Hipsterdom is the first “counterculture” to be born under the advertising industry’s microscope, leaving it open to constant manipulation but also forcing its participants to continually shift their interests and affiliations. Less a subculture, the hipster is a consumer group.
The boring point is that this is, obviously, false. The idea of a counterculture arises from the same mid-20th century economic and social changes that lead to consumerism and the modern advertising industry. Hipsterism’s close relationship to the advertising industry isn’t something new at all. What is interesting, though, is how this spurious account of hipsters shows Adbusters‘ characteristically paranoid relationship to consumerism.
In an Adbusting frame of mind, advertising is an ever-present danger. What if our thoughts, those very things we think are most individual, were really placed there by adverts? Wouldn’t that be terrible? The sad thing of course is that this has already happened; the problem with consumerism isn’t that people mistakenly believe they are expressing their identities through their purchases; it’s that, under capitalism, our identities really are bound up with the things we purchase, and the activities our economic positions allow us to do (or prevent us from doing). But part of the way this whole structure materializes itself is through the way in which people continue to act as if their choices were those of authentic individuals, even when they are aware that consumer choices in general are not authentic: so buying Vice magazine is a meaningless consumer choice, but buying Adbusters is a real authentic expression.
It’s this illusory gap between the self and the capitalist system that allows the system to function (I’m ventriloquizing Žižek again here). Not coincidentally, these ideas of authenticity and self-expression are important parts of the idea of the counterculture (and of forerunners to the counterculture, such as romanticism, another modern bourgeois phenomenon). But this isn’t to condemn counterculture; like many features of capitalism, it’s double-edged, or I hope it is, because there’s certainly no getting outside of it. Adbusters would do well to stop worrying so much about advertizing, and doing a bit more to understand it.
So, I was feeling a bit sorry for the poor hipsters, targets of Adbusters‘ flailing moralism (which reaches its nadir in that article when the author attacks a 17-year-old for being a self-important poseur; I mean, shooting fish in a barrel, surely); might I find myself in the position of defending people who are certainly beyond any defense? Luckily, my fat blogger’s hatred was rekindled by reading this enormously fatuous post by Momus (but I repeat myself):
Not only does Haddow fail to see that hip subculture is a big machine for creating sex and art, he fails to see that being hip can be a sort of code of honour, something sadly lacking in the cultural mainstream. The spiritual sloth Haddow accuses the hip subculture of is actually much more prevalent in the general population, which schlepps about in jeans and listens to shapeless, floppy music and sleepwalks through shapeless, floppy jobs. People in the hip subculture are more likely — like chivalric aristocrats — to pay attention to what they’re wearing, to experiment, to innovate. (via)