August 14, 2008

I am angry, I am ill and I'm as ugly as sin...


The killer line in Momus's riposte to Adbusters' piece on hipsters is:

    I agree with my former boss at Vice, Gavin McInnes, when he says that disdain of hip subculture tends to come from "chubby bloggers who aren't getting laid", people who are "just so mad at these young kids for going out and getting wasted and having fun and being fashionable"

Whereas I would say the opposite: the problem with "hipsters" is precisely that they are pathologically well-adjusted, untroubled by sexual anxieties or financial worries. Vulgar Freudianism is not without its point - where is the motivation to produce art in people who can get any satisfaction they want, at any time? The very seamlessness of these unalienated, guilt-free lives leaves no material for sublimation. Momus anticipates

    20something hipsters spreading out, in their 30s and 40s, in more and more individual directions, becoming artists, visionaries, eccentrics... or just settling down to bring up kids in a neighbourhood with an organic grocery and soya milk ice cream.

I'm assuming he's joking about the final option, but that is certainly on the cards, another example of the interlock between hedonism and ethics that is practically definitional of contemporary cultural stasis. When Momus cites American Apparel's "non-sweatshop activities" and the fact that its "advertising keeps low circulation lesbian magazines in print", it's hard not to be feel the full force of Zizek's (scandalous) call to withdraw precisely from participation in these kind of good causes.

The idea that these hipsters will go on to become "visionaries" and "eccentrics", however, strains credibility. No doubt, some will become "artists", but almost certainly it will be in that 00s dull-glossy, creative-careerist way which is not a move beyond hipsterdom, but its continuation. "The spiritual sloth Haddow accuses the hip subculture of", Momus continues, "is actually much more prevalent in the general population, which schlepps about in jeans and listens to shapeless, floppy music and sleepwalks through shapeless, floppy jobs." Fair point about the anti-glam slackness of the "general population", but the critique that Momus makes of Nathan Barley rebounds here: if Barley was preaching hellfire to the converted, then the hipsters' refusal of shapeless schlepping is, similarly, only readable by them. We're not dealing with grand displays of dandyism but an all-too tasteful micro-manipulation of codes, a narcissism too laconically balanced to ever trip over into anything so fascinating as obsession, too inhibited to ever register with the gaze of the "general population", except as a vague irritation at the periphery of awareness.


"Haddow comes over all purple, all 6th form apocalyptic", Momus complains, but a too-cool-for-school disdain for gaucheness and excess is one of the sad signs of the hipster syndrome. When youth culture was interesting it was because of alienation, not pleasure-seeking: the sense both that the young were not adequate to the world and also that the world was not adequate to them. I am nothing and should be everything. In their different, and often awkward ways, Metal, Goth and even, God help us, Emo, are still animated and enervated by that sense of abandonment and maladjustment, still prepared to be deformed and made ridiculous by their drives and disaffections. They are adolescent, for sure, but hipster, governed by fear of ridicule, tyrannised by self-consciousness, is adolescent in a far worse way. It is too comfortable in the world; or rather, all its effort goes into simulating the appearance of comfort. It never entirely rids itself of anxiety, of course, and worries over status, over measuring up, roil away beneath the conspicuously apathetic surface, but never in a way that threatens to undermine a centred sense of belonging and entitlement.

All of this returns us to the discussions on class and resentment from last year. Being at home (anywhere) in the world is usually one of the privileges (and markers) of class confidence. The Gavin McInnes' quote presupposes that resentment against the Last Boys and Girls is somehow illegitimate. But it strikes me as a classic case of good resentment - precisely the kind of resentment that, unlike the hipster's studied weltschmerz, could motivate the production of interesting art and culture.

Posted by mark at August 14, 2008 12:14 PM | TrackBack