Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Those inauthentic hipsters that everyone who really matters hold in disdain

Notice the casual flattery aimed at you the reader. You are not one of these awful people. No! The writer, Christian Lorentzen, is kindly including you in the in group that he too, of course, is a charter member of.

That is what the people who hate hipsters have in common. They see themselves as an exclusive elite but not an economic exclusive elite. They hate the idea that some people should have special status by virtue of wealth  or political power. But they very much want to be elite themselves.

And they are in the elite. Make no mistake about that. Lorentzen writes for the London Review of Books and for a New York publication called N+1. N+1 comes up over and over again if you Google "hipster". They seemed to have had a bit of an obsession about hipsters a few years ago. I know, as opposed to me who seems to have an obsession about them right now. But the N+1 obsession was interesting in that they were obsessed with explaining hipsters away. They were sufficiently self aware to recognize that there was something odd about their wanting to do this (they seem to be painfully self aware about everything) but they couldn't stop themselves.

However elite this group may be, they argue in universal terms. Any member of a proper elite would simply dismiss those they felt not worthy, in this case hipsters, as "not our kind". But this new elite can't do that. Their political views are anti-elitist while their personal desire is very much to be elite. So they need an elite that is open to anyone who deserves to be in it. Yeah, that's it, our elite is different from all those artificial elites of the past because our elite is made up of people who ... well, who what. 

They can't say that it is a matter of merit, that their elite is a matter of merit. They are sophisticated enough to know that that never happens. Every elite tends to be at least a matter of contingency as merit. The only option that seems open to them is the hoary old whore of authenticity. And that is what we see in the bit I cited at the opening: hipster must die so "cool" can be reborn. What is cool you ask? Well, if you have to ask ... then you might just expose Lorentzen for the fraud he is.

The only way to save the mythology them is the Liberty Valance ploy. That is to pretend to be unmasking the myth while actually reaffirming it.

Which brings me to Mark Greif, the founder of N+1 and charter member of the elite:
Greif attended the Commonwealth School in Boston. In 1992, he attended a Telluride Association Summer Program. He received a BA in History and Literature from Harvard in 1997, after which he received a Marshall Scholarship, which he used to study British Literature and 19th and 20th century American Literature at Oxford through 1999. He holds a PhD in American studies from Yale.
That's Wikipedia and I cite it here only to make it clear that isn't your typical middle class hipster's biography.

Greif's smarter than Lorentzen though, and he grasps that pointing at some supposed genuinely authentic group as justification for attacking hipsters isn't going to wash. Greif's argument is that being a hipster is all about claiming taste as the justification for superior social status. And he makes some very solid points about how this move always fails but there is a huge problem: everyone says they hate hipsters, how can they be an elite. 

At every turn Grief forgets that he went to the Commonwealth School. He started out lucky and got luckier. He is a classic example of privilege and power pretending to unmask privilege and power elsewhere. 

Over and over again, he comes very close to stating what should be obvious: that the hipsters that "everyone" hates are not an elite but that they are pretty ordinary kids who aspire to a higher taste than what life has offered them.

But they aren't going to walk into a comfortable existence where they get paid to play taste games the way a privileged liberal arts professor and founder of a literary magazine like Mark Grief does. With middlebrow culture more or less destroyed, neither are they likely to find a path to higher culture. So all they can do is endlessly shift from one subculture to another.

Which, when you think about it, sounds an awful lot like what people like Mark Greif do these days.

Yeah, I don't know how much more time I want to spend on the spectacle of the snake of New York cool eating its own tail either.

I guess the point here is that in figuring out what hipster chick style is, we can pretty much ignore the cultural Brahmins. And I promise, starting tomorrow, I'll put some actual flesh on the hipster bones. And very nice flesh it is!

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