Wednesday, July 30, 2008
A Slow News Day at the End of the World: Adbusters vs The Hipsters
Apparently, the biggest enemy Adbusters has this month is the scourge of 17-year-old kids with fake glasses and lomo's.
"Hipster: The End of Western Civilization" takes anecdotal evidence to prove that some kids that hang out in dance clubs are superficial, and takes it to mean that all of youth culture is dead and decaying.
"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. This cursory and stylized lifestyle has made the hipster almost universally loathed."
The article also chastises the inauthenticity of putting brakes on fixed-gear bikes. Because nothing else is happening right now? Rather than focusing on the kind of predatory absorption of youth culture that has made certain corporations rich, Adbusters wants to blame the kids for getting pulverized: all they wanted to do is go to an art party, and take some pictures of themselves having fun. And the fact that American Apparel or Urban Outfitters wants to sneak on to their Facebook accounts and appropriate what they're doing is something the hipsters are supposed to be in control of, and resisting.
According to Adbusters, hipsters are out of fucking control for daring to show and share their youth culture. They ought to be hiding in attics as the Urban Outfitters Fashion Police pass them by, lest they get dragged out and sent into a concentration camp, assigned to the labor of taking items from thrift stores, stamping a skull on them and making them into fashionable Hot Topic items.
I know why Adbusters is so defensive: because the hipster scene used to belong to the kind of hopeless, depressing vision of global annihilation that the magazine puts forward. It crushed the hope out of that scene, and now the kids want to dance like the world is ending, because: fuck it, it is.
The entire "bored" affectation is a defense mechanism against the fact that there's so much fucked up about the state of the world, whether these vapid teens know it or not. With so much guilt attached to every form of fun, every expression of youth, there's no wonder a veneer of ambivalence to that guilt is going to develop. It's either going to be that, or anxiety. Anxiety is what Adbusters thrived on in the 90's: "Go off your medications and burn down the system!"
My impression of Adbusters, by the way: "Everyone is batshit crazy because they are not spending enough time in the fucking woods! You are a fucking asshole for not spending more time in the fucking woods!"
I'm not saying the kids are alright. The drugged-up fashionistas of Williamsburg; the kids who smoke cigarettes with glazed-over eyes and talk obsessively about hair metal and make rape jokes, these kids are not OK. But these kids wouldn't be OK in the 60's, the 70's, or ever. They'd always be dicks, posers, over-cultivators of shitty cultural currency.
But to a large extent, if the rest of the kids don't seem to care too much about advertising and the subordination of youth culture to capitalism, it's because they don't give a shit. That ambivalence penetrates everything, unfortunately, but a good number of hipsters also possess the following attributes: Oversensitivity (Emo), Anger (Punk), Creative Frustration (Artscene), high anxiety (Usually, chain-smoking fashionistas).
All of these are actually evidence of giving a shit. If capitalism is constantly pulling the rug out from underneath them by making their lives into a product, they're used to it. They'll go on doing it for the same reasons kids have done what they've done forever: because it's fun, and might get them laid.
Finally, don't take me as saying the hipster scene we've got is the best youth movement. It's not. It's pretty weak, actually. But a lot of artists are working in it, and like any sane artist, you work within the culture you're given, and you hope the work transcends that.
Take an artist like Girl Talk, which is attacked in the article as "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") isn't doing something interesting with our culture of information-overload, then I'll be damned. The status of this "unoriginal" culture is actually born out of the Adbusters-idealized 60's, in which artists acknowledged that technology has made everyone a producer, so now you can sit back and re-work what has already been produced. It's a fine stance.
The problem here is that Adbusters is looking at raw consumers and assuming that they are not producers, simply because we can't see people making art at a dance club.
"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."
Jesus Christ, somebody call diaryland. 1998 is calling, it wants its melodramatic apocalyptic visions back. In an article that decries nostalgia as a means of escaping superficiality, this sure does bring to mind the same, once-meaningful postures of French students in 1968. Sorry, dear writer, but that revolution ended and now has a 20-year-old child.
Youth culture is not, inherently, a resistance culture. Right now there is so much information for youth culture to process that it will inevitably be the mashup culture we see now: 90's indie rock aesthetics mixed with 60's psychedelia, 90's Nintendo Nostalgia from people with Preppy 80's V-necks and ironic mullets.
Are there no activists these days? I dunno. I just like thinking that they've figured out more pragmatic ways to get shit done. They're voting more than the precious Gen-Xers ever did. They're more likely to donate money to a cause than ever before.
So what's the big problem? Could it be that the kids are more interested in hope, and less interested in the pessimistic brainwashing provided by Adbusters, the only propaganda rag for manic-depressives?