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The camera is mightier than the rock - click opera
February 2010
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Sun, Aug. 3rd, 2008 06:52 am
The camera is mightier than the rock

hello Momus, I was reading an article about hipsters in Adbusters, thought it interesting enough, some good points. Was wondering, if you've read it, what you may think. b, richmond, va

Hello, B. Yes, I read Douglas Haddow's piece in Adbusters. Joe and Emma were talking about it as they surfed through their blogrolls and newsfeeds. We discussed it on our way out to an art opening. Emma said Adbusters was in danger of insulting its own readers, and Joe wondered why they didn't pick one of the million-and-one things much worse wrong with the world

I have to say Haddow comes across as a satirical character, someone like Dan Ashcroft in Nathan Barley. In the first episode we find Dan writing "Rise of the Idiots", an article which insults the readers of SugarApe, and yet is destined to make them laud and worship him for his cynical vitriol even more than they already do. Dan lacks the talent to cross over from his style mag world to something more adult and substantive. "He knows the idiots are idiots, but unlike them, he suspects he's one too," as Chris Morris and Charlie Booker put it. Like Dan, their series ended up appealing only to the people who recognised themselves in its satirical targets. It preached hellfire, in other words, only to the converted.

Haddow comes over all purple, all 6th form apocalyptic: "The half-built condos tower above us like foreboding monoliths of our yuppie futures. I take a look at one of the girls wearing a bright pink keffiyah and carrying a Polaroid camera and think, “If only we carried rocks instead of cameras, we’d look like revolutionaries.” But instead we ignore the weapons that lie at our feet – oblivious to our own impending demise.

"We are a lost generation, desperately clinging to anything that feels real, but too afraid to become it ourselves. We are a defeated generation, resigned to the hypocrisy of those before us, who once sang songs of rebellion and now sell them back to us. We are the last generation, a culmination of all previous things, destroyed by the vapidity that surrounds us. The hipster represents the end of Western civilization – a culture so detached and disconnected that it has stopped giving birth to anything new."

Haddow seriously seems to be suggesting that carrying rocks rather than cameras would make these kids better and more advanced, rather than worse and more neanderthal. Smashing things is apparently what we're put on the planet to do. "Each successive decade of the post-war era has seen it smash social standards, riot and fight to revolutionize every aspect of music, art, government and civil society." Oh really? Is that why we're still mostly wearing jeans and listening to rock music, just like people fifty years ago? Maybe this "smashing" has always been mostly gestural. Maybe it's a blood-red herring, and maybe glorifying it is a kind of pointless machismo.

Hip subcultures have come into existence, it seems to me, mostly for the purpose of creating art, and of getting the more creative kids in any generation laid (the geeky ones tend to be the ones who need to rely on culture rather than mere nature when it comes to luring attractive partners into bed). Unfortunately, Haddow fails to get down to the serious business of art criticsm -- to tell us whether Dash Snow is better than Terence Koh, and whether Ryan McGinley is more interesting than Ryan McGinness, and why. You cannot dismiss a whole culture based on one sketchy description of a DJ mix. But the Catch-22 is that as soon as you start talking about how skulls are dull, or how Koh is better than Snow, you're basically carrying on the conversation the subculture carries on with itself on a daily basis. Jeremiads are therefore a safer option for the naysayer than prac crit.

Then we come to the apparently-damning argument that the hip subculture can be marketed to. "Hipsterdom is the first “counterculture” to be born under the advertising industry’s microscope, leaving it open to constant manipulation but also forcing its participants to continually shift their interests and affiliations," Haddow writes. "Less a subculture, the hipster is a consumer group."

In an age where anyone can be marketed to, this isn't particularly damning. I'm sure that somewhere, as we speak, a Shining Path Maoist is being sold a Shining Path Maoist t-shirt via AdSense, thanks to a link between Shining Path Maoist keywords and Shining Path Maoist products being marketed in his area. This does not, however, invalidate the politics or philosophy of Shining Path Maoism. It just gives him the chance to proclaim what he believes in via a t-shirt, should he so desire. Let's just take it for granted that anything can and will be sold to anyone, even -- hello, Adbusters! -- the idea of things not being sold.

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".

There's derision in Haddow's article for American Apparel, but no mention of the company's non-sweatshop activities, or the fact that its advertising keeps low circulation lesbian magazines in print.

Haddow also fails to look at -- or even mention -- the centrality of skate culture to hip subculture. Skate culture is a way to hack the city, a way to turn all its hard, inhuman surfaces into an opportunity to demonstrate extraordinary human skills. Skating and street painting turns greyness into colour, and alienation into belonging, and boredom into skill. It's central to big chunks of hip subculture, and it's a political blow against one of the central evils of our time, the motor car, which would make a much more worthy target for a radical magazine.

Not only does Haddow fail to see that hip subculture is a big machine for creating sex and art, he fails to see that being hip can be a sort of code of honour, something sadly lacking in the cultural mainstream. The spiritual sloth Haddow accuses the hip subculture of 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. People in the hip subculture are more likely -- like chivalric aristocrats -- to pay attention to what they're wearing, to experiment, to innovate. As for the value of what they come up with, that brings us back to the hands-on prac crit the Adbusters article avoids, desperate to stay arm's-length.

Sure, the hip subculture, seen from a certain distance (like next door when you're trying to sleep and they're partying), can be frustratingly superficial, conformist, holier than thou. But think of it as something people do in their 20s, and think of 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.

In the end, the camera is mightier than the rock.


Stanley Lieber
Sun, Aug. 3rd, 2008 05:14 am (UTC)


H. Duck
Sun, Aug. 3rd, 2008 06:15 am (UTC)

Hipster culture is not a monoculture - there are a million gradiations, all as full of people who are empty trendoids as they are of people who are doing genuinely interesting things. This has always been true. What's more interesting to me is that there are still hordes of people dressing and acting exactly like the 'idiots' in the nathan barlow clip three years on. This particular iteration of the subculture is becoming moribund and saturated with camp followers, and I am bored to death with the forced childishness of their music, and haven't we gotten over irony yet, and etc.

The idea that there is something especially sick about this particular generation's hipsterism is ludicrous, of course. But your "chubby bloggers who aren't getting laid" comment reminds us of how shitty hipsters can be - the combination of complacency and insecurity among those who are never quite sure they're not faking it, the nihilism, the needless cruelty and exclusiveness, the 'code of honor' (a nauseating way to put it) which privileges the wealthy, the idle and the thin...

I understand why this guy is angry, is my point. I resent the idea that there is no middle ground between being a 'shapeless, floppy' (there's body shape again) middle american and being the kind of person who is hung over until 2 PM every single day of the week. Where does it say that people my age have to act like overgrown infants in order to create art? How can a really vital subculture be so stratified in its affectations that they can be ticked off the checklist in an article like this, from keffiyeh to fixies?

Something new, please. Maybe a victorian revival! Awesome.

Sun, Aug. 3rd, 2008 08:22 am (UTC)

the kind of person who is hung over until 2 PM every single day of the week. Where does it say that people my age have to act like overgrown infants in order to create art?

Are children hung over every day? Metaphorical consistency could save this generation!

ReplyThread Parent Expand

Shit, just shit - (Anonymous) Expand

you're fat - (Anonymous) Expand

Sun, Aug. 3rd, 2008 06:28 am (UTC)

Total agreement with this post and cargoweasel. To make this a cover article for Adbusters is ridiculous. While I will occasionally still be moved by the mag it lost my subscription when they started selling sneakers.


Sun, Aug. 3rd, 2008 07:32 am (UTC)

While I agree it comes off as semi-satirical, I don't know if you're really addressing what seems to be his central point:

'The cultural zeitgeists of the past have always been sparked by furious indignation and are reactionary movements. But the hipster’s self-involved and isolated maintenance does nothing to feed cultural evolution."

Your argument seems to be something like "rocks don't help - we're just trying to get laid and have fun! Nothing's changed in the past 50 years through any of those so-called revolutionary movements anyway."

I think people buy and wear jeans because they choose not to make appearance and clothing a priority in their financial decisions. They also tend to work shit jobs because they have been doomed by systemic stagnation into having a very similar life to what their parents have had - people often don't see or realize the options available to them. Hipsterism is not really an option for the more disadvantaged of society, nor does it do anything to help them.

My feeling is that you and Haddow disagree more philsophically, on the central raison d'etre of a "cultural movement". He seems to be saying that they are a waste of resources, if they are not directly and aggressively challenging the political realities of the day, and you seem to be saying that a sufficient purpose is the expression and interrelation they create amongst their own members.

It may be that the hipster/art/fixie/indulgent aesthetic helps liberate people's viewpoints from the everyday that they are fed and most never escape, and that is an interesting way to challenge Haddow's argument on its own terms.

Personally I just can't stand attention-whoring twats, so I try and judge people based on that, as opposed to how many gears their bike has. It just seems that practically everyone with a fixie is an attention-whoring twat. C'est la vie.


Wed, Dec. 31st, 2008 02:49 am (UTC)

I learned a lot from your response to the post. Thanks.

ReplyThread Parent

Sun, Aug. 3rd, 2008 08:16 am (UTC)

Hipsters are "artists" with marketing degrees.

The Empire Never Ended
Sun, Aug. 3rd, 2008 09:28 am (UTC)

McInnes: “I’m dubious of these hypotheses because they always smell of an agenda.” Oh dear, what is that smell? Did someone let off an agenda...?

So it's nihilism or nothing is it?

Sun, Aug. 3rd, 2008 10:00 am (UTC)

Or maybe it's nihilism and nothing.

ReplyThread Parent
love you from the heart
Sun, Aug. 3rd, 2008 12:28 pm (UTC)

This entire conversation about whether a "hipster" is good or bad is completely stupid. "Hipster" is not a a subculture, it's an epithet. It's just a word that some young white liberal arts graduates use to describe other young white liberal arts graduate whom they consider more dumb or pretentious than them. Find me one person who says that they belong to the "hipster subculture". ugh.

Sun, Aug. 3rd, 2008 12:53 pm (UTC)

..and as for the getting laid business...ughh.

Chubby blogger.

ReplyThread Parent

Sun, Aug. 3rd, 2008 01:40 pm (UTC)

oh ,so is that the word for this generation of pussies behind me?? i've always used the word pussies. anyway, the adbusters article said they don't like to be called hipsters so i'll stick with my own term for them.
not to say that if any of us had been born at this time in world history, here in the western world we'd handle the co-opt of cool by corporatism any better than they are.
it's all gonna fall folks..this whole fake f-in' world we've consumed...when?? dunno.
but it's about which side you take afterwards...and with the way things are going these pussies will be calling for martial law, curfews, 1984 style.... from their condo balconies as the rest of humanity try climbing their condo wall for something to eat.

ReplyThread Parent

(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand

Sun, Aug. 3rd, 2008 01:42 pm (UTC)
my line on hipsters

Most of the people I know that I would characterize as hipsters tend to have rather shallow cultural knowledge. For them, it's about fashion (not style) and parties. I'm more of a person who prefers to spend a quiet evening with a book, so I don't envy them their parties. But I find it odd that the hipster is seen as some arbiter of taste when your average hipster is into the same dozen shit bands as his friends, and the same pop culture inflected visual stye as everyone else.

The people on stage, and the people who pass down The Knowledge, usually tend to be shy introverted types, not these type A scenesters.

Spot on with the rest of your criticism. I just think you give the average hipster way too much credit.

ps: Livejoural support for OpenID is terrible. Doesn't work.


Sun, Aug. 3rd, 2008 05:03 pm (UTC)
Re: my line on hipsters

This is pretty much what i was going to say. Well said, anonymous.

Hipsterism seems to be a lot about what you wear, how bored your expression can be, where you hang out, etc - as Charlie Brooker referred to, both in and out of Nathan Barley, whether you're a 'haircut' (see the 'Geek Pie' episode of Nathan Barley, i think it's episode 5, for the perfect slighting of an attempt at a seemingly trendy haircut).

In London, as im sure in numerous other places, it's still mostly like this - namedropping cool bands, piddling around in dalston, etc.

A huge swathe of the people taking part in this to-ing and fro-ing, contributing to their own and their peers' hype are indeed boring and uncreative when you get down to it - just spend some time having your energy sapped by them and you'll know it's true. I can't believe how grossly unimaginative so many of them are, and that many of them they get away with producing parasitic, pointess crap and calling it art. But, as Momus said, another chunk of them are genuinely doing interesting things.

Increasingly, i know that those who do the bona fide interesting things are the ones who don't need to shout about it. They have the capacity to lock themselves away, get immersed in what they're doing, and not give two shits about the scene. On weekends, or whenever they get the chance, they set about their creative work, because good stuff, unless you're touched by insane genius, takes a shitload of time, dedication, persistence and caring about challenging yourself. The people doing the really interesting, beautiful work are those who dont need to dress fashionably for attention, who dont need to go to the right shows and parties for validation, they're the ones walking away from that crowd and following their own path, come what may.

Way too many hipsters think they're doing this by co-opting the aesthetics/cultural capital of whatever has currency - and there's an awful lot which does - we've inherited decades of great stuff to plunder through and recycle. they believe they've located their rebel soul in some electrobeats or what have you, or they have a book of terry richardson photos and wow look, they take 'edgy' photos too, but when you strip away whatever they've decked themselves out in, be it music, art, clothes, posing, whatever, often the essence of their ideas is, unoriginal, vacuous, or just plain shallow.

[enter most of the output of Vice magazine...]

i can't express it any better than that, sorry...

I guess you've just got to be the judge for yourself as to the extremely subtle gradations of who and what are a 'waste of time' along the hipster spectrum. but then, that's different for everyone.

Maybe i'm just bitter. i think that creativity takes work, and kindling your imagination to produce worthwhile stuff does too, and unless you're lucky enough not to have a day job, how are you meant to get that time to do that if you're always hanging at gigs and parties? Maybe i just need a coke habit and a better ability to delude myself that i'm brilliant.

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Dave Nold
Sun, Aug. 3rd, 2008 05:04 pm (UTC)

In the end, the camera is mightier than the rock.

Yeah, that's the ticket.

I was just read this article in the supermarket isle last night and I thought: "I wonder what Momus thinks?"

Sun, Aug. 3rd, 2008 05:08 pm (UTC)
the camera is /certain distance

Any group attracting this reaction has obvious marketing appeal.


Sun, Aug. 3rd, 2008 05:28 pm (UTC)
Crack-rocks & Lomography

It may not be the best time to point out that America's arch-consumerist culture seems on the brink of collapse... This rich web of over-consumption that has bent the minds of nearly everyone in my generation, combined with the grandiose dreams of bling-bling binge hedonism, runs the risk of destroying this country. From Portland, where I sit typing this, evidence of the precariousness of our situation seems incontrovertible.

The withdrawal from addiction to consumption will prove too painful to Americans, and those who offer the junkies a quick-fix (drill, kill and spend) rather than hard realities (conserve, pay for your own mistakes, save) will sadly win here, come September.

Outfits like Vice and American Apparel are just the current generation flag-wavers for our short-sighted consumerist culture. For those few of us who aren't completely fashion/consumerist victims or living inside the cocoon of the cultural elite, these institutions are as stale and contrived as the Gap ads and yuppie culture they supplant, and ultimately, as un-sustainable.

Without going back to refresh my memory regarding your employment with Vice, let's (for your sake) assume that whatever work you did for them occurred well before their current-era transformation into a magazine-cum-ad agency for brands looking for youth-cred.


While Adbusters is always annoying and holier-than-thou, the fact that they are targeting the CORPORATE culture that is "hipsterism" falls right on target.

Your accord with that quote from Mr. Gavin McInnes does something to display a kind of ugly distain for anyone who would dare to criticize the current corporate paradigm... We are not fat, we get laid, we party... we just don't do it at corporate-sponsored events.

The worst part of your defense of hipsters is that you seem to miss that Hipsterism is in no way subculture at this point. The arguments about skate culture "hacking a city" seem very outmoded. I have to wonder if, upon finally becoming truly famous, you would arrogantly assume that your ideology won, rather than asking yourself if you've, instead, simply been subsumed by the corporate-dominated mainstream.

Sun, Aug. 3rd, 2008 06:11 pm (UTC)
Re: Crack-rocks & Lomography

The "Brooklyn indie" style itself is definitely the mainstream youth culture now; I walk through my suburban NYC hometown and see kids riding fixed gear bikes, skateboarding down mainstreet wearing super tight jeans, etc. etc. It's all over MTV, usw.

But you're forgetting the other half of what people curse about "hipsterdom"--the part where its people sitting in a warehouse listening to field recordings of birds in a swamp while graphic design interpretations their friends made spin in the background. People would say "stupid hipsters pretending to be creative you phonies! you think ur so cool!!!" to that, too. But there are people who like that kind-of thing. Appreciation for old PBS documentaries is as hipster as skinny jeans if you live in a city.

The word "hipster" at this point is a very broad epithet and encompasses just about anything people do now. My friend and old roommate, a lover of old twee pop with a very young fogey dress style, would make fun of those damn hipsters all the time. I'd say to her, "you know, people are saying the same exact thing about you."

ReplyThread Parent Expand

Sun, Aug. 3rd, 2008 05:50 pm (UTC)

First off I am turned off by "Hipsterdom is the first 'counterculture' to be born under the advertising industry’s microscope" because it simultaneously promotes a generational elitism as well as a naivety of just how clever the advertising industry has been for a much longer time than the past 20 years or so.

Subcultures have been a target of marketing for much, much longer than I'm sure most people realize, because subversive and dangerous stuff is sexy, and sex sells, and by the time a subculture has been identified and labeled it is a demographic that is being directly targeted and ensnared by capitalist interests. Hipsters may be more unorthodox in their consumer choices but they are servants to the system no matter how much they may think they are above it.

For anything, oh! she´ll bust her elastic
Sun, Aug. 3rd, 2008 07:25 pm (UTC)

Hipsterdom, Momus?


You know what else the hip subculture is? Incredibly boring. Since Blue States Lose stopped you can't even get a decent lol out of it anymore.

Also I have a feeling hipsters stopped being the hip subculture two years ago and now it's furries.


Sun, Aug. 3rd, 2008 08:28 pm (UTC)

I just started reading the original article and got to the point where he writes

“So… this is a hipster party?” I ask the girl sitting next to me.

It get worse, much worse. How does this man have a career writing articles of this caliber? The more I read the more embarrassed I feel for him..

ad reinhardt
Sun, Aug. 3rd, 2008 08:59 pm (UTC)

that question is so funny

ReplyThread Parent