It is only the beginning of April 2011 but a lot of things are changing in the world around us. For one, we are facing massive government transitions throughout the world, namely in Egypt and closely followed by Libya. We have already faced a massive natural disaster that has shaken one of the world’s densest countries. We’ve mourned the loss of Elizabeth Taylor, a violet Hollywood gem amongst the modern rubbish we now see at the multiplexes. A lot has already happened in this still young year. But, I feel one large cultural item has gone overlooked, an item that relates directly to urban twentysomethings.
This item is the death of the hipster and the associated culture as it is perceived to be. I’ve noticed it’s dissipation for years now, as you hear people everywhere–from Wal-Marts to vintage stores–call each other and deny accusations of being a hipster. Young preteens in the suburbs are wearing Toms shoes and the emblematic keffiyeh scarf. Moms and Dads are downloading music by artists like Cut Copy and Sufjan Stevens for free, texting and video chatting their kids for help on how to use
Hype Machine in order to find out other things to listen to. Names like Aaron Sorkin, Paul Giamatti, Natalie Portman, David Fincher, and Trent Fucking Reznor are among household names. A movie like Juno can sweep the hearts of a nation, on the wings of a silver screen ingenue by the name of Ellen Page, performing a role penned by a woman by the name of “Diablo Cody”.
It sounds both pretentious and preposterous, but like grunge in the nineties, the underground has gone mainstream. We can’t hide it anymore, as city dwellers visit their suburban towns during holidays to walk past Urban Outfitters in place of where Hot Topics once stood. This seems like an easy enough (and obvious) transition, but a few really tangible things have happened within the past three months of this year that has nailed the hammer into the cold, ironic, European cigarette smoking coffin of the hipster.
Let me outline these things that me and you and everyone we know have noticed, mourned, but not weighed in social implication. There are three things and they are the trinity that makes the hipster: music, clothes, and irony, the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost of hipsterdom.
The most recent (and most recently annoying) is LCD Soundsytem’s calling it quits. Twitter, Facebook, and Pitchfork have all been decrying James Murphy‘s decision to end it on the band and, with the band’s final performance this past weekend, a page has turned. Murphy, a musical genius of our time with high hopes and lofty dreams, defined an era. I remember discovering the epic DFA Compilation, Vol. 2 at the beginning of college and being blown away: it was like nothing I had ever heard and like nothing that was around. It was the voice of ghosts from the nineties rising up, gnashing their teeth against computers to create beautiful music. From Murphy’s handmade DFA label, you had acts like The Rapture, Hot Chip, and–of course–LCD Soundsystem come out and project what the next fifteen years of American music was going to look like. I remember hearing friends murmur that he was campaigning through MySpace, another artifact of the era, to purchase LCD’s second album–Sound of Silver–to get it to number one on Billboard. When the album didn’t break the charts (and was likely illegally downloaded through Limewire), Murphy was forever bruised. Like his songs that bemoan girls not liking him and hint at him never being cool enough, part of LCD died. When This Is Happening came out, again not greeted by a number one on Billboard, I think more of Murphy died. What next? The band’s done. With that, a large musical chapter closed. The hipsters’ ears were knifed away with the bottle cap of a Pabst Blue Ribbon.
Similarly, and on to the second point, our good friend Dov Charney is currently facing even more and more issues (ahem, *bankrupcy*) with a little company he owns: American Apparel. Once the fashion touchstone and most definitely the iconic ironic look of the 2000s era, American Apparel’s minimalism caught our hearts in early 2000 (coincidentally when Charney moved the company into its current downtown Los Angeles factory).
The store then slowly bloomed, at first confusing us with plain v-necks. “What? There’s nothing on here,” our collective memories yell, only to utter, “Oh, I get it: no design IS the design!” Many rejoiced, claiming their shirts, underwear, and socks to be the best from the West. Slowly, the company brought in more: hoodies, collared shirts, and the much anticipated pants (which I blogged about ever so eagerly after I had snagged a pair of first generation pants that I still–TO THIS DAY–wear). People still rejoiced, stores moved into New York, the Disctrict of Columbia, Philadelphia, Miami, Atlanta, and a few other places. Their retail bags, then, were only brandished by the names of North American cities.
Then, things changed. Quickly: the store introduced patterns, the store introduced publications, and the store’s owner’s antics were introduced to the tabloids. With Charney’s escalating ill favored publicity for playfully touching employees while wearing seventies “Daddy” sunglasses, the store also began to escalate all too fast. There was no stopping the store. And, as I applied and received a job there in 2008, it seemed like it was unstoppable at the height of a recession. But, like all stores that rapidly expanding during the recession, a fall was in sight. And, the mighty fall hard.
Now, as we all claw out of a devastating recession, American Apparel climbs hardest, away from its zippered bathing suits, poplin vests, braided belts, hooded scarves, basic aprons, winter coats, magazines, pens, eyewear, Sesame Street shirts, ViVa Radio accessories, California Select, Rit dyes, acid washed apparel, see-through apparel, kid’s clothes, dog’s clothes, men’s clothes, women’s clothes, $350 lamps, and–finally–into the inevitable sale rack. What happened was they tried to be everything–fast–without acknowledging the recession, a thing that can only be accomplished by the childish joie de vivre that Charney has. They tried to be a kid’s retailer, they tried to be a home goods retailer, they tried to be a leather distributor, they tried to be an Etsy store, and–most recently–they tried to be J.Crew…all inside every store.
Like a dumber, less self-aware, retail version of James Murphy’s DFA, Charney’s American Apparel didn’t willingly call its gig quits: it’s slowly being forced into it for having expanded too quickly and having diversified too quickly. Atop of all that, Charney’s antics are truly outlandish and have personified the hipster. The company is being spanked into adulthood, but likely will never realize it.
And, at the end of the day, the idea of American Apparel is fading. Unlike LCD’s wise early resignation, they are still trying to “come back,” kill their way back to the top: they are DYING to be the skinny, simple, cool hipster they once were instead of the silly, outdated, bloated has-been it now is. Instead of diversifying the way that Urban Outfitters did (a company I thought were sellouts from the start, only to far exceeded my predicted half-life), they were greedy: they were all about looks.
They were all about being the “coolest person at the party.” And what happens to the “coolest person at the party,” drunk off of one too many Pabst Blue Ribbons? They vomit. They vomit and never show their face again on the scene. That is what is happening to American Apparel: they are vomiting. We saw it on their one day, April 1, 2011 “April Fools” sale, and will undoubtedly see it for a few weeks–maybe months–to come until they are kicked out of the party. It has been a long time coming but, as all has-beens/”coolest person at the party” eventually receive, American Apparel will be kicked out of the party. They, along with Lindsay Lohan and Mischa Barton, will leave the party for good. They’ll try to rehab and quietly come back, but likely will just end up in jail. Yet, we will never let them climb back to the top. We remember how badly they messed up. And, American Apparel has had the foul called on them far too many times. With that, we bid adieu to the Son.
The third and last point, a point that I feel screams “WHAAAAAAAT” from miles and more than 140 characters away, was the quitting-before-anyone-had-ever-expected death of Hipster Runoff. The most vocal and ironic of all ironers in the past decade, the site was a shining beacon of pop culture commentary by, for, and against hipster culture. Hipster Runoff was a conundrum: it was in on the joke, while living the joke, but didn’t ever know the punchline. And, nearly a week after the site called it quits, what is that punchline?
Well, from founder of the site Carles’ e-mail with Gawker, there was one: selling out.
“Selling Out.” What does that even mean?
I mentioned it in this article, but what does it mean? Well, according to alt-bro UrbanDictionary.com, “selling out” means this:
To compromise one’s values and/or aristic vision in order to gain fame and/or monetary profit. Commonplace in today’s musical society. It is rare to find a successful musical artist who has not “sold out”, however, this is not to say that they do not exist.
Interesting: “gain[ing] fame.”
Fame, by many, is related to success which is related to money which is related to doing whatever you want, a mantra Carles backhandedly lived by. This was also something Murphy/LCD yearned for with their being number one on lamestream creation, Billboard. Moreover, it was something Charney/”Am Appy,” a term the site ever so playfully calls “American Apparel,” never overtly admitted but inadvertently admitted by selling (but not out of!) Sesame Street apparel and to headlines with Charney’s antics.
But, what did Carles have to say about selling out?
If I could have sold out, I would have, but that opportunity never came, and probably wasn’t going to for HRO.
Interesting: the “Hipster of the Decade” would have sold out, wasn’t given the opportunity, and called it quits before the idea of an opportunity even manifested itself. Even at that, the closest he came to that opportunity was several Gawker posts and 47,085 followers on Twitter. So, was that opportunity ever going to arrive?
No, it never was and it never did and it never will. A sad reality we all–“alt” and “lamestream” alike, HRO’s beloved term for “hipster” and “mainstream”–realize, opportunity is something you fight for, something you have to sell your soul for, which is something the hipster never learned: it stayed in Neverland, the hipster’s hometown. Like those in Williamsburg, Silver Lake, and Little Five Points, all heavily populated (now post-)hipster communities, to sell out is to grow up. It’s to make something out of yourself. It is to see the world and become a part of it, kinks, obscurities, and oddities and all. It is to use your minority to win the majority, to use your “alt” to win the “lamestream”. Shepard Fairey has learned and prospered from this, Seth Rogen has learned and prospered from this, and–most importantly–Lady Gaga has learned and prospered from this. “Selling out” is “growing up.” A lot of us just don’t “get” that, though. But, as prophetic as he is becoming, Carles and HRO understood that and hit the point Murphy/LCD and Charney/Am Appy never did:
I probably started HRO when I was insecure and felt like I needed a tribe of people to understand me to feel validated, but now I have predictably ‘grown up.’
Thus, insecurity leads to trying to gain the obscure’s attention leads to realizing you cannot gain the obscure’s or anyone’s attention without “growing up.” With that, the hipster has died and we are in a whole new world, where the Holy Ghost flew away from Hipster Ariel‘s predictions. And, with that, we have someone who is Posthipster, a person who has avoided Pabsts being thrusted upon him by partygoers and has instead grabbed up a newly redesigned bottle of Miller High Life.
But, what is that world? I don’t know. It’s still too early to tell. However, we can make a few predictions. Andy Warhol thought that the world would be a place where we all get fifteen minutes of fame, a notion that is now 45% true. Bret Easton Ellis nods that it is “Post-Empire,” a notion he has been getting at for years relating to simply not giving a shit about anything. Technology is dictating that the world is “found,” via a social utility that connects you with the people around you or by a way to find the best way to discover what’s new in your world or by thinking differently (yet, not through a place for friends). The reemerged DIY movement is predicting things will be more homegrown and natural, shunning Technology for local activity and bike riding. I am finding that the world is shifting toward a more aware, yet apathetic, snobbery that is both high and low culture: a place to where everything is lumped together as Posteverything.
Regardless, it is still too early to tell and we are left with a lingering question: what will the hipster grow up to create? The 1990s’ twentysomething was the grunge kid, who matured to become the 2000s’ thirtysomething hipster before hipsters were a thing, which trickled down to twentysomethings of the 2000s to take on the hipster, which now leads us to today: 2000s’ twentysomethings who are now thirtysomethings and late twentysomethings in 2010s…but, what is that called?
No idea. And, there won’t be an idea for at least another year, year and a half or so. I posit that it will become Postworld, as irony and Technology’s union rule us all in a Posteverything society. No matter, it is Postsomething. With that, from one hipster to probably a hipster reader, what do you think that “Postsomething” is? Where are we heading? What is the next cultural boom? I feel Carles may know the answer, a person so wise to coin the musical subgrenre “Chill Wave” and quit before he even started winning: it lies in memes, in lies in communication, and the convergence of alt and lamestream. Perhaps the new trinity is humor, Technology, and selling out?
Let us close with a quote from Robert Lanham, alt author of the 2000s era who, too, never got the chance to sell out. At the close of Lanham’s iconic, ironic 2002 predictive-of-a-decade book, The Hipster Handbook, he put it best:
We’ll stop telling you what not to do. The most important thing to remember is to stay young at heart and have fun. Maybe it’s time to put away your Sony PlayStation and stop dressing like you are a member of Sleater-Kinney, but you are never to old to be a Hipster.