The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'counterculture'
A look at China's emerging youth counter-culture, the wenyi qingnian (文艺青年), or “cultured youth”, a term which is roughly cognate with the English word “hipster”:
Like hipsters, wenqing stridently resist labeling themselves as such. The term “cultured youth” can divide Chinese audiences, alternately attracting admiration or derision. A perfect example recently emerged on Sina Weibo, one of China’s popular microblogging sites, with this post entitled, “Photos of Shanghai ‘cultured youth’ girls aboard a subway reading poetry.”One difference between the wenqing and stereotypical hipsters in the West is their sincere passion for their countercultural pursuits and values outside the mainstream of material status; not having lived through the betrayals and commodifications of subcultures from the hippies to the punks and beyond, they have not developed an armour of ironic detachment and nihilistic apathy. That, however, is the preserve of a different Chinese youth counterculture, the “2B qingnian” (二逼青年), or “dumbass youth”, who appear to be more like Nathan Barley-esque nihilistic pisstakers:
By contrast, China’s wonderfully sincere “cultured youth” lack the irony and apathy integral to hipsterism, characteristics which nonetheless can be found in China’s “2B youth.” These are young men and women who have nothing much going on in their lives (or, in some cases, their heads). As the photo collage suggests, “2B”ers like to engage in pointless and deliberately self-defeating behavior, all, it sometimes seems, for nothing more than the “lulz.”Note the graphic at the bottom of the page, which shows a range of activities performed in the normal, Cultured and Dumbass styles.
Or, in perhaps more appositely Marxist terms, the wenqing repudiate economic capital for cultural capital, whereas the 2Bs reject cultural capital as futile and mock it. Which suggests that, were one to shoehorn Chinese countercultures into American terms, the wenqing are a counterculture with the dynamics of, say, the Beats, though using the technology and symbols of the global late-capitalist hipster, while the 2Bs are (perhaps precociously) grasping at the nihilism of 1990s grunge slackers, anticipating that it will all turn to shit.
Frank Broughton, co-author of Last Night A DJ Saved My Life, writes about how the Nazis were responsible for disco, or more precisely, how the peculiar phenomenon of dancing to records in cellars originated with a subculture of French kids who defied the Nazis' bans on jazz and swing, dressed up in ostentatious costumes and called themselves les Zazous.
Imagine, amid the grey serge of wartime France, a tribe of youngsters with all the colourful decadence of punks or teddy boys. Wearing zoot suits cut off at the knee (the better to show off their brightly coloured socks), with hair sculpted into grand quiffs, and shoes with triple-height soles - looking like glam-rock footwear 30 years early - these were the kids who would lay the foundations of nightclubbing. Ladies and gentlemen, les Zazous.
The Zazou look was completed with high collars, impossibly tight ties and long sheepskin-lined jackets, with a curved-handled umbrella carried at all times (copied from British prime minister Neville Chamberlain, regarded as quite a style icon). Female Zazous wore short skirts, shabby furs, wooden platform shoes and dark glasses with big lenses, and chose to go hatless, to better show off the single lock of hair they had bleached or dyed. They took their name from the Cab Calloway-style scatting in a song Je Suis Swing, by their hero, French jazz singer Johnny Hess.
As the pogroms began, some Zazous went even further and took to wearing yellow stars of David to show solidarity with the Jews. To underline their outlaw musical taste, they wrote "swing" across them. Several found themselves in internment camps as a result. Even stranger, when liberation was imminent, female Zazous blacked up their faces to show their love for jazz and America.
This evening, I caught a train to North Coburg, getting off at Batman station (yes, to the Americans in the audience, we do name our railway stations after superheroes here, because we Australians are weird), and walking through darkened streets, with the occasional desultory-looking art-decoish bungalow that has seen much better days, looking for an art gallery located at 8 Lyon St. After considerable walking through this wasteland, I started wondering "what sort of art gallery would set up here?". Eventually, I found it, in a former factory/mechanic's shop/similar, across the road from the only other sign of life in the neighbourhood, a bikie clubhouse (the Foolish Few Motorcycle Club, I believe), some of whose members mingled with the hip young artists and miscellaneous troublemakers.
The art varied; it was mostly "underground" art of various sorts (think "ooh, am I OFFENDING your BOURGEOIS SENSIBILITIES? Good. *Fuck* *you*, SUBURBAN YUPPIE PIG!"). A lot of stencil art (some very intricate), done on old car doors, some of that homie graf/stencil/sticker hybrid stuff that's going up all over the city (there was one piece by "Monkey" and someone else, depicting a fantastic world, with their tags all over everything; got to love the hip-hop culture's tendency towards self-mythologisation), underground comics from members of Silent Army, someone's set of nude drawings of female artists (done as a set of postcards, yours for $10), and underworld hitman-turned-artistic cause celebre Chopper Read's own paintings, showing crude figures of big-breasted women with Ned Kelly helmets (alas, I'm not sufficiently well-versed in contemporary art to tell whether Chopper's art is a work of postmodern genre-crossing genius, a curiosity of "outsider art" notable more for who made it than its own virtues, or a publicity stunt). Chopper didn't seem to be there, though there were quite a few bikies with short-cropped hair, tattoos, big bushy beards and, in one case, Nazi patches. Which, I suppose, made the whole thing a lot more edgy and hardcore and "keeping it real". Oh, and Cameron Potts was there, in his "Osama Bin Laden World Hero" T-shirt. Meanwhile, a band (consisting of members of Jihad Against America and/or The Eggs, I'm told) made noises with distorted guitars and a theremin.
Many of the artworks had prices that wouldn't leave much change from a grand. I wonder whether many well-heeled collectors will trek out in their BMWs to the industrial wasteland to pick up a stencilled car door for their open-plan loft in St Kilda or wherever.