This entry has depreciated, please click here to read the official article on the Adbusters website.
Below is the feature article of Adbuster’s Magazine Issue #79, which should hit newsstands either today or tomorrow. As a subscriber to the magazine, I received my copy in the mail last Thursday and after reading the entire issue I decided to spend an hour Friday afternoon transcribing the feature article for this blog entry.
Normally I don’t waste my time transcribing articles, but I have a strong feeling that this article will not be published on their website in its entirety and I feel that by sharing it here I’m able to direct more people to the magazine’s website than would otherwise visit. I don’t think Adbusters will take too much issue to my reprinting of their article, but if they do I’ll remove it from my website. I’ve already been their anti-advertisement lackey before and probably helped sell dozens of their corporate flags when I was featured in the Sunday Style section of the Washington Post on the 4th of July, 2004.
What I enjoyed most about this article is that it hits close to home. Depending on what clothes I might be wearing I could easily be considered a hipster under the definition outlined in the article below. However, what’s lacking in the demographic the author outlines are those that bridge the gap between socially aware and unaware. As in, can someone stand for something, but not have it thrown in the face of the unaware? On my behalf, I can say that I’m fully aware of what style I am supporting just as I am aware of what corporations I am not supporting in my clothing, music, and transportation choices (I have two bicycles; neither of which are fixed-gear). Aren’t culture jammers supposed to be wolves in sheep’s clothing that can blend in, but stand out when the time arises?
In this respect, the author makes little room for someone like myself to exist within the rubric of hipsterdom. Can one be stylish, but not hipster? Or can one be socially conscious while maintaining the decorum of that which the author loathes? The inherent irony is that many of the clothes the author points out are also clothing items that were not made in a sweatshop.
As a mashup of all demographics before it, how then will the future be defined by the absence of this mashup? Essentially, if hipsterdom is to die, then how can a new demographic be born anew without stealing some its tenets, much like all previous generations did before it? In that respect, the author attempts to answer this by stating we are at the end of the Western Civilization because we have no where to grow, move, or redefine ourselves. Yet the author doesn’t give much direction as to how we are to accomplish this.
I ask those rhetorical questions above because I generally agree with the author’s conclusions, yet as someone that straddles the demographic at hand, I don’t see the how the demographic will end or morph without some cataclysmic event that forces the delineation between those who have both substance and style and those that are simply posing for the camera blissfully unaware of their choices. Only time will tell…I hope you enjoy the read and if you do, go out and purchase the magazine yourself.
Hipster : The Dead End of Western Civilization
By Douglas Haddow for Adbusters Magazine, Issue #79
I’m sipping a scummy pint of cloudy beer in the back of a trendy dive bar turned nightclub in the heart of the city’s heroin district. In front of me stand a gang of hippiesh grunge-punk types, who crowd around each other and collectively scoff at the smoking laws by sneaking puffs of “fuck-you,” reveling in their perceived rebellion as the haggard, staggering staff look on without the slightest concern.
The “DJ” is keystroking a selection of MP3s off his MacBook, making a mix that sounds like he took a hatchet to a collection of yesteryear billboard hits, from DMX to Dolly Parton, but mashed up with a jittery techno backbeat.
“So… is this a hipster party?” I ask the girl sitting next to me. She’s wearing big dangling earrings, an American Apparel V-neck tee, non-prescription glasses and an inappropriately warm wool coat.
“Yeah, just look around you, 99 percent of the people here are total hipsters!”
“Are you a hipster?”
“Fuck no,” she says laughing back the last of her glass before she hops off to the dance floor.
Ever since the Allies bombed the Axis into submission, Western civilization had 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.
Bu 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.
Take a stroll down the street in any major North American or European city and you’ll be sure to see a speckle of fashion-counscious twentysomethings hanging about and sporting a number of predictable stylistic trademarks: skinny jeans, cotton spandex leggings, fixed-gear bikes, vintage flannel, fake eyeglasses, and a keffiyeh – initially sported by Jewish students and Western protesters to express solidarity with Palestinians, the keffiyeh has become a completely meaningless hipster cliche fashion accessory.
The American Apparel V-neck shirt, Pabst Blue Ribbon beer and icons of working or revolutionary classes have been appropriated by hipsterdom and drained of meaning. Ten years ago, a man wearing a plain V-neck tee and drinking a Pabst would never be accused being a trend-follower. But in 2008, such things have become shameless cliches of a class of individuals that seek to escape their own wealth and privilege by immersing themselves in the aesthetic of the working class.
This obsession with “street-cred” reaches its apex of absurdity as hipsters have recently and wholeheartedly adopted the fixed-gear bike as the only acceptable form of transportation- only to have brakes installed on a piece of machinery that is defined by its lack thereof.
Lovers of apathy and irony, hipsters are connected through a global network of blogs and shops that push forth a global vision of fashion-informed aesthetics. Loosely associated with some form of creative output, they attend art parties, take lo-fi pictures with analog cameras, ride their bikes to night clubs and sweat it up at nouveau disco-coke parties. The hipster tends to religiously blog about their daily exploits, usually while leafing through generation-defining magazines like Vice, Another Magazine, and Wallpaper. The cursory and stylized lifestyle has made the hipster almost universally loathed.
“These hipster zombies… are the idols of the style pages, the darlings of viral marketers and the marks of of predatory real-estate agents,” wrote Christian Lorentzen in a Time Out New York article entitled ‘Why the Hipster Must Die.’ “And they must be buried for cool to be reborn.”
With nothing to defend, uphold, or even embrace, the idea of “hipsterdom” is left wide open for attack. And yet, it is this ironic lack of authenticity that has allowed hipsterdom to grow into a global phenomenon that is set to consume the very core of Western counterculture. Most critics make a point of attacking the hipster’s lack of individuality, but it is this stubborn obfuscation that distinguished them from the predecessors, while allowing hipsterdom to easily blend in and mutate other social movements, subcultures and lifestyles.
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.”
Gavin McInnes, one of the founders of Vice, who recently left the magazine, is considered to be one of hipsterdom’s primary architects. But, in contrast to the majority of concerned media-types, McInnes, whose “Dos and Don’ts” commentary defined the rules of hipster fashion for over a decade, is more critical of those doing the criticizing.
“I’ve always found that word [“hipster”] is used with such disdain, like it’s always used by chubby bloggers who aren’t getting laid anymore and bored, and they’re just so mad at these young kids for going out and getting wasted and having fun and being fashionable,” he says. “I’m dubious of these hypotheses because they always smell of an agenda.”
Punks wear their tattered threads and studded leather jackets with honor, priding themselves on their innovative and cheap methods of self-expression and rebellion. B-boys and b-girls announce themselves to anyone within earshot with baggy gear and boomboxes. But it is rare, if not impossible, to find an individual who will proclaim themself a proud hipster. It’s an odd dance of self-identity, adamantly denying your existence while wearing clearly defined symbols that proclaims it.
“He’s 17 and he lives for the scene!” a girl whispers in my ear as I sneak a photo of a young kid dancing up against a wall in a dimly lit corner of the after-party. He’s got a flipped-out, do-it-yourself haircut, skin-tight jeans, leather jacket, a vintage punk tee and some popping high tops.
“Shoot me,” he demands, walking up, cigarette in mouth, striking a pose and exhaling. He hits a few different angles with a firmly unimpressed expression and then gets a bit giddy when I show him the results.
“Rad, thanks,” he says, re-focusing on the music and submerging himself back into the sweaty funk of the crowd where he resumes a jittery head bobble with a bit of a twitch.
The dance floor at a hipster party looks like it should be surrounded by quotation marks. While punk, disco and hip hop all had immersive and intimate and energetic dance styles that liberated the dancer from his/her mental states- be it head-spinning b-boy or violent thrashings of a live punk show- the hipster has more of a joke dance. A faux shrug shuffle that mocks the very idea of dancing or, at its best, illustrates a non-committal fear of expression typified in a weird twitch/ironic twist. The dancers are too self-aware to let themselves feel any form of liberation; they shuffle along, shrugging themselves into oblivion.
Perhaps the true motivation behind this deliberate nonchalance is an attempt to attract the attention of the ever-present party photographers, who swim through the crowd like neon sharks, flashing little blasts of phosphorescent ecstasy whenever they spot someone worth momentarily immortalizing.
Noticing a few flickers of light splash out from the club bathroom, I peep in only to find one such photographer taking part in an impromptu soft-core porno shoot. Two girls and a guy are taking off their clothes and striking poses for a set of grimy glamour shots. It’s all grins and smirks until another girl pokes her head inside and screeches, “You’re not not some club kid in New York in the nineties. This shit is so hipster!” – which sparks a bit of a catfight, causing me to beat a hasty retreat.
In many ways, the lifestyle promoted by hipsterdom is highly ritualized. Many of the party-goers who are subject to the photoblogger’s snapshots no doubt crawl out of bed the next afternoon and immediately re-experience the previous night’s debauchery. Red-eyed and bleary, they sit hunched over their laptops, wading through a sea of similarity to find their own (momentarily) thrilling instant of perfected hipster-ness.
What they may or may not know is that “cool-hunters” will also be sulking the same sites, taking note of how they dress and what they consume. These marketers and party-promoters get paid to co-opt youth culture and then re-sell it back at a profit. In the end, hipsters are sold what they think they invent and spoon-fed their pre-packaged cultural livelihood.
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 loyalty or affiliations for fear they will lose relevance.
An amalgamation of its own history, youth of the West are left with consuming cool rather than creating it. The cultural zeitgeists of the past have always been sparked by furious indignation and are reactionary movements. But the hipster’s self-involved and isolated maintenance does nothing to feed cultural revolution. Western’s civilization’s well has run dry. The only way to avoid hitting the colossus of societal failure that looms over the horizon is for the kids to abandon this vain existence and start over.
“If you don’t give a damn, we don’t give a fuck!” chants an emcee before his incitements are abruptly cut short when the power plug is pulled and the lights snap on.
Dawn breaks and the last of the after-after-parties begin to spill into the streets. The hipsters are falling out, rubbing their eyes and scanning the surrounding landscape for the way back from which they came. Some hop on their fixed-gear bikes, some call for cabs, while a few of us hop a fence and cut through the industrial wasteland of a nearby condo development.
The half-built condos tower above us like foreboding monoliths of yuppie futures. I take a look at one of the girls wearing a bright pink keffiyah and carrying a Polaroid camera and think, “If only we carried rocks instead of cameras, we’d look like revolutionaries.” But instead we ignore the weapons that lie at our feet- oblivious to our own impending demise.
We are a lost generation, desperately clinging to anything that feels real, but too afraid to become it ourselves. We are a defeated generation, resigned to the hypocrisy of those before us, who sang songs of rebellion and now sell them back to us. The hipster represents the end of Western civilization- a culture so detached and disconnected that it has stopped giving birth to anything new.
Douglas Haddow was born and raised in the interior of British Columbia, amidst the snowy peaks of the Selkirk Mountains. When he was 12 years old, he took a hard fall off his bicycle and hit his head on the concrete, waking up two hours later only realize what he wanted to do with his life. He now lives in Vancouver and works as a magazine journalist.
Adbusters Media Foundation (called Adbusters or the Media Foundation) is a not-for-profit, anti-consumerist organization founded in 1989 by Kalle Lasn and Bill Schmalz in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. They describe themselves as “a global network of artists, activists, writers, pranksters, students, educators and entrepreneurs who want to advance the new social activist movement of the information age.”
The foundation publishes Adbusters (ISSN 0847-9097), a 120,000-circulation, reader-supported activist magazine, devoted to numerous political and social causes, many of which are anti-consumerist in nature. Adbusters has also launched numerous international social marketing campaigns, including Buy Nothing Day and TV Turnoff Week and is known for their “subvertisements” that spoof popular advertisements.
Related Adbusters Entries:
- YouTube Video of Saint Louis Buy Nothing Day 2002 by Aaron Michaels
- Hipster : The Dead End of Western Civilization By Douglas Haddow
- Al-Jazeera VS. CNN on Banksy's show in LA
- p3 continued...
- On Adbusters Magazine's Website
- DC Jammers
- September 3rd, 1967 - what have we learned?
- Adbusters on CNN
- Washington Post: Red, White and Golden Arches: The Star-Spangled Banner Ad
- In Adbusters Magazine Issue #51 - The Buy Nothing Day Blackspot
- Buy Nothing Day 2003
- Think Before You Buy - products by Philip Morris
- I am in the Saint Louis Post Dispatch!