What about the letters to your fiancée was Pynchonian?
The tangly sentences, the overfullness of them, and a kind of dirty explicitness. A hipster jadedness. “Seen it all, done it all, don’t mean shit.” Like the dark side of R. Crumb.
Each generation has its blind spots, but seldom do generations catch their blind spots early enough to self-correct, early enough to prevent the following generation from reacting.
I hope, in some small measure, to self-correct with this. Perhaps it will help no one else but me, but if it helps me self-correct my own hipster fallacies, then at least I will not raise up reactionaries in my own home.
is. I’ve seen black people and white people, men and women, young and old, businessman and artist, and so on earn the label. If you get called a hipster and deny it, you’re more hipster than when you started. If you get called a hipster and affirm it, well then you’re obviously a hipster. If you ignore it, you can’t contribute to the conversation at all, other than to call someone a hipster, which is exactly the kind of thing that hipsters posing as non-hipsters in an oh-so-hipster kind of way would, in fact, do. As the character from that new Ben Stiller movie said, “Well I am of a certain age and wear skinny jeans.”
Whether from the thrift store or Hollister I never bought a pair of skinny jeans (too effeminate for my style), but having bought tight girly button-ups back when I was poor and in the emo crowd, I can at least identify with the sentiment. The sentiment goes that the hipster mindset is the spirit of our age. And that spirit is summarized no clearer than the way Jonathan put it: Seen it all, done it all, don’t mean shit.
The hipster fallacies come in two forms, the first as old as the industrial revolution and the second older — dating back to Eve and her apple. In the first we have the fallacy that new is best. In the second we have the fallacy that ignorance is not bliss, but rather a missed opportunity.
The first of the Hipster Fallacies:
New is Best
This fallacy I’ve broken down in my piece Old Books > New Books, but I’ll spend a bit of time on it here because it’s not leaving any time soon. Since the dawn of the industrial revolution, western men have assumed that if we can build something, we should. Only now with the advent of disciplines like bioethics and nanoethics and neuroethics are we seeing scientists finally ask the question should we really? We have our stories of Frankenstein and Jurrasic Park, of scientists who have gone too far simply because “far” was there to go to, even, of course, if “far” was right off the edge of a cliff into an abyss. The choice to make something or partake of something simply because it’s there comes, ultimately, from a belief that man is not man, but a beast and therefore whatever follows man must be the apex of beastliness: the self-sufficient machine. The tricky part is — whether by eugenics or the misnomered “artificial intelligence” fields — who gets to be the last man standing? Because in every industry, you have at the center a man trying to preserve himself and, as history has shown, that man ends by oppressing other men (and women and children) for his own self-interest. Eugenics is not a system of breeding in beautiful, rich men so much as breeding out the ugly, poor ones. And even if eugenics could be used for good, that ideal would still be made of inbreds. I’m reminded of the Malfoys. And artificial Intelligence industries are, deep down, invested less in the singularity (if you believe such a thing exists, I have good reasons for my doubts) and more in simply pricing the poor out of the workplace.
All of that to say, when someone says, “New is best,” they’re really saying, “All of human history is bad compared to what’s to come.” It’s an argument that cannot even make logical sense, cannot even be spoken aloud unless something — anything — that came before that statement had some seed of goodness and beauty and truth within it. It’s actually more of wishful thinking, for the implied assumption is “All of human history is bad compared to what’s to come and I hope to find it first.” Men make the same arguments while habitually playing the lottery.
And so you’ll find the hipster standing at a crossroads as the judge, praising something new and exciting like an addict looking for a newer, stronger high. And like the addict, the hipster will always overdose on his own search for the new and exciting — it’s a fatal journey either to breeding himself out of history or inventing himself out of history or, in the case of art, simply erasing himself. Perhaps it’s fitting, then, that ours is the age that produced “The Erased DeKooning.”
In short, new is only best when judged best by the old. For the old has given us both the word “new” and the word “best,” as well as their meanings.
That’s where the hipster mounts his second attack.
The second of the hipster fallacies:
Ignorance is missed opportunity.
In possibly my favorite anecdote from history, Socrates once approached one of the highest generals in Athens — this in an honor/shame culture — and said, “I’m smarter than you.”
“No you’re not,” said the general.
“Of course I am. I’m smarter than you will ever be.”
This was in the agora. A crowd was gathering.
Feeling his honor challenged, the general began to draw his sword. “Take it back,” he said to Socrates.
Socrates did not take it back, but doubled down loudly: “I’m smarter than you because I know that I know nothing and you draw your sword, acting as if you know something. Neither of us know anything at all.” And he walked away.
Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the hipster movement, if we may call it that, began in New York. A true New Yorker will never admit when you’ve changed their mind or made a good point. A true New Yorker will actually pretend as if they encountered the idea you’re presenting them before you discovered it for yourself. It’s an awful trait I’ve noticed in myself over the years that I’m trying to curb down with more responses like “That’s interesting” and “I didn’t know that” and “I don’t know that word, please teach me.” But, irony of ironies, I only discovered it through another New Yorker’s observation about New Yorkers in general. Here is how I’d put it:
New Yorkers are the most close-minded people in the world simply because they pretend to be more open-minded than you. It’s not that there aren’t open-minded people out there. It’s simply that there are open-minded people and then there are people who hate any idea that didn’t originate in their own mind, even if it’s good.
From where I’m standing, no idea originated in your mind or mine.
Which is where the hipster exposes his greatest weakness:
At the core of the hipster fallacy, New Yorker or otherwise, the hipster says, “I have seen it all. I have done it all. Nothing you’re telling me has any meaning on my life.” The hipster makes himself an island among men by refusing to interact with them, refusing to learn from them, approaching everything he fears with a cynical irony, a jaded idea that his own ignorance simply belies his failure to discover The New before you discovered The New. He so idolizes The New that he becomes worse than the eugenicist who breeds out the mentally handicapped and the Jew. He becomes worse than the engineer who would merge himself with the mind of a heartless machine. He becomes his namesake: a soulless protrusion of bone that has lost the wonder and awe of the soul that once possessed it.
Because the only one who could claim to have seen it all and done it all is God himself. And so the hipster makes himself God and by making himself God, he cannot comprehend the meaning of things. He has no choice but to tack on don’t mean shit to the end of seen it all, done it all. How could It All mean anything to such a finite creature as the hipster?
That’s really what we’re talking about here: a lack of wonder, a lack of awe. And not even demons lose wonder. The only things that have no wonder are dead things.
Things like discarded hip bones.
You see, the hipster gets his name from the word “hip” meaning “cool,” which came from the word “hype” meaning “extravagant publicity or promotion.”
The word “hype” came to us from a 1920’s word for “shortchange” or “cheat.”
Because people who hyped up false investments in the 1920’s and cheated you out of money were often compared to the cutpurses and cutpockets who stole wallets straight from your “hip” as in hip bone — from the Old English hype which is related to our word “hop.”
After all a hip is a thing you need to jump with if you plan to have good hops.
As in the preservative hipsters lauded simply because it was new and no one else had tried it en masse. So they loaded up our India Pale Ales (did you know on route to India the Brits used to use preservatives to get the shipment around the horn of Africa and that’s why they needed more hops?!) with the one ingredient no one else wanted more of and liked it so much, they spread it to our porters and our stouts and our kölsches and in turn they burnt all of our beer. You can’t screw up beer for crying out loud, but the hipster found a way, by God (and here I mean “by himself,” of course, and therefore mean nothing at all). The Hipster found a way only because he feared his own ignorance and wanted to be new before everyone else.
So we might as well call them hopsters for all the good it’ll do. Next thing you know, he’ll hop out of the brewery and into the kitchen where he’ll put kimchi in our tacos simply because no one else has, patching together his culinary menu from the dead bits of living dishes. The Hipster and Dr. Frankenstein?
Both calling themselves God while wielding the rod of Hades.
cover image by Luca Rossato