Abigail, an evil wind is blowing through the land
and they need every man to drive it away
As Rorschach-like interpretations of the hipster phenomenon continue to pile up, one interesting feature is that certain segment of the left is very uncomfortable with what Will Self called this week a global “seisdick shift.” The classic example is this Adbusters essay from 2008, which in a momentary lapse of concern for Western civilization, proclaimed hipsters the dead end of it, for having turned all our once-subversive countercultures into saleable parts of an ever-changing consumer identity:
An artificial appropriation of different styles from different eras, the hipster represents the end of Western civilization – a culture lost in the superficiality of its past and unable to create any new meaning. Not only is it unsustainable, it is suicidal. While previous youth movements have challenged the dysfunction and decadence of their elders, today we have the “hipster” – a youth subculture that mirrors the doomed shallowness of mainstream society. …
With nothing to defend, uphold or even embrace, the idea of “hipsterdom” is left wide open for attack. And yet, it is this ironic lack of authenticity that has allowed hipsterdom to grow into a global phenomenon that is set to consume the very core of Western counterculture. Most critics make a point of attacking the hipster’s lack of individuality, but it is this stubborn obfuscation that distinguishes them from their predecessors, while allowing hipsterdom to easily blend in and mutate other social movements, sub-cultures and lifestyles. …
An amalgamation of its own history, the youth of the West are left with consuming cool rather that creating it. 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. Western civilization’s well has run dry. The only way to avoid hitting the colossus of societal failure that looms over the horizon is for the kids to abandon this vain existence and start over.
Just to be clear, you’re reading about the suicide of the West in the publication popularly credited with starting Occupy. Hopefully the author was taken out back and shot for his counter-revolutionary thinking.
Because many of Adbusters’ readers are hipsters, they did run a “acknowledgment of potentiality” by Ilie Mitaru to qualify it a little later. The poor sap wants to believe in hipsters’ “revolutionary potential” sooo badly you feel bad for him:
Haddow approaches hipsters as a potential revolutionary group, and when they fail to uphold characteristics of previous groups – cohesive ideology, symbolism and behavior – the lack of historic parallels leads him to conclude that the hipster holds no revolutionary potential. If hipsters are to evolve into anything meaningful, however, they will adhere to no historical pattern and must be given the benefit of the doubt, the opportunity of the unknown. …
Formed by the empty promises of our predecessors, history has dealt hipsters more defeats than triumphs, more distractions than direction, and abandoned them to the hollow embrace of commodity fetishism.
But they are collectively filtering through the facade. Evidence of this can be found in the adoption of bike culture, urban gardening and art/music-based activism and even in rallying for Obama. Many are also acting on their distaste for corporatism by starting businesses and nonprofits, engaging in progressive work both locally and internationally. …
Still new in respects to movements, the hipster is groping in the dark for authenticity. He does not claim to be an activist when he rides his bike, buys used clothes or works as a freelance designer, though he may have labeled himself as such a few decades ago. His path may not have been inspired by revolutionary ideas as much as a search for personal meaning. But ultimately, motivations matters little if the roads lead to the same place.
Au contraire, mon frere! Nothing could be further from the truth! Whether he’s simply not been presented with the argument that waving signs for Obama has revolutionary potential, or rejected it as daft or irrelevant or passe, is of great importance indeed. If it’s the first case, we need only sell more Adbusters subscriptions.
Elizabeth Nolan Brown recently wrote something that will add fuel to the fires of these Dwight MacDonald wannabes. She suggests:
The hipster ideal today is neither a commune nor a life of rugged individualism. It’s the small, socially conscious business. Millennials are obliterating divisions between corporate and bohemian values, between old and new employment models-they’re not the first to do this, but they are doing it in their own way. Armed with ample self-confidence but hobbled by stagnant prospects, millennials may be uniquely poised to excel in an evolving economy where the freelance countercultural capitalist becomes the new gold standard.
Moreover, along the lines of Bob Stanley, she suggests that the concept of selling out no longer resonates with Millennials, and that that’s a good thing. Nick Gillespie used the same line on a roomful of libertarian donors a few weeks ago too. Some of the observations are identical to the Adbusters piece, but it’s more or less presented as a positive thing here:
William Deresiewicz, a Yale English professor turned Portland-based author and cultural critic, argues that the whole idea of a hipster “movement” is absurd, because modern youth culture lacks elements of radical dissent or rebellion. “The hipster world critique is limited. It’s basically a way of taking the world we have now and tweaking it to make it better,” he says. David Brooks’ 2000 book Bobos in Paradise argued that two formerly distinct baby boomer classes-the hedonistic, artistic, and socially tolerant bohemians; and the conforming, capitalist bourgeoisie-had combined to form a new category he christened bobos. Hipsters, Deresiewicz argues, are the bobos’ literal and metaphorical children.
“I suspect that a lot of these hipsters are going to be bobos in 20 years,” he says. “There’s a symbiosis.” Hipsters make and popularize the things, material and cultural, that bobos consume-from nitrate-free salami to the indie bands that make it into Rolling Stone.
Gracy Olmstead is optimistic about their contradictions and crunchy con qualities.
Interesting, though, that critics left, right, and center seem to agree that the notable thing about hipsters — whether they find it objectionable or praiseworthy — is that they’re not as overtly political as previous generations of the counterculture. With the exception, of course, of some American conservatives with a reflex to go but muh Wal-Marts! when presented with any of these arguments.
Maybe this is just the cynicism of a jaundiced beltway-dweller, but I can’t help but be amused that Pitchfork is pushing a band whose lead singer sometimes appears in brown-shirt-black-tie and has a chaos star tattoo — there is a piece of Jacobin clickbait to be written about how that isn’t a coincidence, given the culture. This, to Anton Shekhovtsov, researcher of the European radical right, is evidence that the band is, apoliteic or “metapolitically fascist,” a concept he explicates fully here:
The question, however, remains as to whether apoliteic bands can function as instruments for popularizing and promoting genuine fascist ideas, the adoption of which can eventually lead their listeners to contribute to the political cause, even if such bands—perhaps honestly—do not mean to. The answer, beyond any doubt, is ‘yes’. Music is a powerful instrument of (mis)education: the idealization of fascism, while over-emphasizing its ‘values’ and deliberately concealing (and even normalizing) its crimes and genocidal practices throughout the interwar period and the Second World War, effectively contributes to a misreading of modern history, especially by conscientious fans. We can only conjecture as to whether an individual will be satisfied with just ‘drifting in dreams of other lives and greater times’ or will eventually become involved in attempts at the practical implementation of those ‘dreams’.
Censoring or banning apoliteic music, however, is undesirable in a democratic society as well as ultimately impossible. ‘Metapolitical fascists’ are keen on using cryptic language and codified symbolic metaphors. On what grounds could one ban artists for using the words like ‘apoliteia’, ‘Waldgang’, ‘interregnum’ or ‘palingenesis’? Or pictures of runes/ruins? The sounds of ‘the orchestra of a great battle’? Eurocentric imagery? On the other hand, how effective are civil society protests or boycotts? Apparently these activities only make martyrs of apoliteic artists and strengthen—if only in the eyes of their fans—their image as righteous fighters for an ‘organic Europe’.
Clearly he’s very triggered by this stuff, however diverse the movement he’s talking about is. Isn’t it just a bit creepy that, on a basic level, Shekhovtsov is saying that the rejection of politics in art — or by extention, in all of the types of entrepreneurialism covered by Brown — is implicitly, metapolitically fascist? As for the questions he asks, despite his doubts about censorship, if the EU suddenly found it necessary to make sure neo-folk music were a little less a-political, I have no doubt he would be willing to provide them with analytical expertise. Anything to fight the fash, right?
Here is a must-read post from Jordan Peacock on where this all might be heading with a title taken from a quote by Iraq’s information minister during the 2003 invasion — “We have them surrounded in their tanks”:
Studiously avoided is the question: does America have 40 hours of socially-useful work for 195 million people (the number of working-age adults) to do? And if we genuinely don’t, why waste society’s resources on pretending there is? Americans have a moralized discourse around work, and those who have attempted to pose counter-narratives (in the form of lifestyle design, or minimalist living, or nomadism) find themselves not only pushing against cultural and bureaucratic constraints, but endlessly responding to social responses that range from benevolently misguided to outright hostile. The slow push from both the radical left and the libertarians towards a universal basic income is a recognition of this social dilemma, and attempts to provide a floor that less daring would-be entrepreneurs could leverage.
Some are taking the next step, and are attempting to reach escape velocity. Balaji Srinivasan’s infamous exit speech was one such attempt. It was perceived as a threat largely because it was. In the same way, the hype around bitcoin is less about its potential as a currency, and more about its infrastructural potential for making, among other things, unambiguous property contracts. Efforts such as Blueseed and Mars One are in the same spirit, where entrepreneurialism steps beyond the realms of product, and attempts to rewrite parts of the social contract itself.
This points to a new kind of left-right synthesis, but progressive memetics really are key to whether or not it works out. The free cities project is ultimately dependent on whether or not neoliberal opinion-makers see it as an illegitimate neo-colonial scheme, or something else. So here’s a question: Is Peter Thiel a metapolitical fascist? And if so, can it be stopped?