Saturday, November 12, 2011

Review of "What Was the Hipster?"

Ben Davis reviewed the interesting N+1 volume, What Was the Hipster?, for the Huffington Post back in April. I purchased the book and read it and have meant to post something about it, intervened, as they say. And I didn't bring the book along with me to DC (where I'm living for the year), so I can't do it now. It will have to wait. In the meantime, check out Davis' review, critical, but fair. And he defends hipsters.

I found this bit quite interesting, especially in light of more recent events, to wit, Occupy Wall Street:

I graduated from college in 2001 with a degree in Humanities and Cultural Studies. With no idea what the hell to do with that, I went to work in a bookstore. All my co-workers had degrees in English or Philosophy, and we all had scorn for the dumb best-seller tastes of our customers -- in exact proportion to our keen awareness of the uselessness of our own cultivated tastes, the worth of which apparently topped out at $12.50 an hour. What do you do in that situation except be ironic? The U.S. economy in the last decade threw many more college grads into this same type of purgatory -- still relatively privileged, but going nowhere. My best guess is that it is this group, with its wounded pride and self-consciousness at its own superfluousness, that forms the basis for the Quentin Tarantino-esque aesthetic vogue for useless cultural trivia. (Tarantino, in fact, is himself a former video store drone.)

In the same period, the slowing of upward mobility has also meant that young people are living in more varied and precarious living situations for longer periods of time before settling down (or rather, before attaining "the means to compete and exploit the benefits of the metropolis on traditional grounds of income and class dominance," as Greif [the book's editor] prefers).

Here's a conjecture, which I think demands some on-site research: a lot of the so-called hipsters, formerly masters of irony and helplessness, have gotten involved in the Occupy movement. Above, Davis provides, I think, the experiential and economic grounds for why significant numbers of young(er) people have been so inspired and motivated and mobilized by this movement. Meanwhile, check out Davis' piece on Occupy and the Situationists.

One final note about the book, What Was the Hipster? It is a collection of articles and observations and therefore is not united by a single view. There is not a consistent mocking tone. I found it useful and interesting and a good read. But, as I said above, I didn't find time, yet, to do a thoughtful analysis.

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