Monday, October 20, 2008

Hipsters: The Newest Subculture?

**In response to Dick Hebdige's article "Subculture: The Unnatural Break" from Subculture: The Meaning of Style. New York and London: Routledge, 1979.

The reason why Hebdige's essay on culture and subcultures hits a note with all of us is because it is indeed present in today's society. The interesting turn of events from the 1960s and 70s to today is that while there are still elements of dress that coincide with and help identify a subculture, the threat of danger physical to society of these subcultures is certainly of a lesser degree than it was thirty or forty years ago. However, I would argue that the threat of apathy and inaction is far more prevalent today, even though punks of the 1970s tended to be apolitical as well. I am speaking here about hipsters.

Even though this subculture has a similar name to the hippie subculture, the hippies at least incited protests and wanted to change this nation for the better by getting us out of war and discussing things that had some value. This new subculture of hipsters seems to have been born and is still thriving primarily in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and certain parts of Los Angeles (namely Los Feliz and Silver Lake). This subculture is easily spotted on the street in that they are fashion-forward albeit usually quite crusty- or homeless-looking; some other characteristics of a hipster include reading and listening to whatever is contained within the pages of that site, and aspiring to be in the "DO" category of Vice Magazine. And while this subculture can easily be envied and simultaneously hated for their Urban Outfitters and vintage style of dress and their pretentious views on what is "good" music, they pose no real physical threat to society; namely, they are not going to throw chairs in a concert hall while listening to loud, intense music or go out of their way to be disgusting (unless, of course, they are fans of The Black Lips and enjoy watching bands urinate and vomit on stage. On a side note The Black Lips, who I really dislike both musically and in their attitude, could be said to be a return to the punk mentality of the 1970s.) Actually, hipsters won't go out of their way to do anything save look good. And what frightens me is that apathy is something that isn't easily grown out of.

Hebdige writes that by the time punk had become commodified in the mass media, the movement was already on its way out. The fashion runways showcasing "models smoldered beneath mountains of safety pins and plastic...presaged the subculture's imminent demise" (156); what worries me is that hipster culture seems to be the dominant style, at least here in New York City. Maybe it's just because that is what I am paying attention to, since I myself am heavily into independent music and see these people who are just there to be in the seen in the scene (I believe hipsters were at one point dubbed "scenesters") and have no real appreciation for the music being played on stage by these artists and innovators. But seeing something so prevalent that has still not been muted is troubling, especially since all these kids who "incite" change by looking different will probably not even vote in this November's election.

Can we say that modern day hipsters have apathy in common with punks? I think that the punk movement started as a rebellion; what hipsters are doing doesn't even constitute silent rebellion.


n/a said...

Looks like one or two people we know. Use your imagination...

Unknown said...

LOL, don't bag on your Los Feliz bar rats!! You know u love the Dresden. jk. nice essay, i too am also beginning to grow a distaste for the silverlake hipster the more i go out to bars now. Check out this article Perkins sent me awhile ago that tackles similar issues, its a good read:

Katharine Relth said...

Phan: I've read that article! Love it, it's so true. If you think Silver Lake is bad you should see Brooklyn. Holy effing shit.
Someone I know is moving to Los Feliz and I talked up the Dresden to no end for him. I'm not hating on you at all, I love that place. Promise we'll go when I'm home?