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I live at the fringes of a movement.

October 22, 2008

Flappers. Beatniks. Hippies. Punks. Bohemians.

They are the heritage of the kind of contemporary subculture I find myself at the fringes of. Particularly here in Richmond, the proliferation of “Hipsters,” alternatively called “Scenesters” (and sometimes indistinguishable from “Indie kids“) is visibly apparent wherever one goes. Often spoofed, and generally distasteful to persons not involved in the culture (duh. same goes for every subculture in history), hipsters get a bad wrap, to the point of almost NEVER self-identifying with the label.

Witness parody:

The profile of hipsters mirrors that of many past subcultures of the Bohemian variety: upper/middle class individuals in their late teens through early thirties. Their Mecca is Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NYC. They affect a scholarly indifference to hygiene, an association with the working class, and a prevalence of artists, musicians, and writers. They are traveled, environmentally conscious, often socially & politically active (liberal, of course), and marked by particular fashion trends (the holy grail of which is American Apparel, and arguably Urban Outfitters, but is also based on vintage and “thrifted” clothing).

Why write about this? Well, for one thing, I fit a lot of the descriptions of hipster. And I marvel at the amount of misinformation and stereotyping surrounding the movement (if it can be called that). All such countercultures have their adherents, and their cling-ons; they generate fashion which may be accrued without the changes in lifestyle, or evolution of similar values and beliefs. For once in American history, however, there is a subculture which is not the epicenter of drug abuse nation-wide. Don’t get me wrong, aside from Parliament cigarettes and Pabst Blue Ribbon beer (co-opted, trendy symbols of the working class), some hipsters practice illicit drug use. But, it’s not essential to the fabric of the culture, the way LSD was for hippies, or Ecstasy for ravers. Rather, contemporary America faces the growing threats of homemade Methamphedamines and the widespread abuse of prescription drugs, particularly opiates. (source: http://www.drugabuse.gov/infofacts/nationtrends.html)

Why do I bring all this up? For one thing, I am finding the need to examine my own time more and more. Basically: what are the stereotypical fashion trends that my kids will gawk at when they see pictures of me in my early twenties? Or worse yet, copycat into a Halloween costume, at my expense. Along with the larger questions about the precipice my generation stands on at this moment, economically and environmentally, what are we contributing intellectually and artistically to the beauty of human existence?

I have such an incredibly strong distaste for apathy, and would loath ever being lumped into a culture of do-nothings. More and more, the times press my generation to do something. Make decisions. Make a mark. For much of the upper-middle class, war has been outsourced both to machines and to men and women of lessor means. The rich have been getting richer, and the poor poorer for decades now. We are not our grandparents’ or great-grandparents’ generation, yet we face an economic situation possibly as dire, and compacted by an economic crisis unprecedented in human existence. So, I suggest we look critically at ourselves, at our values, at the way we prioritize our own personal lives. It need not take a revolution, only the kind of grass-roots attitude change that is beneficial.

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I was inspired to write this post, in part, by landing on an article entitled “Hipster: The Dead End of Western Civilization” which, if I am honest, at times offended and angered me, seeming to fall flat in its analysis, and to lump the wheat with the chaff. However, Adbusters, the magazine which produced the article (and ironically finds its readership among the very countercultures it condemns) is a ripe space for critical thinking, and productive discourse. Like most bossy revolutionarily-bent publications, it has its fair share of hypocrisies (like wanting to sell you t-shirts and sneakers), but aside from that kind of bullsh*t, the format of blog and article posting allows for dialog with readers instantly, and helps create a well-rounded and productive discussion.

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