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.