Let’s No Longer Make Love, Nor Listen To Death From Above: The Hipster’s Eulogy

Hipster Handbook

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.

KYLE

19 Comments Let’s No Longer Make Love, Nor Listen To Death From Above: The Hipster’s Eulogy

  1. Caitlin April 4, 2011 at 11:36 AM

    I don’t dispute anything in this article, and really think that the observations about current trends are correct. However, I find it incredibly irksome that today’s hipster has become so specifically tied to that term. The term hipster originated in the 1940’s. There will always be a group of people that shirk the norm, immerse themselves in subculture, and define the next generation. That will always be a hipster.

    The more astute observation to make right now, and the one I’m more interested in, is if the hipster of the last 10 years is on it’s way out, if they have been welcomed into the arms of standard American culture, then what’s next?

    There will always be hipsters, so if today’s hipster is yesterdays news, who will tomorrow’s hipster be?

  2. Kyle Polensky April 4, 2011 at 11:38 AM

    Solid article, through and through.

    I think for me what’s killing the hipster movement is primarily this blatant, undeclared rule:

    ‘You’re only allowed to enjoy new trends as long as no one else does. Once the crowds come, give it up.’

    And to me, that sucks. To find something you appreciate, only then to spend the rest of the time looking over your shoulder for the inevitable masses striving to take it from you. I know so many depressed hipsters (formerly including myself) who simply can’t enjoy ANYTHING.

    Being ashamed of what you love is never right. Own up to your joys. Wear your heart on a rolled-up sleeve. Trust me, it’s better this way.

    -kp

  3. Anonymous April 4, 2011 at 12:17 PM

    I’d be very wary of any definition of identity based on taste rather than character, accomplishment, or circumstance.

    To do so is to admit that you believe that the manifestations of taste are apparently supposed to trickle up into an identity and belief system, rather than flowing in the opposite direction. Trickle up is fickle. Trickle down isn’t. Both are subject to change. It’s just that trickling down is stickier, because it hinges on the core set of beliefs of each particular generation. Consider: most punks still identify as punks, whether or not they still listen to The Germs or Black Flag. They don’t need to wear leather jackets any more because there is a seed of dissatisfaction and dissent that will not go away. That’s what makes someone a punk. It’s buried in the self.

    Ultimately, all of these cultural movements could be said to express and ground the self. Before, that was done based on who we were (social class, lineage, etc). Once kings fell, democracy rose, and meritocracy spread, we defined ourselves by what we sincerely believed (Romanticism), and later what we considered to be authentic (Modernism, universalism of intent and communication).

    Identity and these movements used to be about the projection of self outwards. Now it is the opposite: external things projecting inward. We are defined by what we like and what we surround ourselves with. Case in point: the confusion of the terms sincere and authentic. Authentic is frequently summoned, but what we typically are searching for is sincerity. Sincerity can’t be found because of a blanket irony and cynicism that covers most of the touchtones of hipster culture. Pull it back and you’d see there’s nothing authentic about a bunch of Ivy League boys making songs inspired by Afrobeat (Vampire Weekend). But, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, so long as it is sincere.

    Both authenticity and sincerity are internal pursuits, and hipsters have put these qualities up on high in the things that they like because they are unsure of how to summon it in themselves. “If I wish to be authentic, I must listen to music that is authentic. I must wear jeans that are so.” It sounds glib to say this out loud, but it is frequently the internal monologue happening that marketing preys on.

    Objects can not be authentic—once they’re labeled so, they cease to be. The worst Italian joint in town is always the one that calls itself “Authentic Italian Cuisine.” The search for authenticity via this route is ultimately fruitless. One can’t mine into another person’s spirit if they’ve accumulated all this junk around them to define who they are. Who knows? There might not even be anything there, just nothing behind a curtain of taste.

    Identities are forged in the fire of other people. If you go and look at your Facebook profile, you’ll see that the summary of your account is largely composed of a list of what you like. In 2011, taste dictates identity, online and off, and our new forms of social interaction reinforce this. In fact, they amplify it by flattening out the other aspects of self and encouraging voyeurism.

    This is the reason why “hipsters” are so fleeting. Tastes change, and they begin to change in greater rapidity the more people there are that define the self by what they like. Everyone wants to be an individual, so it turns into a pissing contest. “I liked them before they were popular.” We can’t just sincerely like something. We can not be authentic ourselves.

    It’s a race. Eventually the machine moves so fast the wheels fly off.

    What’s next? I can’t speculate. I just hope it’s from the inside out, because the other way is frustrating, void, and untenable.

  4. Brennan April 4, 2011 at 12:20 PM

    Kyle just wants to declare the end of hipsters so everyone will quit calling him one, but that will never happen so long as he continues to name drop Bret Easton Ellis and use words like “posit”. Miller High Life is no less hipster than PBR. “Re-branding” hipster as “post-whatever” is only going to make it worse.

  5. Katie April 4, 2011 at 12:57 PM

    While I appreciated your musings on the decline of hipsterdom, in particular how LCD Soundsystem’s decline is related (though I don’t know how he would feel about that), and how Urban Outfitters just ended up replacing Hot Topic, I took issue with your explanation of why American Apparel failed. As a former employee, I am sure you have your own unique view of the allegations against Dov, but calling him “our friend” and writing off his touching as “playful” does a real disservice to those affected by his misogyny.

    The image American Apparel projects, along with every other clothing store in existence, is about objectification, particularly that of females. It sucks, but it’s true. That said, the workplace experiences of such corporations should not embody those twisted ideals. The law tends to agree. Our society loves to blame female victims, or at least disbelieve them, but given the amount of women who have come forward, I would hope even the most bullheaded of male chauvinists would realize that Dov Charney is scum. Acquaintances of mine have experienced his slime in person. A blog post that undermines the validity of their experiences and finds tragedy in the fact that his persona is disappearing from the cultural landscape does little to impress me.

  6. Daniel April 4, 2011 at 1:17 PM

    Hipster Runoff isn’t dead FYI. After the posted that we was “retiring” he was back three days later.

  7. Mike April 4, 2011 at 3:39 PM

    Great article, though I would agree that the term “hipster” is not actually limited to the last 10+ years. There will always be hipsters, but the fact that the term “hipster” has become so mainstream does kind of prove the point of the article.

  8. Andy J. Miller April 4, 2011 at 9:19 PM

    gangster hipsters, and I am not joking.

  9. Sebastian April 5, 2011 at 12:34 AM

    Hail the new darlings!

    http://oddfuture.tumblr.com/

    Supposedly doing their own thing and not giving a f* and not compromising. Not a hint of irony there. We’ll see how long they fly. The rumour has it that Beoynce (with the backing up of Jay-Z I guess) has put her eyes on them. Is it a movement? A new direction? A reaction?

  10. George April 5, 2011 at 1:47 PM

    Wanting the next trend to be pluralistic individualism.

  11. Jordan Halland April 5, 2011 at 2:33 PM

    Awesome Article. I remember spirit week at my grade school always consisted of one day called “hippie day” where you wore flowers and bell botoms and rose colored glasses. I never had the guts to dress up but I do recall thinking that these were accurate representations of how my parents spent their youth. It wasn’t until high school that I realized that their generation was painted with a broad brush and the extremes of the hippie culture became the face of a generation. I have never seen photos of my parents wearing flower patterned blouses. Rose colored glasses, giving the peace sign, etc. Yet these are what the baby boomers are known for.

    This past decade will inevitably be known for the outlandish and loudest aspect of hipsterdom. Skinny jeans, v-necks, fixed gear bikes, chest tattoos, beards, PBR, etc. are only a few of the many cultural symbols that a whole generation will be condensed down to. Our kids will ask if we ever wore Tom’s or went to Coachella, If we really wore our pants that tight, why our bikes didn’t have breaks: Stupid, useless stuff. It’s too late for us. Just like our parents before, no one will ever say we were the greatest generation. They will instead speak of our self involvement, our shallowness, our unhealthy appetite for culture. This is a vast generalization and not accurate in the least but it is our loudest character flaw. Thus it is what we will be remembered for

    I can’t wait till my son has to dress up for hipster day at his school and I pull out an old American Apparel v-neck and some black rimmed glasses.

  12. Josh Meyers April 5, 2011 at 4:14 PM

    Fuck you Robert Lanham I’ll play Sony Playstation until I die and have a good relationship with my children while you sit alone, naked… reading Infinite Jest for the twentieth time or whatever.

  13. Rob April 6, 2011 at 4:44 PM

    thank you for this article. i’ve been on the edge of my seat waiting for this “culture” to die, and you’ve given me hope that finally it is happening. hopefully, rock music and modern hip hop will die with it and there will be room for music with more substance and originality. Also, I am hoping for originality in fashion, as the hipsters have spent their whole time in the sun just regurgitating fashion trends from the past. ugh, what a dreadful decade that was for mainstream culture….i’m willing to blame it on george bush, but you people did make a conscious choice to be shills.

  14. Asa Sheppard April 6, 2011 at 4:56 PM

    Trends will inevitably be repeated over and over. The results may never be that obvious or in your face, but it’s very easy to spot old trends being reincarnated in newer trends. The only things that people take attention to are the fads and trends blowing up for one particular group.(rappers wearing skinny jeans,etc.) Being a “hipster” today is almost identical to the masses in the 70’s and 80’s. I, personally, choose to dress the way that I dress because of my love for natural and living thigns. I feel that wearing colors close to that of a tree or of blades of grass, tends to make me feel more comfortable and closer to natural surroundings. I would rather have an old vintage look, than have a look that seems so involved with the new-age that colors are giving you cataracs and looks are so mixed together with different trends that you wont know what to classify someones style as. and as much as many dont want to admit it, they classify people by style. WE ALL DO. Classification of style, especially in pop-culture that we enjoy, is the epitome of our interpretations of “cool.” “Cool” in your eyes is what you aim to be and your interpretation is always going to have a slight differentiation from someone else’s.

  15. marshall April 6, 2011 at 5:58 PM

    Not to belabor the point, but I think you’re mincing “hipster” – any sort of sub/counter culture enthusiast – and “scenester” – people who really like DFA bands and scarfs and fedoras and fashion irony. Yeah, scenester music and fashion has been on a decline for years. Hipsters are just evolving and diversifying their interests and tastes. The apathy and snobbery and need to be in on things before they are actually considered identifiable things is what’s really at the core of being a hipster more than any discrete taste in music or fashion.

  16. Chad April 6, 2011 at 7:35 PM

    Ha, I always called Urban Outfitters the hipster Hot Topic.

  17. lucky April 7, 2011 at 1:48 PM

    Meta-hipsters. That is my prediction. But then again I’m stuck in an apathetic, make-fun-of-everything, meta-beyond-rationality, thesis project right now. Which doesn’t make much sense when I try and put that all into a coherent sentence.

  18. Kenta April 10, 2011 at 10:50 PM

    Come to Seattle and you’ll see that hipsterism is still alive and well. The difference is that being a hipster used to be ironic and fun, the whole thing was somewhat laughable. Now the ones that continue to survive are all too serious. They are kids listening to “witch house”, living in bed-bug infested houses pretending not to be university students, and of course, not dancing at concerts. As much as we love him, James Murphy has been replaced by James Blake. And calling a movie like Juno “alternative” is simply hysterical. New Order is played at house parties, and if people don’t end up dancing on the roof then it’s not called a party. They’re not the kids that high-school suburbia calls “hipsters” with a sneer; they are the kids that high-school suburban “hipsters” are enamored by and somewhat scared of (believe me, as a suburban high-schooler that is called a hipster, I would know). Sure, the Urban Outfitters and American Apparel brand of hipsters were over-marketed and have subsequently died away. But the DIYed Goodwill brand is still thriving. The thing is, they only come out at night.

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