Hipster is Just a Word for Someone You’re Worried is Cooler Than You

06/19/2009 2:13 PM |

8735/1245429063-emancipacion.jpg“Hipster” is generally considered to be a term of derision, with connotations of inauthenticity, vanity and even stupidity — it is often thrown around by self-conscious yuppies (like me!) who secretly worry their own lives were never that interesting or care free or, yes, bohemian. It’s a scornful catch-all for a scary “other” that’s really just youth, individuality and eccentricity. But honestly, I’ve always thought of it as an elusive category, necessarily flexible given any particular cultural moment; you know, like the idea of something being “cool” — it either is or it isn’t. It’s kind of similar to the way people trot out “pretentious” as a put down for things they’d rather not take the time to understand (I mean really, can you imagine a world without glorious, risky pretention? What a dull, colorless Midwest of the mind that would be). Or the way the old and compromised try to reduce idealism to an impetuous affliction of youth, when really, they’re just disappointed cowards. BUT NOW I’M DIGRESSING BEFORE I’VE EVEN BEGUN (stupid fucking hipsters, so distracting). Anway, the following story is about a group of smart hipsters — smart, pretentious, idealistic, revolutionary French hipsters, to be exact — and I find it delightful.

They call themselves the Invisible Committee, a name which at once conjures up counter-revolutionary royalists and Saturday morning cartoon heroes. So yeah, points for that. Two years ago they anonymously distributed a text called The Coming Insurrection, a neo-Situationist anti-capitalist augury that’s created quite a hubbub in France, particularly after alleged members of the Invisible Committee were arrested under suspicion of sabotaging rail lines (they were later released). To quote the Times article:

When the French publisher La Fabrique first issued “The Coming Insurrection” in 2007, it received comparatively little attention. But among those who did take notice were the French police, who began monitoring a group of people, mostly graduate students, living in the tiny mountain village of Tarnac in central France.

To quote Liz Lemon: “I want to go to there.” Yes, I do, to a tiny mountain village in France (as long as I don’t have to stay up late talking).

Insofar as parts of the book decry the commoditized society, I’m pretty down with it… As, it seems, were about 100 members of the local hipster intelligentsia, who swooped into the Union Square Barnes and Noble last week for an unscheduled “reading” from the text. Yup, it was kind of a Situationist flash-mob affair, which didn’t last very long. After getting nudged out by security, they shambled down the street to a makeup store to fuck shit up with their word bombs.

Man, despite what I wrote in the first paragraph, I’m still finding it very hard not to make fun of this whole thing. But no, I won’t: I’m glad people are still provocatively protesting the status quo; I’m glad people aren’t just giving up and labeling anything that challenges their assumptions as “pretentious hipster bullshit.” I salute you, dear local brigade of the Invisible Committee. And when the insurrection finally comes, I would ask you not to impale me on the forks of your fixed-gear bike.

I will leave you with this quote, from one of the anarchists situationists dudes who was there. Frankly, I kind of agree with him 100 percent:

“The book is important because it speaks to the total bankruptcy of pretty much everything. We’re living in a high-end aesthetic with zero content.”

5 Comment

  • hmm, i have to say i disagree with your identification of hipsters. hipster’s more like a word for someone who thinks they’re cooler than you because they think they discovered neon zebra stripes.

    the people in those pictures don’t really look like hipsters either. and the majority of the fixed-gear crowd is more worried about the latest loft party than obscure ultra-leftist manifestos. they certainly wouldn’t risk f-ing up their precious bikes to impale you, or anyone, on a matter of principle. unless their hot-pink rims had been called into question, and then they’d probably just beat you with their bike-lock chain (though, on second thought, the importance of wearing said chain around the waist for other fixed-gearheads to recognize would probably render its use as a weapon off limits.)

    i WISH hipster signified individuality, eccentricity and bohemianism. though it’s certainly synonymous with youth, at least in nyc, and especially williamsburg, them hipsters are hive-mided, consumerist trendies: true children of the suburbs from which they came, and to which they presumably (please god) will eventually return.

    they are, in fact, the ones who’ve most bought into a certain subset of that “high-end aesthetic,” and appear to be completely unbothered by the issue of “zero content”.

    power to the frenchies, however. is there an emoticon for a raised fist?

  • I think you’re second sentence is telling, insofar as it entails a self-defensive concern about what someone else might be thinking about you; but I’m not trying to cast aspersions, I generally agree with what you’re saying.

    I think, though, I’m trying to salvage the term hipster (or even reappropriate it) from the convenient demographic marketing tool it has become. That’s the scary part, the speed now at which “counterculture,” or whatever you want to call it, gets swept up in the whirlwind of marketing and commodity. (See Thomas Frank’s “Commodify Your Dissent” for a chilling, enlightening break down of this).

    So this is what I’m curious about: every city, since cities began, has always had a (relatively) interesting subset of young people who’ve sought to dedicate themselves to capital-A ART, refusing to conform to whichever set of conventions might offer them a chance at a comfortable day-to-day existence (and yes, some of them come from the suburbs and that really shouldn’t have anything to with anything, to suggest it does is just banal nativism). These are the people who are the first ones to dress in a weird way, who try weird shit in whichever art they’re into (which fails half the time, but still) and who aren’t afraid to stick out. Of course, eventually other people catch on to certain affectations (from a fashion perspective) and approaches to art, and then all of a sudden it seems like you have a bunch of thoughtless conformists. My point is that this huge second wave of adopters are not hipsters

  • “What do we call these people” is a good question inasmuch as some words can’t really be reclaimed anymore. (We’ve had this conversation about other words/phrases before.)

    So, a word for young people with cutting edge-creating approaches to art, style and politics — approaches often referred to as “hip”.

    I’ve got it!


  • How about “assholes”?

  • Jonny, it was important for you to bring this matter to everyone’s attention. Because I was in that cosmetics store when they stormed it, and what ensued was the kind of circumstantially raw tragicomedy and infectious mesmerization of the vulgus that would urge anyone with blood coursing through his or her veins and passion blazing in his or her eyes — and, well, perhaps at least a basic health insurance plan — to devise his or her own disruptive behavior, maybe even right then and right there, and adopt it as life-changing modus operandi, as self-reflexively watershed moment, as self-sheddingly reflex of watery substances. Should anyone opt for the latter, I suggest catharsis followed by a full-body dip in hot wax.

    I am a liar. I was not in the cosmetics store. Not that one. They refuse to sell me products derived directly from whales, which I can respect as an admirer of various forms of aquatic life (especially the Dumbo Octopus and other freaks that populate those deep environs) but which leaves me bereft of proper materials from which to extract the various oils required to pay homage to gods I shall not name, because they belong to a neighbor and not to me, and because sometimes acting neighborly has you doing the same favor over and over again, and sometimes that favor involves procuring arcane items to be placed atop the lone horizontal plane of crooked altars, while other times it involves things far more (or maybe far less, in specific terms) mundane, such as lending a cup of sugar or agreeing to exchange a double-yolked egg for a less fucked-up one (some folks are really scared of those little ovo-gemini).

    So no, I was not there. But I did hear about it. And strangely, I kept hearing about it. One person overheard and recounted. Another had seen it from outside. One was in the bookstore and had thorough details. Another heard about it all and retold and retold. Then the write-ups, the pictures, the reviews, the intrigue. From every angle, that certain ubiquity. The kind that makes you wonder why you’re sometimes a conduit for things recurrent to you from disparate sources.

    And on that note, now, and to get to what might have been the only thing worth leaving here:

    Baader Meinhof, anyone?

    Because the phenomenon is real. A syndrome, even.

    And these groups are not unrelated.

    And neither is either unrelated to pre-Renaissance humanists.

    Pico della Mirandola is one of my all-time favorites.

    The French call him Pic de la Mirandole.