The Cumming Hipsterection

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I assume that the term “hipster” is defined as vaguely for you as it is for most people. 1 We tend to know ‘em when we see ‘em, but upon inquiry we’re lost for words. For the most part, the term re-emerged in contemporary times to describe characters seen around town that don’t adhere to any hitherto known subcultures, yet seem to compose one. They seemingly shared a taste for PBR, tight pants, fancy beards, DJed underground music, Ikea, and snobbery …so cultural analysts ran with those signifiers and constructed stereotypes from them.

However, what most of these cultural analysts missed is that these hipsters were really just doing what the status quo had been doing already for a while: changing their consumer relationships as a consequence of more fundamental, Internet-contingent dynamics. While the status quo was abandoning the shopping malls, hipsters were abandoning all-ages music venues. While the status quo was participating in shows like American Idol or online fantasy football, hipsters were participating in dance parties and blogging. That is to say, people have been adapting to a world where localized forms of culture are disappearing …even if the idea of “local” -as in locally sourced materials or ingredients – has become a fad. Hipsters had merely become excited about their access to different, digitized versions of culture than others. They’re people whose tastes probably hadn’t ever been status quo, but whose gaze had become more untethered to their particular localities.

Ok, so why? Why is this happening?

Well – that’s where an analysis of the Hipster becomes more interesting, especially for anarchism, a philosophy that owes its current popularity to New Left counter-culture and academics. To understand what’s been going on here requires a little comprehension of Globalization, the Internet, and the Sharing Economy 2 that has been emerging from it. Long story short, the Internet does two very important things at the same time: it makes it possible to access cultures from all over time and space, and it makes it possible for powerful institutions to access subjects on an individual scale like never before. As for the underlying changes that compliment this, production (and work, generally) is becoming more-and-more decentralized with a workforce that is becoming more-and-more mobile, precariously employed, precariously housed 3, and tasked to perform in more individuated environments. There is a demand for – and an ability to meet the demands for – an economy where individuals can produce/consume any where, at any time.

These circumstances undermine the ability to form cultures that reproduce at a local scale. Reproduction (of culture) is now tied up with the maintenance of networked infrastructure: websites, virtual libraries, social media profiles, e-mail contacts, shipped goods, torrents, crowd-sourced review forums like Yelp. The sorts of culture(s) that come from such foundations are basically in conflict with the older, subcultural sorts. At the base of each type there are conflicting interests. Yet for all of the glamor that internet-based culture can glimmer with, the autonomous production of food, shelter, and other basics (like medical service) require stable, local foundations. Multinational corporations may be able to organize such complicated variables so that they can plant the food here, sell it there, house laborers in this area, advertise in another area, and offer services to anyone they want. At this point, anarchists are not.

I think that the trajectory of this will eventually pressure us anarchists to ask ourselves, “do we want to try?” It’s a shitty situation all around. There is a current tendency to try and acquire land, to maybe build an ecologically-minded network of communes from the ground up, mostly estranged from cyberspace. That’s one way to respond. There’s also the tendency towards hacktivism, which is another response, but it could go further and deeper 4.

My suspicion is that going forward, anarchists will wind up dealing with their one-foot-in-each-world situation more intensely. And with an eye to the Hipster, I also suspect that similar attitudes, motifs, “taste culture,” 5 and tech-savvyness will be more embraced …perhaps out of necessity.


 

  1. Some cultural analysts trying to figure out what a hipster is, exactly …and predict its future: http://flavorwire.com/269261/what-comes-after-the-hipster-we-ask-the-experts
  2. A general overview of the Sharing Economy: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sharing_economy
  3. An CNBC blurb about millenial preferences: http://www.cnbc.com/2015/04/14/millennials-put-off-home-buying-despite-rising-rent.html
  4. Documentary on Cyber Punk (hint hint): https://youtu.be/UdvxPlhTjDU
  5. See page 69 (40 in the PDF) for Taste Culture: http://marciaganem.com.br/traditionandinnovation/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Gans-1974-Popular-culture-and-high-culture.pdf

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