zen and the modern hipster

For some reason (my own ego) the hipster movement in Portland struck me like a bad hangover from my very first impression. Before moving to Portland I had a vague idea of what hipster meant –my version stemmed from extensive reading of 1950’s American literature. Perhaps what irked me the most was the arrogance with which the hipster cliques in Portland moved, pretending as if the rest of world, the people around them, didn’t even exist, or worse, were less than human.

I was born a toe headed kid in a Latin American country and have been no stranger to sticking out or not feeling like I fit in. And yet I have always been attracted to America’s sub-culture movements but mostly as a watcher, not fitting in has been my shield. But I digress –in a recent post by Foulweather we see some street level social commentary, presumably by a “hipster.” And it seems that the particular slogan has its merit. However, I cannot help but notice the rapid commodification of the hipster lifestyle and it makes me wonder how this longstanding bohemian tradition will survive this attack of blatant capitalism.

Or maybe it’s already been dead for a long time?

I guess that what I’d like to know is whether or not any real subculture still exists that has not been packaged and sold to the masses?

Here is a relevant passage by Alan Watts commenting on Zen in the Western World and it’s adoption by the beatnik hipsters.

“The "beat" mentality as I am thinking of it is something much more extensive and vague that the hipster life of New York and San Francisco. It is a younger generation's nonparticipation in "the American Way of Life," a revolt which does not seek to change the existing order but simply turns away from it to find the significance of life in subjective experience rather then objective achievement. It contrasts with the "square" and other-directed mentality of beguilement by social convention, unaware of the correlativity of right and wrong, the mutual necessity of capitalism and communism to each other's existence, of the inner identity of puritanism and lechery, or of, say, the alliance of church lobbies and organized crime to maintain the laws against gambling.”

So are the hipsters of New York, San Francisco and Portland just another marketing demographic? Does the unified fashion, music, aesthetic and even prevailing ideology mean anything more than a clean cut marketing plan? Even though I have a distaste for the hipster sub-culture, I’d like to think, or maybe even wish, that there’s “something much more extensive and vague” for the sake of preserving some shred of human decency –some little bit that cannot be bought or sold.

mahalo and goodnight


Gazelle said...

My feeling is that the vast majority of hipsters in any given city look and act the way they do simply because they don't want to be "square." That often means that they are not very interesting or creative either. Those interested in sub-cultures (like us) would hope hipsters are "doing stuff" - creating art, starting alt businesses, or are politically active. But my experience is that, especially with the twenty something crowd, it is generally an identity for individuals that haven't grown up yet (or don't want to). So, the result is in fact a great marketing demographic - people not thinking critically that just want to fit in.

Anonymous said...

Every city has thier hipster crowd. SF, LA, DC, NY, MINN, you name it. Some hipsters are good, some are bad no matter how much I or we like to make fun of them. Really there just urban kids you'll find them in any city. Go live in a surf town like Santa Cruz or HMB and see how clickey that is. If you didnt go to high school there, well your not a local and will get no respect in or out of the water.

But in Portland hipsters do stand out more. Why? Probably due to the lack of overall cultural diversity here. They are everywhere in SF and all the time I spent there, they never really bothered me. Here in PDX, they kinda do. But if you poke around, the city may be more diverse than one thinks. We even have a pretty cool hip hop scene here with several really good MC's. Not to mention thriving Reggae, Rock A Billy, Punk, and overall music scene.

My hood might be considered a hipster hood, but truthfully if you walk around and see the real residents, its mostly middle class 30 somethings, starting familes, simply just living in a city thats affordable and green. It’s a place where average people can make it, not having to sell out and work for dot commies or strive to make that 6 figure salary in the business or tech world.

The great thing about PDX compared to all the other cities I've lived in is, come here, live and do what you want without being juged or people making a big stink about it. Who cares what the hipsters are doing anyway. Why should I care or waste my time, I'm just doing thing, trying to live a rasie kids. Why I came here. Besides after living in the Bay Area for many years I'll take histers over yuppies any day.

Foulweather... said...

I don't really understand the term 'hipster' but I know if you meet one they will deny it... Portland is an attractive city to young artists, writers, musicians and so on. Are they hipsters? Its a lazy term, we're all guilty of lumping people into... more and more as we age away from them... It reeks of middle class/middle age complacency.

Now as far as the 'Commodification of cool.' Its nothing new but happens at a much faster rate in this day and age due to information technology but check this essay out by Ian Svenious and see how far back it might actually go, why it obviously intentional, how it serves authority and who might be behind it. "Cool in the Cold War" http://superxmedia.com/412/412.htm

Foulweather... said...

Its my sense that the truly 'hip' are ahead of the marketers. But the time lap between cutting edge culture and commercialization is negligible b/c the effort capitalists put into trying to stay on top of what might be the 'next big thing.' See Naomi Klein's "No Logo,' for more on this....