October 14th, 2007

Simon Says: I’m a Hipster?

Dang. I think Simon just referred to my blog as “hipster chatter.” Them’s fightin words, Reynolds.

I mean, I’m sayin, I only own one belt and maybe 3 pairs of sneakers, tops.

For serious tho, I’m very curious to know what constitutes hipsterism — for Simon and for others — at this moment in time. What makes a hipster a hipster? What value does the term retain if we begin playing fast and loose with it, if we begin labeling a rather wide variety of practices and perspectves as hipster-ish?

It’s clear that the value of hipster today is one of racial/class critique — that is, we usually use it to describe a certain kind of privileged (i.e., white) fascination with / appropriation of black culture. (Of course, how that applies to “chatter” about jumpstyle — which is about as far from “blackness” as we can get — is another question.) The term hipster has become, almost exclusively I think, a pejorative. (Are there any self-identified hipsters out there? I don’t think so.) And the meanings of hip and hipster have clearly changed quite a bit over the past 50 years, as Joe Twist pointed out a little while ago (see also).

I wonder about these questions not just for navel-gaze-ish, anxious reasons, but for intellectual and activist reasons too. I wonder about both what is problematic and what might be productive / progressive about hipster engagement, hipster practice, hipster ideologies. Indeed, this is something I’m really trying to wrap my head around at the moment, for I’m working on a paper that deals with what I’m calling “Global Ghettotech and the Postcolonial Hipster” — basically, trying to make sense, with some self-reflection no doubt, of the circulation of nu-whirled music in the blogosphere and beyond.

Toward that end, I would be grateful to any readers who care to add their two cents to the discussion. Allow me to pose a few possibly provocative questions:

1) Do you think I’m a hipster?

2) Do you think you’re a hipster?

3) Do you think Simon Reynolds is a hipster?

4) What is a hipster — and is hipsterism an unmitigatedly bad thing?

Curious to hear what people think, and the reasons why –

33 Comments Add your own

  • 1. jon  |  October 14th, 2007 at 6:35 pm

    dunno man, maybe it’s because you’re constantly posting hyper-analytical pop culture critiques using a completely incongruous writing style… sort of makes *both* aspects seem out of place (natch).

    on a less serious note, there are self-identified hipsters out there. they don’t use the current young definition of hipster.

    i have no idea who simon reynolds is and i don’t care.

    hipsterism is not necessarily a bad thing. same goes for sociopathy and free love.

    you’re too smart to be a hipster and too self-conscious not to be. you know the answer better than anyone else.

  • 2. Channing  |  October 14th, 2007 at 6:42 pm

    That piece read like most British journalism — as if it were written at the wrong end of a loaded thesaurus. Look at how much text he squoze out of the genre-hopping of a human who just broke two decades (especially when there’s so much more to talk about concerning that artist); how can a real music blogger bring up the fact that someone’s getting dissed for being involved in a now-unpopular genre when they were fifteen and not even reserve a participle for how crazy that is?

    In other words, do you really hope to score any palpable hits in a verbal battle against someone who must be getting paid by the word?

    As Momus photographed, “The intellectual is one who has found something more interesting to think about than sex”; perhaps a hipster is the inferred negative of that statement.

  • 3. kevin  |  October 14th, 2007 at 7:12 pm

    dang, doggie, you’re playing with flames on this one! my discomfort with the popularity of this term is the kind of thing i only discuss behind closed doors.

    for your next trick, can you do a close reading of the hipster olympics?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kAO4EVMlpwM

  • 4. JDS  |  October 14th, 2007 at 10:49 pm

    It’s the kind of word that defines itself by how easily it slips through your fingers, no? I can turn in circles in my head about this subject for a while (‘a while’ being how long it takes for me to slap myself on the cheek and get back to whatever it is I was supposed to be doing, but then there’s no money in this line of thought for me ;-) without coming to any conclusions.

    Your ‘illadelph dispatch’ thoughts about the increasing playfulness of racial categories, esp. in the u.s., rang true to me particularly because of your willingness to acknowledge that the scores have not been not settled despite interesting changes afoot (assuming I understood you correctly). I wonder if to some extent, rather than moving towards any kind of resolution of racial inequalities and historic injustices, this playfulness balances an equal and opposite seriousness. The space to explore expression expands, and a certain kind of freedom takes shape, but this doesn’t mean that a more violent and unacceptable transgression is no longer possible. That is to say, the game itself is a serious space, and the consequences of a false step have not been softened. Maybe the category of ‘hipster,’ whatever it once meant, is one mode of entry into this space of identity play, the way a ‘certain kind of person’ enters the game. What kind of person? The kind of person who wouldn’t want to have to admit to being the kind of person they are, if you get me. That is to say, the kind of person whose most ‘authentic’ state is not something they’d want to wear on their sleeve. (And I vote for your understanding of ‘authenticity’ as both constructed and real, by the way.)

    (Just kidding about the money, if I could do what you do, I would.)

    Sorry for the long comment: am I a hipster? I kind of don’t give a shit anymore one way or another, although when I did give a shit I probably would’ve tried to dodge the label. Certainly my music-listening proclivities plus socio-economic/ethnic background put me squarely in the category as it’s been undefined. But I am concerned with pursuits that focus on the real fact of a really imbalanced and unjust world, and the fact that I’m in some kind of position to try to address that in my own small (but hopefully slightly effective) way. With the road I’m trying to put myself on, I imagine that I’ll eventually have to confront facts about my own identity in ways that I can’t quite imagine right now. Whatever labels might apply to me between here and there are what they are, and that’s that.

  • 5. DJ C  |  October 15th, 2007 at 12:30 am

    Well you do have a pair of dancing banana .gif animations rokin’ the devil-sign over there, so…

    I think that you fit well within The Hipster Handbook’s definition of a hipster:

    “hip . ster -\hip-stur(s)\n. One who possesses tastes, social attitudes, and opinions deemed cool by the cool. (Note: it is no longer recommended that one use the term “cool”: a Hipster would instead say “deck.”) The Hipster walks among the masses in daily life but is not a part of them and shuns or reduces to kitch anything held dear by the mainstream. A Hipster ideally possesses no more than 2% body fat.”

    Well at least there are a lot of deck folks who who deem you deck.

    I also think it’s safe to say that you, Simon, myself, and prolly many other folks who read your blog are hipsters if you use the “Clues” also from The Hipster Handbook:

    “11 Clues You Are a Hipster
    1. You graduated from a liberal arts school whose football team hasn’t won a game since the Reagan administration.
    2. You frequently use the term ‘postmodern’ (or its commonly used variation ‘PoMo’) as an adjective, noun, and verb.
    3. You carry a shoulder-strap messenger bag and have at one time or another worn a pair of horn-rimmed or Elvis Costello-tyle glasses.
    4. You have refined taste and consider yourself exceptionally cultured, but have one pop vice (ElimiDATE, Quiet Riot, and Entertainment Weekly are popular ones) that helps to define you as well-rounded.
    5.You have kissed someone of the same gender and often bring this up in casual conversation.
    6. You spend much of your leisure time in bars and restaurants with monosyllabic names like Plant, Bound, and Shine.
    7. You bought your dishes and a checkered tablecloth at a thrift shop to be kitschy, and often throw vegetarian dinner parties.
    8. You have one Republican friend whom you always describe as being your ‘one Republican friend.’
    9. You enjoy complaining about gentrification even though you are responsible for it yourself.
    10. Your hair looks best unwashed and you position your head on your pillow at night in a way that will really maximize your cowlicks.
    11. You own records put out by Matador, DFA, Definitive Jux, Dischord, Warp, Thrill Jockey, Smells Like Records, and Drag City.
    12. You have downloaded R. Stevie Moore videos and have attempted to enjoy them.

    11 Clues You Are Not a Hipster
    1. You teach Sunday school.
    2. You use hair spray and wear pleated pants or pastel dress suits.
    3. You are a big fan of the suburbs and vinyl siding.
    4. You have a special ‘spill shirt’ that you wear when you eat dinner at night.
    5. You like to watch college football.
    6. You read novels with raised lettering on their covers.
    7. You eat at Popeye’s on a regular basis.
    8. You listen to the Dave Matthews Band while driving in your SUV.
    9. You wear holiday-themed sweaters with Santa Clauses, jack-o’-lanterns, and snowflake patterns knitted onto them.
    10. You work in an office building that has a man-made pond and a fountain in its front lot.
    11. You consider Jim Breuer to be a comic genius.”

    I do think these rules may be a bit dated, ’cause I’ve definitely seen some hipsters waring holiday-themed sweaters.

    Just for the record, I don’t think Simon was necessarily calling you a “hipster chatterer” but was referring to all of us and the hipster chatter that resulted from your jumpstyle post.

  • 6. johnnn  |  October 15th, 2007 at 2:39 am

    I feel like Simon is using it pretty non-offensively in this case, and none of what I’m about to write really applies to him, but since you asked -

    I feel like 99% of the time hipster is basically a word that people who are insecure about being too old and/or culturally out of touch use to describe younger and/or more clued in types who are still able to keep up with and/or contribute to the latest and greatest in popular culture. yeah a lot of that popular culture is made by blacks and other non-whites, especially when compared to the heavily white universe of consumers/commentators on said popular culture, but how is that news at all to anyone that’s followed pop culture during any time in the past century? especially when new technologies and, yes, economic development more generally are – gradually, but clearly – allowing the appropriatees to appropriate from the traditional appropriators (‘rock star’ etc, not to mention a million other examples of hip-hop appropriating white culture), giving minority critical perspectives voice via the internet, and generally making the universe of consumers less and less white (black teen-driven dance crazes on Youtube, blipsters, etc)

    not that there aren’t interesting things to say about contemporary culture and “hipsters” and race, but 99% of the time I feel like “hipster” is a word that says a lot more about the people using it than anything else. it’s a perjorative meant to marginalize or trivialize fast-changing trends and those that are conversant in them so as to reduce the threat to the user’s fragile self-image of themselves as still ‘with it’ – the race thing is a false flag, it’s just moralistic camouflage to justify clinging to boring, conservative (and to be honest usually way ‘whiter’) tastes. god knows I am not really as with it on most things as I could be and god knows I feel threatened by how fast shit is moving and how awesome and cool younger kids are but please fucking shoot me if I ever start throwing that word around unironically

  • 7. chris  |  October 15th, 2007 at 8:09 am

    hehe

    when i think of hipsters I think of the mac guy off the US mac/pc ads. I suppose being a hipster stopped being hip (novel) when it became enough of a cliche to be tapped into by advertising executives (who are themselves probably hipsters).

    The hipster is a mediator, one which has mediated black culture for a white audience in the past, but first and foremost mediates novelty, making it more familiar and therefore (advertantly or inadvertantly) more paletable for mass culture. Being a hipster (as opposed to a geek) presumes an audience which is why it isn’t usually a self-reflexive term. How you feel about the worth of this act of mediation probably depends how you feel about mass culture and who you think profits from it. a progressive re-alignment of the term hipster (and the cultural role it refers to) would probably have to go hand in hand with a re-figuring of mass culture to something created and owned by the mass of people rather than a few.

  • 8. JoeRuckus  |  October 15th, 2007 at 9:37 am

    I saw the term used with a sense of approval a couple of days ago:
    “It’s a shame Felix Da Housecat has kinda fallen out of favour with the hipsters – though I never heard the ‘Devin Dazzle’ record, so it may well be justififed – cause he still puts out great pop records.” Wirewool wants the hipsters to recognise this music’s quality, perhaps so they’ll talk about it more. It may not be approval; hipsters could still have a useful function or play a valuable role even if no-one’d want to be one…

  • 9. On The Download - Are you&hellip  |  October 15th, 2007 at 12:56 pm

    [...] thrift store and talk about things like books, music, films and art.” What say you, OTD readers? Are you a hipster? Do you think of it as a negative term? Or do you wish it would disappear, or develop a sudden powerwherein anyone who uttered the word would spontaneously combust? Maybe if we generate enough response, we’ll start a petition to retire “hipster” from American journalist vocabulary. [...]

  • 10. carlos  |  October 15th, 2007 at 7:43 pm

    i imagine there’s a lot of overlap between the terms “hipster” and “scenester” since, despite not really meaning the same, they conjure up images of the same stereotype. “scenester” though, implies (social) ascension as an objective.

    i’m with john on this one, i don’t think it’s really a race thing anymore (though i think it’s safe to say this has played a foundational role). there’s something really threatening to a lot of quitely conservative people about the constant reconstruction that is made visible by so-called hipster trends.

  • 11. pete murdeer  |  October 16th, 2007 at 1:26 am

    nah man you post pictures of beaches and sunsets most of the time ;)

  • 12. Ty  |  October 16th, 2007 at 4:00 am

    “it’s hardly news that” Reynold’s calls you ‘hipster chatter’ to try and establish his own position as Critical Authority, whose ‘writing’ (*not* chatter) is unmoved by fads & scenes, innit?

    Reynolds’ invocation of hipster tropes is a defensive gesture — after all, your ‘chatter’ is super-smart and you were talking about the same things Reynolds discussed well before he did — so you posed enough of a critical/journo threat for him to (subtly) slag you off. yawn.

  • 13. jaacob  |  October 16th, 2007 at 1:22 pm

    a good way to de-bunch panties w/r/t “hipster” is to define it in contrast to “scenester”: a scenester makes or does something for “the scene” (whatever that may be)– they are in bands, they book shows, they write zines/webpages, they make flyers, and so forth. a hipster merely consumes the fruits of the scenester’s labor– they go to shows, they wear the t-shirts, and so on. and we don’t have to couch this in musical terms- you can label scenesters and hipsters in any scene with a DIY aspect.

    anyway the question is, are hipsters bad? well, i think that everyone should be directly involved in things they ostensibly care about (SOGOTP), so i would say yes, but maybe your individual views differ (maybe you’re not all punks).

  • 14. vamanos  |  October 16th, 2007 at 2:55 pm

    I don’t really know about exactly who is and who ain’t a hipster. But in music blog circles Hipster seems to be used as an expression who covers ‘fashionable’ music. As far as black or white music, i think its irrelevant. If you’re labelled as a hipster for writing about new scenes, genres, artists then maybe you are being seen as ‘hip’ by people that haven’t heard about what your chatting about and decide themselves that the subject is ‘cool’.

    At the weekend I paid my first visit to Willamsberg in Brooklyn and was informed by my NY friend that it was the home of Hipsters. As I looked around I kind of understood what he meant; beards, carefully considered scruffy people wearing vintage sneakers clutching designer boutique clothes shop bags, roll up in one hand and a beer in the other. Not a million miles from Shoreditch in East london. This doesn’t necessarily mean they are all certified music geeks that are addicted to writing about cutting edge music new whirled, indie, hip hop or whatever. They walk with assurance that they are being seen in the ‘right’ fashionable spot at the ‘right’ time.

    I don’t think hipsters are necessarily soley consumers however. They are merely people that conciously wear their hip credentials on their sleeve by way of fashion, conversation, any external symbols of their chosen cultural tribe.

  • 15. wayneandwax  |  October 17th, 2007 at 9:18 am

    Just want to thank everyone who has commented here. These are really illuminating perspectives for me, and I appreciate y’all weighing in. I’m still not convinced that race has been erased from the “hip(ster)” equation, but it’s interesting to hear from so many of you who think it has.

    I’ll be reporting back here in due time — probably in the next week or so — as I read through some of the “classic” hipster lit. Just found an autographed copy of Mailer’s Advertisements for Myself in the Brandeis Library yesterday !

  • 16. John  |  October 18th, 2007 at 12:23 pm

    I think that in the UK, hipster doesn’t have the same connotations as it appears to have in the US. I’ve never heard it used in any sense other than meaning someone who is self-consciously fashionable. Certainly there can be a pejorative slant to that, because it suggests somebody who is interested in something (such as a subgenre of music) simply because it is ‘cool’. Maybe I’ve missed it, but I’ve never detected anything to do with white appropriation of black cultural forms.

  • 17. Boima Tucker  |  October 18th, 2007 at 12:35 pm

    Informed hipster interest sometimes leads to => verizonwireless.com/juke (Have you seen the commercial?)

  • 18. wayneandwax  |  October 18th, 2007 at 6:49 pm

    Haven’t seen the commercial yet, but I’ve been told about it several times already. Since you mention it, juke is one of my examples in the paper, as well as kuduro. It’s pretty interesting how both have circulated in the last year or so. That’s the global ghettotech side of the paper, the poco hipster bit is about how this circulation relates to a certain cosmo-theoretical cultural politics of consumerism that paradoxically attempts to transcend race (and hence, class) by blithely playing with its symbols.

    Or something like that. Still workin. Need to get the body fat down to 2%.

  • 19. Nabeel Zuberi  |  October 19th, 2007 at 5:54 am

    Hi Wayne, I think calling you a hipster was meant to acknowledge you as someone ‘in the know’ with the right subcultural capital. You are a permanent link on the Blissed Out blog so it may not have meant to sound mean. He looks to your work to find stuff he can riff on. Fair enough, but.. The Brits do tend to use the phrase ‘hipster’ to describe fashionability with the US ‘racial baggage’ being obscured. I guess that’s what they did with Techno too. Behind the hipster thing though, I find the whole desire to be racially authentic a bag of bullshit. It just sounds like a term that we should get over. It’s so 1950s and locked into what Grossberg calls the ‘rock formation’ and its masculinities. Having said that, I love that track by John Lee Hooker where he just boom-booms it on ‘This is hip’. Hipster is another manifestation of the black-white minstrelsy dynamic that continues to vex. USAnian biculturalism is huge in postwar pop music discourse in the Anglo world. Anyhow, I reckon Simon thinks he’s a hipster. I love much of his work; he can sure turn a phrase, and he continues to inspire and influence things I write. But I also find his trainspotterism and elitism really exasperating. Some of that work has its own racial hangups though only a few writers have called him on it. In my book Sounds English, I wrote about the nonsensical stuff he said about jungle and black middle-class music taste in one of his pieces in The Wire years ago. In Disorienting Rhythms, Koushik Banerjea gave Simon an appropriate hiding for his criticisms of black British and (South) Asian British listeners of soul and jazz-funk. Like black people have to ‘rinse it out’ with shuddering bass lines every time to be authentic. He demonstrates a not untypical middle-class fantasy of the working-class (very British and middle-class to have street cred) on to race. His writing on gender and sexuality is also simplistic and hasn’t really gone much beyond binary thinking. I also find the stuff he’s written about M.I.A. quite revealing. He’s basically got a version of the ‘wandering Jew’ critique for her and what he calls ‘slum house’, as opposed to the somehow authentically local sound of grime and dubstep. I have my own problems with M.I.A. though I like many of her tune and the remixes, but this bothers me. I’m writing about this for a collection on postwar British music to show how British critics still have an ‘authenticity’ hierarchy. Funny how this week he’s celebrating a Croatian Serb musician who was also a refugee in the UK. But of course, the guy’s playing hardcore stuff that rinses it out. It’s not pop. Reynolds is steeped in rockist view of dance musics. I know you use Energy Flash in your course, and it’s exhaustive as much of Reynolds’ work is–finding the details of artists and crafting them into a master narrative of the social; but it’s like reading an intellectually thinner version of Charlie Gillett’s The Sound of the City, dressed up in academic drag. I applaud writers like Reynolds and K-Punk for trying to be serious and analyse pop with gravity, but they often dodge some basic intellectual questions about culture and politics with their juggernaut quotations of French theory and dollar Freudianism. I suppose that notion of critic as hipster is still with us. Oscar Wilde, Addison De Witt from All About Eve, George Melly, Lester Bangs, Paul Morley, and now Simon. I think Ian Penman’s actually got better unlike Morley. Geez, I’m rambling, got to get back to writing something else.

  • 20. gary/ebog  |  October 19th, 2007 at 12:05 pm

    Yes.
    Yes.
    Yes.

    I dunno 100% about “we usually use it to describe a certain kind of privileged (i.e., white) fascination with / appropriation of black culture,” as I use hipster pretty freely to describe demos like white emo boys wearing skinny ladies jeans. Those kids seemed marked by an anti-fascination with black culture, and it’s never occurred to me that they weren’t hipsters.

    (This is an aside, but a bud of mine has a useful coinage for certain kinds of ubiquitous scruffy, nice messenger bag-having, urban white hipsters – dirty pigeons. It really rolls off the tongue!)

    This is directed at the so-called problematique – not at you! – but there is something of a good-taste policing mechanism that makes probing the question of one’s own status as hipster feel unseemly. It like wondering whether or not one is beautiful, which only leads to two places, really, narcissism or the audition room of America’s Next Top Model.

    Hipsterism, otaku and cool hunting all seem related to me, market relations where instead of buying the right thing or being the right thing (i.e. this years America’s Next Top model) you need to know it at the right moment. Otaku is hipsterism gone sour, old or obsessive, but if you think about that too much you start thinking about things like nerd- and geekery, which is only worth the trouble if you are making some kind of internet money.

    Completely unrelated, but when I went to the jumpstyle pages I immediately thought of north Africa (or was it the Romani?)

  • 21. Nabeel Zuberi  |  October 19th, 2007 at 4:07 pm

    I know we care about the sounds that move us, but why have we got to have this connoisseurship fetish as such a dominant mode that defines the way we listen to, talk about, and order music into categories? It is part of a consumerist ethos of self that is highly developed in late capitalism. I shop for the right things, therefore I am cool. I’m with Bourdieu and Distinctions on this one.

    No accident that Mailer’s essay on the hipster in the 1950s and Sontag’s later essay on camp in the 1960s emerge in the real amping up of consumer-service based capitalism and ‘identities’ emerging through social movements like Civil Rights and Gay Liberation. In consumer capitalism, increase demands for the goodies, and make distinctions. While piratical in some respects, the dubplate, bootleg and micro-scene are part of that logic too. Capital needs to keep generating differences and niches to create new exchange values.

    I think Andrew Ross attempted some kind of genealogy of the hipster. But there are links between the Romantics who thought they were aloof from the masses and the industrial revolution, when they were precisely products of it. You have the urban bohemian, the dandy and so on.

    Of course this all caught up in the production of racial categorization. Edison’s marketing department had their hillbilly, race and dance tunes all neatly categorized. I don’t think Jimmie Rodgers and Louis Armstrong playing together thought they were hipsters, though we might call them that now. But the erection of these differences and their reification produces the desire to ‘cross over’ and think that the crossing over is ‘transgressive’. Transgressing by consuming ‘properly’ today is a simulacrum of transgression.

    I don’t things stop there. And that it’s necessarily all bad, listening can free your ass and your mind will follow and vice versa. Consumerism changes you. But…

    But at the same time more people of colour are in jail in the United States than ever before while hip hop and R&B bumps the mediasphere. The world music section expands as US military bases and bombs multiply in those same regions. I guess the hipsterism of label Subliminal Frequencies with its compilations from around the world, and The Bombay Connection CDs and third-world sampling mania are evidence of the subsumption of so much music from elsewhere into a discourse of ironic consumption-. Check those cute vernacular graphics on the CD covers. Beat Konducta in India, Dr Ox doing Turkey. Again the relationship of the hipster to camp is illuminating, I think. That’s one element of that Nu-whirled music you described some months ago, Wayne, in your excellent post.

  • 22. Birdseed  |  October 20th, 2007 at 8:39 am

    I wouldn’t say I lifestyle-shop for “nu-whirl” music. It’s simply not avaiable to any significant extent as a consumer product here in the global north.

    Instead, I lifestyle-steal the music. I copy the choices of someone else. And this style leader, this connoiseur consumer, can’t feasibly be one of my cool friends. They simply don’t have access to the material. No, the style leader is some mediating Other.

    This relationship has a big impact on the notion of authenticity.

    Previous generations of hipsters have always lauded the primitive Other but disregarded and disdained the expert Other. The Sound of the City has a great section on how group after group of british hipsters have “unearthed” some older black musical style, and in the same breath demonised the current generations of practitioners. (Gillett has of course ironically fallen into the exact same trap in the past twenty years.) This pattern in Gillett’s time consisted mostly of various trad-jazz lovers, then R&B-loving mods and blues-loving hippies, but has since been filled on with northern soul in the 70s, jazz-funk in the 80s, backpacker rap in the 90s and not least traditional world music. The black music of the past is authentic, and only we hip, in-the-know researchers can find it. The black music of the present is a second-rate copy and what the community’s internal connoiseurs think is cool is unimportant.

    With this new generation that I’m part of the discourse is completely reversed. The authentic is, first and foremost, the community-authentic – if the expertise down there doesn’t like it or doesn’t accept it as its own then we disregard it. Older styles that no-one listens to today (or worse only westerners listen to) are the irrelevant ones, those that traditional world music used to dig up and love.

    If this type of attitude towards music is indeed hip (and I, personally, think I’m still a geek) then perhaps the notion of the hipster has come full circle? We’re back, after decades of regarding the blacks as degenerates, to furtively spying on them hoping to catch some of their cool. The internet is our Cotton Club.

    (oh, and re: Jumpstyle – it’s a working-class music style still innit? The notions of class and race are, not least on a global scale, very closely intertwined.)

  • 23. Birdseed  |  October 20th, 2007 at 9:58 am

    Okay guys – Jumpstyle is definately out of the hipster equation. Just saw a video of crap german filter-techno pop group Scooter called The Question is What is the Question on a “what’s new” segment of a music video channel. It features copious amounts of Jumpstyle. And anything involving Scooter definitely can’t be hip.

  • 24. Birdseed  |  October 20th, 2007 at 5:57 pm

    Just found another citation supporting the current dissociation of “hip” from black culture: in this article hipsters are actually defined in complete opposition to blackness! That’s my experience as well – we might be future-hipsters but at least here in Sweden liking only contemporary black music marks you as a hopeless, probably working-class, square.* It’s the everyday joe clubs that play the reggaeton, attracting an audience of immigrant kids from the suburbs.

    You’re allowed to like previous black music (or even better, middle-class white reimaginings of black music à la Arthur Russell) but only from certain eras and periods, and closely following trends. Knowing and liking stuff beyond that makes you (in this case me!) more of a geek.

    * The exception, strangely enough, is Dubstep, whis is some sort of hipster flavour of the month over here.

  • 25. LH  |  October 21st, 2007 at 9:23 am

    I’ve always liked this song:

    I’m hip
    I’m no square
    I’m alert
    I’m awake
    I’m aware
    I am always on the scene
    Makin’ the rounds
    Diggin’ the sounds
    I read playboy magazine
    ‘Cause I’m hip

    I dig
    I’m in step
    When it was hip to be hep, I was hep
    I don’t blow but I’m a fan
    Look at me swing
    Ring a ding ding
    I even call my girlfriend man
    I’m so hip

    Every Saturday night
    With my suit buttoned tight
    And my suedes on
    I’m gettin’ my kicks
    Watching arty French flicks
    With my shades on

    I’m too much
    I’m a gas
    I am anything but middle class
    When I hang around the band
    Poppin’ my thumbs
    Diggin’ the drums
    Squares don’t seem to understand
    Why I flip
    They’re not hip
    Like I’m hip

    I’m hip
    I’m alive
    I enjoy any joint
    Where there’s jive
    I’m on top of every trend
    Look at me go
    Sammy Davis Jnr knows my friend
    I’m so hip

    I’m hip
    But not weird
    Like, you notice, I don’t wear a beard
    Beards were in but now they’re out
    They had they’re day
    Now they’re passe
    Just ask me if you’re in doubt
    Cause I’m hip

    Now whatever the fads
    And whatever the ads
    Say is neatsville
    I’ll be keeping abreast
    Out in front with the rest of elitesville

    ‘Cuz I’m cool as a cuke
    I’m a cat,
    I’m a card
    I’m a kook
    I get so much out of life
    Really, I do
    One more time play Mack the Knife
    Let ‘er rip
    I may flip
    but I’m hip
    I’m hip
    I’m hip

  • 26. wayneandwax  |  October 21st, 2007 at 12:15 pm

    LH, those are some funny lyrics, definitely riffing on the hipster cliches Norman Mailer celebrated in his “superficial reflections” on the subject.

    And I think you’re right, Birdseed, to note the importance of paying attention to contexts of hipster consumption (regardless of whether it’s bought or stolen/shared/DL’d) and how such practices signify against local social formations and cultural significations. This seems to be what many of the Brits who have commented here are getting at when they too protest the associations I’m affirming here between hipsterism and blackness.

    All the same, I think that hipsters today remain as tethered to notions of racial difference as ever, and Sasha’s piece (as well as Carl Wilson’s retort) both get at that. Opposition to blackness, or perhaps better, retreat into whiteness, is hardly unrelated from its opposite, the kind of fetishism of the other which I’ve been framing as the more typical, traditional hipster stance.

    Nabeel’s points are quite trenchant in this regard, reminding us again of how “hip” works in a marketplace that continually produces difference in order to sell new products (or old products in new packaging). Of course, this extends to us academics too, natch, so that some of us are able to produce our set of powerful distinctions by, say, expressing a taste for Bourdieu and his theories. Ironic, yes, but perhaps unavoidable. And of course Nabeel also brings it down to reality: for all of the celebration and slippage of racial signifiers, the class realities of being black in the US are all too real.

    That point brings me back to the underlying motivation of this “research project” of mine: a discomfort with the way that an insidious form of consumption of the other (here, the black other) now extends to the circulation of urban dance musics from around the world. The coexistence of this celebration and embrace of difference against a social reality in which, for all the signifiers of cosmopolitanism around us (esp in, say, Brooklyn, or London), the forward march of gentrification continues apace, makes for a vexing paradox: in other words, our post-colonial neighbors are cool enough to download at a distance, but we don’t really want to live together (or do other things together, as Sasha would have it).

    So as much as I see, pace ebog, that I’m as wrapped up in this sphere of connoisseurship as anyone reading this here blog or anyone I’m obliquely (or directly) seeking to critique — yeah, I like kuduro and juke as much as, if not more than, Bourdieu! — I’m really not ready simply to embrace this role, to come to terms with it, as it were. While I do believe in a certain vanguard of taste — of preferring, say, ecumenical, p2p, DIY, anti-imperialist culture to its others — and certainly engage in a kind of boosterism thereof right here, at the same time, I’d like to think that what I’m engaged in here is also a kind of transparent “thinking through” of this very activity: foregrounding questions of why this or that seems appealing or interesting or good, rather than sweeping along another fad toward t-shirtization at Urban Outfitters.

    There’s a lot to unpack here, and I’ll be posting another apropos post shortly, but again, just want to thank you all for helping me to think through it.

    And for the record, I don’t Simon was really being all the dismissive or pejorative in his use of ‘hipster’ (tho the use of ‘chatter’ is another question), but he was no doubt, if perhaps too subtly, fingering (parodying?) the very thing I’m trying to analyze here: the circulation of so-called subaltern sounds in elite spheres of tastemaking. For better or for worse, I’m a part of that. And it’s something I’ve long wanted/needed to grapple with. Onward and sideways –

  • 27. Birdseed  |  October 21st, 2007 at 4:27 pm

    Can someone confirm or deny the following little (highly reflexive) theory:

    That distance Wayne is talking about is not just a geographical one but a class one. Only with sufficient class difference from the Other is it possible to dig him, hipster style. No-one with a true fascination for the proletariat is going to be of the lower middle class, struggling to be apart, or upwardly mobile from the lower classes. They’re all gonna be from safely upper-middle-class backgrounds and fairly large, cosmopolitan towns.

    True or false?

  • 28. Lev Leviev  |  November 5th, 2007 at 9:48 am

    Hey guys, really great thread. I’m another one from the not-academy. As for “white nerd” I am white but honestly I think I’m among the least nerdy of my friends. Anywayz, whenever people start talking about hipsters I assume they mean me, so I thought I should contribute…

    When I got to college in 2000, people described my style as indie – which was ok but weird cuz I really wasn’t listening to that much indie music…mostly just new wave and rap (back then I called it hip-hop). In 2001, after the Strokes blew up, people switched to calling me ‘hipster’ and I thought it was an improvement. Now my identity wasn’t tied to the things I liked, but to a kind of practice.

    I’ve held onto that meaning of hipster and sort of have worked out a description for the practice – though I know its not what most people mean when they say ‘hipster’. I’d define ‘hipsterism’ as a set of methods (including improvisation, appropriation, role-playing, inside jokes, double meanings) for changing or reversing conventional values. Hipsters believe that to do things with the right STYLE could have great, even magical, effects. This definition maintains hipsterism’s black history without Mailer’s existentialist-slanted reading. I’m glad to be called one and I like to think I make films in the hipster tradition.

    I know this very broad definition of ‘hipster’ groups the appropriators with the appropriatees, and that’s intentional. With it, I don’t mean to obscure the power issues that are obviously the meat of this thread – but to bring them out from behind this super-vexed term. I hope it also:
    1) Makes the discussion get more specific about what kind of hipster we mean. Like, Rem Koolhaas is definitely a hipster, right? But it seems unfair to just map him onto the appropriating-blackness/retreating-into-whiteness scheme ( well I guess he is ghetto-tech)
    2) Reminds us that hipsterism is only modeled on one strain in American black culture – not all of it.
    3) Emphasizes that hipsters appropriate all the time, up and down the social ladder – like white guys who’ve never been sailing wearing boat shoes or black hipsters taking on Mexican zoot-suit-styles (to use an old-timey & conventional example).
    4) Includes lifestyle, slang, fashion, dance, work, sex, public life, etc. along with music (‘sup, A)
    5) Leaves out a moral judgement, tabling that for a case-by-case game of ‘good hipster’ vs ‘bad hipster’ (Speaking of — Wayne, is ‘stylee’ your way of saying ‘good hipster’? Or is it something else? Sometimes I make ‘hipster’ vs. ‘scenester’ distinctions.)

    At least I hope it frees hipster from being shorthand for ‘everything I hate’ (anyone else get scared when the Time Out NY “Hipsters Must Die” issue came out?)

    Cuz…Yikes,
    L

  • 29. wayneandwax  |  November 5th, 2007 at 9:58 am

    wow — thanks for the contribution, lev. appreciate you adding your perspective.

    lots of things to riff on and — per usual — not enough time, so i’ll just pick a few:

    1) glad you brought up the appropriator/ee relationship: indeed, mailer’s beatnik/jazzhead hipsters were themselves inspired by and modeled on african-american hipsters, a la detroit red before he became malcolm.

    2) i think your points about using style against convention are quite valid and apply to lots of would-be or so-called hipsters. a lot of folks, however, myself included, get tripped up on what that kind of practice means when it can be consumed so much more casually and unreflectively (a la Urban Outfitters or the Gap).

    3) By stylee, I mean to refer to a rather self-conscious stylization along the lines you describe here, but I guess I want to signify beyond that that there is a degree of critical self-consciousness built into it — see point #2.

    keep on –

  • 30. Lev Leviev  |  November 5th, 2007 at 12:04 pm

    Word, though I’d add that unreflectiveness and ignorance are sometimes useful ingredients for innovation – esp. in fashion/style.

  • 31. wayneandwax  |  November 5th, 2007 at 12:12 pm

    That’s a good point, Lev. Often really striking juxtapositions / recontextualizations can emerge from that sort of thing. At the same time, I dunno, I guess I bristle at the idea for various reasons, at least in the context of hipsterism. Things getting lost (and re-signified) in “translation” don’t bother so much as a kind of flagrant, proudly ignorant appropriation that I sometimes see in hipster style. There’s something about that sort of thing happening in the US among a certain social elite that makes such practice a lot less charming than when it happens elsewhere, or here but by non-elites.

    Thx for the food for thought, tho –

  • 32. Grace  |  December 4th, 2007 at 12:56 am

    I don’t really understand fully a large portion of what’s being said on this blog. (granted its very late and I’m one tired, unlabeled human being) I uh, think that it says something about what everyone is talking about period that I found this blog b/c I was curious as to the origin of gaudy, holiday sweater parties” and thought they might be “hipsterish” in origin and nature so I included the word “hipster” in my google search and a link to this blog came up. I had no idea that the subject was such a hot topic-wow. Funny: I knew a guy who prrretty much fit the bill for those above-mentioned song lyrics, right down to the “arty French flicks”. I was like “WHAAAAAT” So, I don’t know what genre anyone falls in. Why do we have to “dirty Pideon-hole” people? Why do human beings find it so very difficult to just be real w/ each other? Instead we skate around w/ big complicated paragraphs whilst we stare at computer screens (guilty in this case).

    I find it outrageous that someone I knew and several others I know can fit that song so perfectly w/o trying. Or maybe they wanted to be classified as “hipsters”. Perhaps they thought it was what they wanted; to be considered something that no one seems to quite understand. Sort of like, the “diamond in the rough”, eh? Like “here I am in a deranged society and I don’t know up from down, so I’m just going to buck it all even if it doesn’t make sense to buck it.”

    I guess the answer through all of this, is to just stop talking and be. That’s it. No words. Do what you love and wear what makes you feel good and listen to whatever makes you smile and be done w/ it all.

    I didn’t read every single comment and I’m new to this one, so maybe this has been said before, but you know, its just my two cents :)

  • 33. Annie Rose  |  June 14th, 2008 at 3:21 am

    Lev Leviev, zoot suits were popularized by Black jazz musicians in the 1930s, they were initially called drapes.

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Wayne&Wax

I'm a techno-musicologist, internet annotator, imagined community organizer.

I left my <3 in the digital global, but I reside in Cambridge, MA, where I'm from.

I represent like that.

wayne at wayneandwax dot com

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