In his monthly countdown to 2012, our resident Shaman Daniel Pinchbeck heralds the timely demise of the hipster
For quite a long time, the icon of postmodern cool known as the hipster – disaffected, stylish, cynical, in flight from responsibility – has been an exhausted construct that refuses to die. The hipster represents an empty rebellion – through disillusion or dissolution – that colludes in secret with the powers-that-be. In the image of the hipster, the media reflects our alienation back at us, turning it into a trend or style with which we identify. Once a new generation is fooled into adapting a style – no matter how “transgressive” or ironic it seems – the image has been successfully packaged into product, perpetuating the capitalist game.
The hipster is, perhaps, finally dying because this ruse of capitalism has become so painfully obvious. We can trace the history of “cool”, a concept that came with the slaves trafficked from Africa to the New World, later transferred from jazz musicians to white bohemians, rock’n’rollers, pop artists, models, and slavish followers of fashion and trends. For African-Americans, the removed stance of cool was a survival mechanism in a hostile culture. Over time, cool was adapted to serve a useful, even crucial, function in the economic engine of post-industrial capitalism.
The vitality of any form of authentic expression or popular rebellion organically expresses itself through personal style; through image and music. This energy is then vampirically absorbed by the culture of spectacle and sold back to the people. Consider Che Guevara t-shirts, or fashion influenced by Third World cultures, as the most obvious examples.
Today, an almost seamless mechanism transmutes any legitimate expression of resistance or authenticity into status symbol or mass-market kitsch. There is little gap between the original gesture and the mainstream regurgitation. In his book Mediated, Thomas de Zengotita calls the process by which our culture of ubiquitous representation absorbs anything that potentially threatens or challenges it into what he refers to as “the blob”. We know the blob has completed its work when we become indifferent and numb to whatever phenomenon it has covered – whether it’s nuclear meltdown in Japan, dire evidence of accelerating climate change, or the bizarre but legitimate prospect that a non-human intelligence might be weaving vast geometric patterns in English wheat fields.
The hipster culture of cool values indifference over passion – detachment over belief. The hipster believes he has attained a level of awareness above the mainstream herd. In fact, his “subjectivity” is produced by the media industry. Hipster detachment is an artificial construct, designed to support a system of corporate control. We find it hard to accept that our subjectivity – our identity and persona, the lens through which we see our world – is manufactured, like any widget made in a factory. One value of psychedelics is that they reveal this process to us, demystifying social practices. For instance, we tend to forget that money is nothing but a belief system, and that capital, as the political philosopher Antonio Negri likes to remind us, is only a “social relation”. We forget that the moment we are living in is the only moment that exists, getting lost in fantasies of the past or future that remove us from immediate experience.
As we realise there is no “outside” or escape from our planet-devouring culture – except by somehow confronting and superseding it – we find that previous forms of cultural rebellion no longer attract us. The pseudo-rebellion of the solipsistic rock star, heroin-sniffing poet, or sex-addicted celebrity has become puerile and infantile. The icon of the hipster has become meaningless and retrograde, yet the hipster persists, like a ghost in the machine, because the alternative is far too strange, too difficult, for many to accept. The alternative is passionate belief, fearless determination and unstinting devotion to the cause of human liberation. Rejecting the throwaway culture of today, we would fight to protect the earth for
Over the last century, the varied forms of cultural and social rebellion were neutralized by being co-opted – yet in this process society also changed and adapted. Mass society integrated the human liberation movements of the last centuries into the fabric of daily life, on many levels. The romantic rebellions of the past remain the subliminal music and background wallpaper of the present; radical breakthroughs in defining new rhythms of perception and thought persist as underlying, invisible patterns. The next surprising, yet logical, phase in this dance is for the counterculture to define the desired alternative, co-opt the propaganda tools and financial instruments of the dominant culture, and redirect or reverse the momentum of the system as a whole. It is time for the hipster to lose his cool.
DANIEL PINCHBECK is the author of Breaking Open the Head, 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl, and the just-published Notes from the Edge Times. He edits realitysandwich.com and is featured in the documentary, 2012: Time for Change.