Wednesday, November 21, 2012

An exploration of "hipsters" & the classist appropriation of "irony"

There have been a LOT of articles circulating lately about the problems of hipster culture. Only one of which actually mentions the classist nature of hipster "irony" (which is not actually irony but more an obfuscation of discrimination & appropriation through the lens of "but I'm just joking!")

That is Lindy West piece for Jezebel: A Complete Guide to ‘Hipster Racism’ which in addition it's title focus on racism, specifically calls out the classism of hipster culture.
privileged people descend for a visit inside the strange, foreign spaces of othered groups. Like, I don't know, IHOP. Or that "scary" bar in the south end. Then they go home again. Catchphrase: "It's soooooo ghetto, but I actually totally like it!"
She does a fucking great job of showing how these oppressions are messily intertwined and often operate in nasty collaboration! Hipster racism & hipster sexism are alive and well and fortunately being talked about with delightful frequency in my internetscape, but I have been sorely craving a takedown of hipster classism, which I would argue is a huge source of hipster culture. Couldn't find it. So I wrote one myself.

Now, I'm not going to pretend that I understand the knot of culture and distan that is "hipster" (there is a reason for this and we'll get to that later!). But friends, do I ever have thoughts about them. (and I'm allowed to have thoughts/feeling about things I'm not certain of!).

My partner is adamant that hipsters don't actually exist and that using the term hipster is just a way to disparage another person's consumer choices. While I agree with this on some level I think that hipsters exist in the sense that it is a new social class emerging & being created. And yes I mean created. In my view all social speparations and organizations are created. In the same sense that race does not scientifically separate folks genetically, but that the concept of race and it's use as a metric for separating ourselves socailly has wreaked havoc on humanity worldwide, the false social construct of "hipster" is being used to arbitrarily separate young people from each other. 

I'm unsure as to whether or not I am against this separation. The reason I don't know is because I am still wildly unclear about what the separation is based on. And I don't think this my non-understanding comes from a lack of information. I have a lot of information about hipsters. A vague sense of who is and isn't, and that is has soemthing to do with being ironic or at least claiming to be. It has something to do with being silly, outlandish and throwing the judgement of others to the wind.

I have no problem with, and would in fact encourage these things, but when they are done from place of faux irony, when hipsters wear trucker hats or ugly shoes touted for their comfort & function, it comes from a place that mocks the people who actually wear such things seriously or out of necessity.

I am all for being silly, outlandish, and throwing the judgment of others to the wind because being this way requires creativity and bravery (these are some of my favorite things!). It requries giving up fear about social status. But the problem with folks identified as hipsterclaiming to be doing so ironically, is that instead of being silly creatively, they use what they see & judge others doing honestly as silly or ridiculous and appropriate those actions or characteristics. 

And lets be totally honest here, the folks that hipsters appropriate their "ironic" affectations from predominantly come from lower class, working-poor and poor communities with higher populations of people of color.*

Don't believe me? Can you honestly tell me you don't relate hipster to the following things:

PBR, now a hipster favorite, was historically an inexpensive popular drinking option for working-class folks
Certain types of facial hair have been used as markers of strength & masculinity in working class and manual labor professions.
Plaid, known for it's function & durability, now a fashion statement for hipsters.

How about the increasing popularity of things like "white trash" or "redneck" themed parties?

These are actual quotes from a "White Trash" themed party held for employees of a community center in Bellevue, WA:
I tried my best to look poor
I am so excited to wear White Trash stuff today
I spent all night thinking about my costume
The employees trying out "White Trash" language at the party:
Killer Hat, did you get it at Wal Mart? (this was made by a person who didn't know what Wal Mart was until two years ago)
How much did your truck cost you from your settlement?
Thanks for bringing these gourmet snacks --said about Cheetos and RC Cola
I cant believe they actually sell these! said about NASCAR coozies 

How about the idolization and new coolness of going to thrift stores?

Which I might add as and avid Seattle thrifter, ultimately ends up jacking up the prices at all thrift stores in urban area and even cultivates a market for high-end thrift stores, such as the Buffalo Exchange, Crossroads & Red Light. That's 3 high end thrift shops in Seattle, right off the top of my head. These are places I never go becuase they cost too much. These are places with high production values and fashionably dressed maniquins set in strange poses. I once interviewed for a job at a Crossroads and was deemed "not fashion-conscious enough" to work at at thrift store vintage boutique. Very cool rite! 

This affinity for buying relatively inexpensive, 2nd hand clothes is not, in & of itself a bad thing. In fact I think it is great in terms of getting folks who'd be otherwise unlikely to so to establish habits of reusing serviceable goods as opposed to consuming newly produced goods. 

The problem comes from seeing thrifting (or any lower-class activity) as "cool" and consequence-free choice that anyone can (and should want to) make. This erases the fact that for so many people the act of thrifting is their best available consumer option for dressing themselves. And that the prices AREN'T actually cheap for most of the customers. 

I love thrifting as a recreational activity and am privileged to be at a point where I can sometimes "splurge" and spend 20$ on just whatever I find interesting, but when money gets tight & I really need to outfit myself for the winter (or some other purpose) I must very carefully budget and am discerning about what I choose to purchase. The hipster's version of thrift store would have you blieve that you don't have to care what you buy or how much you spend at a thrift shop, and isn't that just the coolest? The message is that thrifting is just some harmeless fun and the fact that you spent less money makes you smarter or cooler than you peers (implying that it has nothing to do with the practical an very real physical concerns of the well being of most of thrift store's clientele).

The appropriation of the culture of the lower classes (which often includes compulsory elements as a culture of survival) is nothing new and is a trend that repeats throughout all of history (hello Jazz & Blues/Rock n' Roll). I just wish, at this highly self conscious point in history, we could call it out when its happening. So, no I don't understand what hipster means, because hipster culture is so often in the business of stealing the culture of folks less priviledged, laughing about it's spoils, & then saying "I didn't really mean it! Can't you take a joke!?"

This is a process I refuse to understand as logical, ironic, or humane.

*Footnote on OWS and hipster culture: I didn't want to make this post a rant about class discrimination in general but I wanted to note that even today, more than a year after Occupy Wall Street and repeated instances of activists, politicians, and news organizations calling out the oppressive actions of the 1% there still is no concrete national discussion about how we as a body of people (the 99%) largely support and provide the systematic infrastructure for the separations and oppressions that the 1% desires to remain intact. There has been a righteous and eye-opening amount of finger pointing toward those with fantastical financial resources. This is good, but in conjuction with this we also need to start critically looking at ourselves and our friends and family because the culture of class oppression is not just coming from high above. Unlike tax breaks for the rich that shit trickles down. It's important to fight and shout out at distant villains on high, but much harder and just as important to call out our complacency to their voices and its affects in ourselves and our neighborhoods. This is why I've got my eye on you, hipsters.

A huge inspiration for my writing this piece was reading the book Thinking Class: Sketches from a Cultural Worker by JoannaJoe Kadi. if you are interested in class issue at all read this book!

1 comment:

  1. "Rent a flat above a shop, cut your hair and get a job.
    Smoke some fags and play some pool, pretend you never went to school.
    But still you'll never get it right
    'cos when you're laid in bed at night watching roaches climb the wall
    If you call your Dad he could stop it all.
    You'll never live like common people"