The Null Device

2008/8/4

Some concerned parties have started a new campaign: they are collecting pledges to donate to campaigns against AIDS, TB and malaria in the developing world, as soon as rock'n'roll businessman and public face of charity Bono retires from public life:

The RED campaign has managed to spend $40 million more on marketing that it has raised from RED product sales, while sending consumers a dangerous message. Read more
Many involved in the global fight against AIDS worry that RED will make it harder to raise funds, and that the oversimplified & disempowered image of Africa that Bono perpetuates, as exemplified in these incredibly condescending lyrics from the Band Aid Xmas song Bono helped create, obscures and undermines the assets African nations must focus on to defeat AIDS and poverty.
The grassroots leaders of the global fight against AIDS didn’t ask for Bono to be their frontman. Its time for Bono to step down. We’ll all pledge donations to the Global Fund, but no pledges are collected until Bono retires from public life.
So far, US$770 has been pledged.

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Adbusters takes a hatchet to the "hipster" culture (think VICE Magazine/Nathan Barley/American Apparel/Kill Whitey/cocaine/MacBooks/fixed-gear bicycles/Lomography/Palestinian scarves), denouncing it as "The Rise of the Idiots Dead End Of Western Civilization", a culture whose more-ironic-than-thou detachment strips it of any potential for subversion or originality:

Lovers of apathy and irony, hipsters are connected through a global network of blogs and shops that push forth a global vision of fashion-informed aesthetics. Loosely associated with some form of creative output, they attend art parties, take lo-fi pictures with analog cameras, ride their bikes to night clubs and sweat it up at nouveau disco-coke parties. The hipster tends to religiously blog about their daily exploits, usually while leafing through generation-defining magazines like Vice, Another Magazine and Wallpaper. This cursory and stylized lifestyle has made the hipster almost universally loathed.
Punks wear their tattered threads and studded leather jackets with honor, priding themselves on their innovative and cheap methods of self-expression and rebellion. B-boys and b-girls announce themselves to anyone within earshot with baggy gear and boomboxes. But it is rare, if not impossible, to find an individual who will proclaim themself a proud hipster. It’s an odd dance of self-identity – adamantly denying your existence while wearing clearly defined symbols that proclaims it.
I suspect that that's because the term "hipster" (or, indeed, the Australian cognate, "coolsie") is often one used to describe one whom one considers more pretentious/less authentic than oneself. If one is a chav, bogan, redneck or similar individual, a hipster is probably anyone who listens to music one hasn't heard of, isn't into football or cars or whatever the acceptable things to be into are, and thus is probably gay and deserving of a beating. (Of course, since the people doing the categorising here are by definition not known for their sophisticated world-views, and, in fact, probably consider having sophisticated world-views with suspicion, they use terms interchangeably; in provincial towns in England, they may call them "goths" or "moshers", in Latin America, they're "emos" (or sometimes "pokemones"), whereas in 1980s Queensland being into music got you classified as a "new waver", as Greg Wadley will attest.) However, if one goes to art events in Shoreditch, Williamsburg, Fitzroy or your local equivalent, the word "hipster", used pejoratively, only refers to the more poseurish end of the continuum; the solipsistic-nihilistic fashion victims who are too busy being disaffected and "over" everything to care about anything. One oneself is never a hipster, though one may be a "hipster" (in that someone would call one that). Though hipsters, we are told, are fond of ironic quotes:
The dance floor at a hipster party looks like it should be surrounded by quotation marks. While punk, disco and hip hop all had immersive, intimate and energetic dance styles that liberated the dancer from his/her mental states – be it the head-spinning b-boy or violent thrashings of a live punk show – the hipster has more of a joke dance. A faux shrug shuffle that mocks the very idea of dancing or, at its best, illustrates a non-committal fear of expression typified in a weird twitch/ironic twist. The dancers are too self-aware to let themselves feel any form of liberation; they shuffle along, shrugging themselves into oblivion.
And it's all doom and gloom from here:
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. Less a subculture, the hipster is a consumer group – using their capital to purchase empty authenticity and rebellion. But the moment a trend, band, sound, style or feeling gains too much exposure, it is suddenly looked upon with disdain. Hipsters cannot afford to maintain any cultural loyalties or affiliations for fear they will lose relevance.
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.
There could be hope, with the folk trend among hipsters; when sleazy glamour and electro/fluoro fashion became thoroughly suburbanised and commodified, the hipster precincts became full of skinny young men with rustic-looking beards and girls in hand-sewn dresses. And a few of them apparently did take the folk message seriously, beyond plinking ukuleles into their MacBooks and singing tunelessly about their folkier-than-thouness; I recall a New York Times article a while ago about former Brooklyn hipsters now moving to the countryside and doing the hard yards of running farms (all organic, of course). Others, of course, put their woodsman beards and newly-acquired rootsy authenticity in ironic quotes, and the cycle began again.

Here is the Metafilter thread dissecting the article, which makes some interesting points, such as this one from "nasreddin":

Hipster self-hatred is the return of the repressed appeal to authenticity. After all, hipsterdom incorporated into itself all of its predecessors. The self-hatred, then, is the condemnation of everything it stands for by the value systems it inherited--which provide the only semblance of a normative content hipsterdom can ever manifest. This means hipsterdom is constantly at odds with itself, unable to resolve the contradiction between its countercultural heritage and its thoroughly capitalized rejection of authenticity. Authenticity, within hipsterdom, is a zombie--dead, yet unkillable, and always threatening.
This contradiction lies behind the most familiar elements of hipster culture. Pabst, high-school sports T-shirts (until recently?), Bruce Springsteen, old vinyl, trucker hats--all these are the paraphernalia of a world where authenticity could be easily and unproblematically assumed, the earnest and unpretentious vanished world of the blue-collar male. Of course, this is ironic: in searching for authenticity hipsterdom once more encounters only its superficial, external expressions. (This was Derrida's point, in a way. The hipsters are looking for authenticity, "presence," but can only seem to reach it by constructing a "supplement," which seems like a pretty good facsimile of the real thing until you realize that it never resolves the aporia, the gap between the authentic and the fake, which made it necessary to begin with.)
And here is Momus' take on it. Not surprisingly, he disagrees, equating anti-hipsterism with a brutal anti-cultural atavism:
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).
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.

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