Friday, February 1, 2013

A little light culture: I don't want to go to New York City, it ain't the place to be no more

I'm going to start with an outrageous claim: a necessary but not sufficient quality for a woman or girl to be a hipster chick is that she be comfortable in her own skin and is admired by others for this. That is what divides the successful hipster from the many wannabes. You can tell because the subject makes so many others uncomfortable and defensive.

Case in point, Julia Plevin writing in the Huffington Post:

I know I am not a hipster. I have spent the spring in San Francisco and the summer in Manhattan, two hipster hotspots. I shop at American Apparel, have an Apple computer, avoid Starbucks and other corporate conglomerate coffee, smoothie, and frozen yogurt places, and consider myself "unique," but I assure you I'm not a hipster. I don't think I know any hipsters, I don't even understand hipsters. Are they angry at the world? Are they cynical toward modern society? Are they artistic and blasé? Are they smart or plain lazy? To me, that all seems like a waste of time.

Regardless, the definition of "hipster" remains opaque to anyone outside this self-proclaiming, highly-selective circle. 
She forgot to add that, "Besides, those grapes are probably sour."

Paradoxically, while she knows that she doesn't make the cut, Plevin wishes hipsterdom was more elite. It grieves her soul to know that young girls who don't even live in New York City feel entitled to adopt the look.
But the look has gone mainstream -- tweens all over America, from the suburbs to cities, from public schools to prep schools are trying hard to be hipsters. Oh dear, can anything be done to stop them before it's too late?
I mean, we can't allow that some twelve year old in Kansas might be able to pull off a style that a bicoastal young adult who writes for the Huffington Post tried to do and failed at can we? If she can, then the style must, de facto have something deeply wrong with it.

To navel-gazers in New York and San Francisco it may seem obvious that everyone else in the world is imitating them but the equation has always run the other way around. These places have always depended on a constant influx of people bringing style with them. There is no style in music, theatre or fashion associated with New York that didn't originate elsewhere first. New York became important because it was the hub for these ideas in that it had to come there to get broadcast all over the world through the powerful media that was headquartered in New York.

And the reason New York is so over now is that the Internet has made it obsolete. Hipster style has a history in New York but it isn't a terribly important history. It didn't come to town and gel and then get broadcast to the rest of the world by the approved leaders in the media and fashion industries. No, it traveled by the Tumblr Express and went viral on YouTube while New Yorkers were still in bed.

Don't believe me? Look at this paragraph from an unintentionally revealing Time article on hipsters from 2009!
Though the subculture is met with derision in wider society, hipsters have been able to eke out enclaves across the country, chief among them the Brooklyn, N.Y., neighborhood of Williamsburg. But now even that is threatened. The hip have been hit with a double whammy of economic reality (more are struggling to pay rent as parental support dries up) and population changes (the carefully gentrified neighborhood is gradually being infiltrated by squatters inhabiting Williamsburg's stalled building projects).
Hey, that's the premise for Girls three years before the show was launched. How did that happen? It happened because New York got bypassed. Here's the big secret, hipsters elsewhere didn't need enclaves. It fit right into the suburbs and high schools of most American towns and it's been sitting comfortably there for decades now. (When I arrived at high school in a Quebec milltown in 1972 there were already hipsters in residence.) Instead, it's New York city that is desperately struggling to find its own home-grown history of hipsters so that it can pretend to be relevant again.

No comments:

Post a Comment