Here’s a rear-view look at an article from New York magazine, dissecting and decrying hipster culture, from its inception in the late ’90s to the current sort of hollowed-out irrelevant version. Author Mark Greif makes an interesting primary analogy between a visual symbol and its meaning throughout his piece, making an apt, if rather unnamed, thesis: that the current hipsterism is primarily a symbolic culture, but not an actuality. It’s based on creating one’s identity from a cultural fiction (men with pedophile mustaches, women with Sally Jesse Raphael glasses), thus creating a visual camouflage—hiding the source of their exclusive knowledge, making them more aloof and untouchable.
He points out flaws of the American version of the subculture which have always been most troubling to me: its casual racism, sexism, and classism. I remember a palpable anger when I first started seeing city kids wearing trucker caps with ironic redneck-isms scrawled across the fronts in the early naughties, because I grew up in upper east Tennessee, among the very rednecks these kids were poking fun at. Frankly there’s something distasteful in seeing a college-educated kid who chooses to devolve himself to a dirty, dentistry-free version of himself while there are entire societies of people in the U.S. who simply must live that way. It smacks of self-entitlement and disingenuousness, and a complete inability to see the scorn and closed-mindedness required in making such a choice.
The thing that troubles me most about it: it passes, popularly, as “critical culture,” a culture which looks into the uncomfortable portions of American consumerism. But, the thing is, it doesn’t actually look into the culture. It just takes its symbols and puts on its skin. Unfortunately, a wolf in sheep’s skin is still a wolf.