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The camera is mightier than the rock - click opera Page 2
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.


Mon, Aug. 4th, 2008 05:49 pm (UTC)
the one person we can blame for all this

Thomas Scott
Mon, Aug. 4th, 2008 07:54 pm (UTC)
It's important to be trendy.

Stone/camera analogies aside there is actually a lot I agree with in Haddow's piece.
As regards hipsters 'maturing' into "adults who settle down to bring up kids in a neighbourhood with an organic grocery and soya milk ice cream", you have almost perfectly described the new-Tory voters categorised in yesterday's Observer.
Sorry Momus, but we both know that for every hipster artist or intellectual comes a dozen conformist, vapid, glad-ragged ninnies. The sort of scientifically-ignorant twits for whom the purchasing of organic groceries is worth more than an original idea, an artistic passion or a creative impulse...

Mon, Aug. 4th, 2008 08:53 pm (UTC)
Re: It's important to be trendy.

but we both know that for every hipster artist or intellectual comes a dozen conformist, vapid, glad-ragged ninnies. The sort of scientifically-ignorant twits for whom the purchasing of organic groceries is worth more than an original idea, an artistic passion or a creative impulse...

Sure, but what if the possibility of the former depended on the existence of the latter? It would be wrong to kick the scene if it meant kicking away the ladder, surely?

ReplyThread Parent
Thomas Scott
Mon, Aug. 4th, 2008 09:46 pm (UTC)
Re: It's important to be trendy.

Oh, I'm not damning the whole hipster scene - and for that reason exactly.

That much said I find the more thoughtful, creative, intellectual element within the scene does tend to maintain several degrees of separation from the poseurs.
If one is of an inquiring or creative disposition, the company of like-minded people tends to be preferred...

ReplyThread Parent

Wed, Aug. 6th, 2008 01:20 pm (UTC)

The responses to the post don't work as an argument because nobody can agree on a definition of what a hipster is.

Writing about music or art, or whatever element of youth culture, you constantly see people denouncing things they see as overly hip and vacuous as a result.

Most of the time it's just misanthropy, some people like to self identify as being strongly anti-marketing for whatever reason, yet this philosophy has become so tired, this constant stick used to beat art that isn't stoic or violent or chop its own hands off underground, it's bullshit.

People have a right to want the art they consume or the clothes they wear to distinguish them from society, and to distinguish themselves from the weighty lumpen ideas in this adbusters piece.

In any case I don't see hipsters as an amorphous mass of people, in fact, the anti-hipster manifesto is far more set in stone from where I'm standing, and would receive more criticism if anyone actually gave a shit.

It's one thing saying people should be politically active or should pursue charitable or positive causes, it's another saying their cultural choices should be part of this as some kind of all encompassing worldview.

That's college level bullshit, I don't agree politically with plenty of artists I like, I have zero in common with plenty of them.

ReplyThread Parent
Wed, Aug. 6th, 2008 02:34 pm (UTC)
Re: It's important to be trendy.

and the problem with the organic grocery trend might be just as simple as any trend: will it be just that or really bring a new way of thinking global systems? will it always only be availaible to people who can afford it? the same comes with the multi-culti blabla. the hippsters, bobos, lohas and whatever categories of different provenience might be there to describe social "groups", live in the turkish quater but send their kids to some private school where no turkish kids from imigrated families go (I speak of austria now, where also the editor of one hip magazine stated, that integration is good, but why should it be on the shoulder of his own kids?).

but, I do not want to dismiss "hippster" culture in general, because I definitly see an increased sensibility and awareness. but it has the tendency to stop at a certain point and be lulled in by apreol and fashionable sunglasses that, of course, have the right brand.

ReplyThread Parent
Wed, Aug. 6th, 2008 02:24 pm (UTC)
i didnt read the adbuster article, but I read your´s here

so, I cannot tell anything about your comment on the adbuster text, but on your view on hippsters in general.
I do agree with a lot of things, especially with the fact that anyway everything can be marketed. As a matter of fact we are all part of capitalism, which does not mean that we embrace it´s aspects or do not try to find other ways. Also, that hippsters try to have fun and be creative, that is true as well as they are highly normative and a bit like youth cultures in general: If you do not fit into the hippster conventions you are not cool enough. therefore, also the "cool jobs" play a role, you are cool if you are an artist or designer or whatever creative and creative industries, but how substantial interests in those things are, and how far an understanding for and intrest in people in general goes, outside of what job they do (which is anyway the most boring things about a lot of people, wheter they have creative jobs and do art or not; I mean, I do know a lot or artists whom I do not consider as people I wanna be friendes with simply because they are boring. nevetheless, they are hip and exhibit in hip galleries. but the visions most a lot of people in the art world have are by defintions not more interesting than people outside of it). I get a lot of inspirations from outside this world aswell.

this leads me also to questions the following part of your text:
"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."

first: there is not so much innovation as one might think. a lot of what becomes hip is actually there because it was rising up to certain people who then introduced it in a hipster milieu, which adapts it in a way that it becomes conventional to them (I mean, what I tell is iealtypical, of course there is innovation there aswell, but I think a lot of things are not so much).

second: I guess a lot of people in this world would prefer to not hanging around in floppy jobs. but how can they? what is a shapeless job? and is creating advertisment for a big company or designing sets for talkshows not shapeless and floppy?

third: I am not so sure what exactly "the hippster field" comprises of, who exactly does belong to it or not, what cultural expression do belong to it, where are the boundaries, of course, there cannot be any strikt once, still we all have an image in our head. so, not exactly knowing who you have in mind, I consider the hippsters as being either very rich kids or from the middle class, and therefor, of course, like everyone (just read bourdieu) shaped by the classfraction or fractions they are evolving in; to start from this point with a proper analysis would make sense to me.

étoile rose aka stella pink


Wed, Aug. 6th, 2008 08:21 pm (UTC)

I wondered how long it would take for someone to respond intelligently to Haddow's fixed-gear bike disdain. Post #2. I concur, and would like to add that bikers are hacking the streets in much the same way skaters did (and do).


Fri, Aug. 8th, 2008 10:33 pm (UTC)
kill me

I'm elated that this adbusters article is creating a conversation...it actually gives me a great deal of optimism.

Everyone seems to feel strongly about it, and that's important to note because it shows an awareness to the culture that is more or less, "relevant"

I personally think the word "demise" is a little strong. There's still time to detach ourselves from our needs and wants and push for something that is outside of our own individualities. You can still look fashionable, especially if 30 to 100 people began drunkenly marching down SF alleyways, or Los Angeles Boulevards all dressed in uniform regalia...whether it be from American Aparel or from some thrift store on Vermont & Sunset.

(this isn't a call for revolution, it's just a call for anger and rage, and chaos. Because we have been lied to, and they are selling OURSELVES back to OURSELVES)

i.e endless remakes of super hero bullshit that hides American ideologies, all pre packaged in Robert Downey Junior catchphrases....

(just an example)

This "situation" isn't specific to just hipster culture, it's western culture in itself. The endless Ipod billboards that depict a single sillhouette dancing to HIS own playlist.


My Space

My lifestyle

My Friends

My Fashion

My music








This is, to me atleast, a self involvement that is facilitated by the fact that we live in a capitalist state. (it permits the masses to rant about how they shouldn't care about other people's best interests, because in the end no one is watching out for them....what can you for me?)

This isn't as common in countries that have socialist values.

Why don't we stop pouting for the camera, and start carrying a knife around...you can stab a police officer and pout at the same time, no?

Mon, Aug. 11th, 2008 03:17 am (UTC)

I respond to this at length here:


thanks for the thoughts.

Mon, Aug. 11th, 2008 03:33 pm (UTC)

Good point adding some shades of grey, but still if all comes down to pinpointing "those others" to superficial quotes like "chubby bloggers who aren't getting laid" it's just the same thing.

Why not see the "weakness of flesh" and see the social point of it all, the fact that everyone has a certain private battle for belonging in some sort. Including artists, bloggers, cynical 30-somethings etc.

In that sense criticising hipsters is doing the same in a different form. In that sense criticising people criticising hipsters comes down to scary similarities.

what's the point of typing this anyway? : )


Sat, Aug. 16th, 2008 05:02 pm (UTC)
Critique and Belonging

"The fact that everyone has a certain private battle for belonging in some sort....In that sense criticising hipsters is doing the same in a different form. In that sense criticising people criticising hipsters comes down to scary similarities."

This is a very good point; criticizing hipsters is itself a form of trying to find a way to belong. "What I am, is not like them." Others join in, and you get a kind of community: "We hate these people - together!" But this is a very, very negative and destructive way of building an identity, to the point where essentially the whole thing turns on resentment and hatred. Where could this possibly go?

Josef K.
See also here: http://www.dissensus.com/showthread.php?p=145409#post145409

ReplyThread Parent

Tue, Aug. 19th, 2008 10:07 pm (UTC)
big bang

I was waiting for someone to post a brilliant rebuttal to this article. Sorry momus, this isn't it.

Fri, Sep. 26th, 2008 08:39 am (UTC)

Who needs that shitload of artists, visionaries and eccentrics? Really?

Western culture dies because working class people has to carry that mid-class nothing-doers. That's why they can skip a job, or make money on web-design.


Mon, Nov. 3rd, 2008 06:35 am (UTC)
Make Up Your Mind

All of this is ridiculous, from Haddow on down. You simply cannot recognize the existence of a subculture and then turn around and claim it has no values, aesthetics, (any unifying characteristics) etc. When Haddow defines "hipster," there must be some parameters - clothing type, beer brand - he uses to distinguish the group from the rest of the populace. What it boils down to then is the petty beef that these characteristics are different from those by which Haddow must identify himself. Like Gavin McInnes wrote, seniors will always hate sophomores.

Is this generation of American kids different from the ones before it? Sure. Are they more convinced of their own originality, their own genius? Hardly. The main difference? This generation consciously appropriates cultural signifiers where previous generations did so unconsciously. This generation does not kid itself about the sources of its style, its art, etc. with some bogus manifesto about "breaking new ground." Will this generation break new ground? Undoubtedly so. However, all that CAN BE done must come from what HAS BEEN done, and hipsters know it.

Perspective Cavaliere
Tue, Feb. 28th, 2012 06:57 pm (UTC)

I think the debate concerning hipster as a culture deserve t

Perspective Cavaliere
Tue, Feb. 28th, 2012 08:19 pm (UTC)

Hi there, sorry for the duplicate. You are probably quite sick of people commenting on this issue but if you have any time for me I would love to hear your opinion.
First I cannot help but note that you define hipster as a subculture, which strikes me, admittedly less than Ad-Buster did by calling it a counter-culture, as inaccurate.
First of all tracing the origin of the hipster as a 80’ / 90’ subculture, like I believe you do, seems a bit shaky – obviously the terminology itself refer to white youth adopting the slang of the black underclass of the 60’, but fashion history for example, could trace a continuous and overlapping martix of trends all the way back to at least the 20’ and the slappers movement. But let’s forget about that for the moment, I will come back to it later:
Hipsters by definition follow the hip, which I will define vaguely as the strata within the cultural sphere that appear to be innovative, in it's form and in it's concept:
Although subcultures are regarded as a stigma of the post-modern society, a closer look will reveal that whereas the sociologist will define them as such the ethnologist study them as group formed around a common ideology, whether this ideology is expressed primarily through words, actions or aesthetics.
Paradoxically many subcultures, in the information age come to consider their origin as a perfected, authentic expression of their current form, because the conditions in which they developped only, justify the ideological pose that the culture entails. There is in this fetishization of authenticity the expression of an ideological justification, which, no matter how hypocritical and self-loathing it is, define subculture in opposition to those lacking this ideological justification, generally viewed as the “the norm” or “the mainstream”.
The subculture, when they arose, were clusters of people who were regrouping around novel practices, be it ideological, aesthetic or even pratical, whereas the world at large being more conservative was not giving those activities the credit the subculture thought it was owed.
Hipsters by definition follow the hip, which I will define vaguely as the strata within the cultural sphere that appear to be innovative, in it's form and in it's concept: this can mean new aesthetics in art and design, as well as new stances on the ideological ground aimed at providing the moral ground for more freedom and ease. Can innovation be considered as a form of ideology?
Although modernism has been agregated by a wide variety of ideology around the world, it was more than it’s claim to innovation. There was a founding myth, referencing a need for regeneration, which, at a vague level, evoked some level of disatisfaction with the current state of affairs.
Hipsters, in their succes in getting laid and having fun, as you describe it, developped the narcisistic attitude that basically does not fit with a will to change the state of things. Getting the better of the world as it is, there is no need for changing it, and actions percieved as politically or ideologically motivated become experiences, which require to be either new or enjoyable, to be justified to the hipster, having nothing higher than either novelty or pleasure.
The reaction against hipster is the one from those who associate with subcultures and feel threatened in their own integrity by seeing a hipster casually adopting their own ideologized pursuits without having the political background to justify them. Faced with this, one could extrapolate, the subculture try to rationalize their relationship to those particular activities (graffiti, drugs, etc.) and is forced to acknowledge that its own relationship with this practice is deprived from it’s original justifications.
Paradoxically the subcultures were originally built around innovation but the social structure survived the actual innovation, which is now perpetuated in a form of absurd acceptance and ritual repetition, devoid of it’s original strength and meaning. On the other hand, the hipster sticked with novelty and never developped the social structure, nor, therefore, the need for authenticity which excludes it from the world of subculture.