenomenon. I will not speak here about Pabst Blue Ribbon, American Spirits, Vinyl, and the hundreds of stores and establishments that now cater to 'hipster' taste (Anthropologie, American Apparel, Urban Outfitters). These are late forms of hipsterdom—the corporate response to what is essentially a facet of anti-corporatism. What I will discuss is the mind of the hipster. 
The mind of the advanced hipster is as conflicted as modern educational values—indeed, it is the product of these values. In literary, art, and music theory, a process of negation is the norm—cultural products are deconstructed and revealed only to have social implications (not aesthetic ones). In following this "wisdom," hipsters associate all that they enjoy with whatever identity they wish to project, just as any human being. But because they wish to project the identity of being "postmodern"—which means the negation of aesthetics, and the pretense of 'seeing through pretenses,' making ambiguous everything concerning language and art, as well as a hundred thousand other things (Death of the meta-narratives being my favored summation, first put forth by Lyotard)—the objects, tastes, and actions they choose to endorse must have the component of being unpopular. Now, that does not mean that the things 'they' like are unpopular, just that they must be seen as being unpopular. Schoenberg, T.S. Eliot, and James Joyce suggested that high culture must be initiatory and inaccessible to the "masses" if it is to be useful and meaningful. Perhaps it is this attitude and the reactions to it which has resulted first in the mockery of aesthetic values in Duchamp's work, then in the paradoxical work of Warhol, and finally in the castrated, performative apathy of hipsters. The overused phrase to parody hipsters is "You probably haven't heard of it." Well, that's the point. If you had heard of it, and the hipster finds you pleasant, you are recognized as a fellow, but if you are found to be unpleasant, you are merely posing as an intellectual and/or the thing being discussed must no longer be important. 
Their social positions reflect something even more telling about the modern American public school system. They are typically highly progressive, which is seen as being very counter-cultural (obviously they have not realized that counter-cultures are now the mainstream culture, while 'mainstream' culture, previously defined as Anglo-Saxon Protestant Americanism has now become countercultural, especially in the cities). They are normally rich white suburban persons who care deeply about the poor, minorities, and the environment in the most insipid, uninspired, and uniformed ways. They, whose place in society (indeed the possibility of their very unemployed, reactionary existence) is guaranteed by an enormous concentration of wealth in corporate capitalism, abhor that same system for the general reason that it is "oppressive and  unjust." Their economic habits can be broken up into two groups: those hipsters that do nothing but buy from thrift stores and Etsy, and others that take the easy route and hit up Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie. They glory in the ugly, outdated, absurd, ill-fitting, jarring, shocking, and rude. They interlace very neatly with the Yuppies (described in the next post), but continue to deny that they are essentially yuppies. This denial of their socioeconomic and religiocultural origins is characteristic of course but is also a leftover from the "culture wars" that were fought between the Yuppies (cast as the 'mainstream') and the Hippies (cast as the 'counterculture'). However, neither the Yuppies nor the Hippies nor the yuppies nor the hipsters realize that the cultural wars are over. This is the most important point about these two groups—they define themselves in opposition to Christian, hierarchical society. The strangest thing about this is of course, they won the culture wars. But to accept that would be to accept death, as their entire identity is wrapped up in negation.

Edit, 11:21 pm: A revealing conversation with a friend of mine from Queens shed light on this topic. I think it is important to remember, in opposition to what I wrote above, that the individual choices of people who could be described as "hipsters" are not conscious choices of critique, but aesthetic fascinations. Above I refer more to the genesis of this attitude, which manifests still in 'intellectuals' at elite academies, but is on the wane due to the fact that most of these people are raised in a society that takes the rejection of the previous culture as a given. As my friend put it so well, what we could call a 'hipster' thinks "I wouldn't wish to impose a patriarchal idea of culture on anyone, but I think handlebar mustaches are cool and the only link I have to that culture, nominally my own, is an aesthetic link."
Keep in mind that all I say about hipsterdom has very little to do with the choices and opinions of an individual hipster, unless they themselves investigate their own cultural choices, as many university-going 'hipsters' do. And a small discussion of the word 'hipster' is also important. Note that people we would describe as hipster do not refer to themselves as such, and are aware of the word, but don't apply it to themselves or their social group—if they do, it's usually derogatory, meant to be understood as a critique of a persons motives rather than their aesthetic choices.
In fact, one could reconfigure the definition of hipster as a person who as either consciously rejected their idea of 'mainstream' society in order to individuate and reject the social and cultural valences of that mainstream society, OR one could define 'hipster' as someone who has grown up in a thoroughly post-cultural society to the extent that to find cultural identity, he manipulates the aesthetic detritus of an old society that he finds particularly fascinating or cool.
But are those people really hipsters? If you are inculturated into a self-conscious culture that repudiates its own previous culture, can you really be said to be counter-cultural? In other words, if you are raised in a society in which suits and bow-ties, horn-rimmed glasses, monocles, and tweed are already completely separated from their cultural meaning, is wearing those things a conscious rejection of their cultural meaning, or simply an aesthetic fascination? A fair question, indeed, and one that must be considered on a person-by-person basis. I suppose there are three general "generations" of hipsters.
1. The Antithesis - The first generation was characterized by a conscious rejection of Western (particularly American) culture, and an aesthetic tied to the rejection of these values. This can be understood in the context of the original meaning of the word hipster which is tied to the beat generation and underground intellectual jazz and post-form poetry clubs. You may characterize Andy Warhol as a hipster in many ways, including the embrasure of pop cultural artifacts as 'high' art (thus rejecting the idea of high art), and elaborate aesthetic play. And, in some ways I suppose, you may take hippies to be part of this generation, as those who originally "freed" American culture from the heavy hand of the Western intellectual tradition.
2.  The Irony - The second generation are composed of those who, having grown up in the remnants of the old society, or grown up in the plastic, suburban corporate world that is in some ways the soulless shell of the old society, reject these late forms of society, most often after being indoctrinated educated by the modern university. They affect, then, the aesthetics of hipsterdom still with an intent to reject, often with an intent to shock (especially their parents). These are hipsters are often characterized as androgynous (leading slowly back to our discussion of masculinity). They are very multicultural (as long as it's not their own culture), and project this "identity of repudiation" through their tastes, which project an enflamed sense of irony and deep-seated insincerity bordering on mockery.
3. The Re-Appropriation - The third generation hipster, whom my friend defended as not fitting within my system, grows up in a culture that has already rejected these things. The angsty rejection of the old society is, well, old hat. In a search for both belonging (which everyone needs), and individuation, they are forced into a quandary. Eventually, as my friend noted, all of the rejection of the first and second generation of hipster, finally terminating in apathy, must turn in on itself and manifest in aesthetic fascination. And so the androgyny and cultural irony of second-generation hipsters (that is, those that were raised in a culture that they consciously rejected), was rejected by the third-generation hipsterdom as being insufficient to provide for their social needs—having no reason to reject the old society, but also having a value system that does not allow them to rejoin it, they search for and re-assemble the fragments of old common culture for their own personal use. Whether this can still be called hipsterdom is up for discussion, as their is no longer a rejection of cultural meanings! But since all of these categories are characterizations and generalizations meant to assist discussion rather than provide a comprehensive anthropological taxonomy, for our purposes, the term is still appropriate. Note that all of these categories are fluid, dynamic, and insufficient to describe individuals. But with that in mind, let us proceed.

What does all of this information have to do with masculinity?
Having rejected the androgyny of second-generation hipsterdom, third generation hipsters needed a stronger identity. In the old forms of Western society, there were traditional markers of masculine identity, and, having no connection with their original meaning, 3rd generation hipsters appropriated these clothes, objects, and preoccupations because of their natural aesthetic interest. One may not quite call this appropriation ironic—the worst you can say about them is that they are uninformed or uninterested in the actual meaning of the cultural items.
There are three compensatory masculinities in hipsterdom that I have identified. There could very well be more. The descriptions are acrid,  humorous characterizations and are not meant to impugn on the personality or sincerity of the people themselves. Without further ado,

The pink is because feminism. I have a PhD in it. Feminism, I mean.

   The Hipster Intellectual - possessing all of the intellectual and social positions described above, instead of realizing its ultimate aesthetic expression (that of androgynous, non-cultural apathy), the hipster intellectual instead sports the stereotypical supposed uniform of the elite—tweeds, corduroys, sweater vests, loafers, round glasses, pipes, argyle, leather bags, bow-ties, and apple computers. That is not to say that all people you see wearing these things are hipsters, but if they are all together in what appears to be a parodical manner, you can pretty much assume an intellectual position of deep, confused postmodernism and a political position of progressivism flavored with apathy.
   Particularly infuriating to me as they appropriate conservative dressing practices (how I dress) so often that I am often taken for a hipster, which I find either mildly aggravating or deeply, ironically funny.

I say, old chum, what a chuffingly mediocre grasp of Victorian culture you have.

   The Hipster Gentleman - this ironic chap often sports similar dress to the above, but thinks considerably less often (that's saying something) about questions of cultural and social import. Often seen sporting an ironic handlebar mustache and a pipe, sometimes with a top hat. If he happens to be a particularly romantic hipster (of which there are very, very few), he may intersect somewhat with the Steampunks (more in future posts). Don't be fooled by his top hat and spats with his v-neck tee; he is not a misled peasant trying to enter the upper ranks of society—he's doing it on purpose. In his mind, he has launched a scathing artistic critique of monoculturalism and misogyny by his performative mockery. Either that, or he just wants to assert his identity as being completely unattached to cultural norms—that is, that he is completely dependent on (post)modernism to form his fleeting identity crises.

We swear we just cut down, like, a thousand trees.

   The Hipster Lumberjack - thin as a willow, but sporting a beard, flannels, and drinking habits worthy of a log-hauler from Montana, this hipster wants to appear rugged and woodsy to show his connection with nature. Usually wearing a beanie or hunting hat (even in the summer) and multiple tattoos, he would love it if you thought that he just pulled those flannels off the floor this morning after a long night drinking cheap beer and smoking next to a fire in the woods playing Bright Eyes songs on a ukulele to seemingly apathetic but secretly admiring bespectacled girls who he then wrapped up in the Indian mohair blanket he keeps in the back of his Sequoia. But really, they are carefully chosen to appear that way. The smoke you smell? A mixture of Pall Malls and Campfire Cologne

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