I read an article in the newest issue of Adbusters entitled “Hipster: the dead end of western civilization.” The article ironically used gritty hipsteresque photos of American Apparel-clad twenty-somethings as well as deft observations: “ten years ago a man wearing a plain V-neck tee and drinking a Pabst would never be accused of being a trend follower. But in 2008, such things have become shameless cliches…”
It’s an interesting and keenly observant article. However, the conclusion alluded to in the title is misguided. The writer portrays the Hipster movement as if it is the most recent heir in a rich tradition of countercultures which ends the line of succession by absorbing the mainstream, rather than rejecting it, and eventually exploding… or maybe imploding. I’m not sure. The “exploding/imploding” metaphor is mine, not his. Regardless, he says the movement ends, taking Western civilization with it.
This is where he goes wrong. Not by failing to use my metaphor or suggesting an abrupt end to Western civilization, but by suggesting that the movements of the past were right and this new one is wrong because it’s become too trendy.
In modern American history we truly have had a string of counter-cultural movements in the post-WWII era. There were the beats, the hippies, punk, hip-hop, grunge… and all of the variations and offshoots in-between. And all of them became commercialized and mainstream in some capacity. It is the end result of every compelling modern movement.
But this article forgot to mention the true countercultural movement of today. The social justice movement. It’s movement of young people all over America, and the rest of the developed world, informing themselves of the global plight of humanity.
Those of us born after 1980 are the first generation that has grown up with the internet, allowing us to not only learn about remote regions of the world, but to communicate with those regions in real-time. And then, in a matter of seconds, we can just as easily purchase a plane ticket for a visit .
The movements of the 1960s did great things, but the majority of the changes produced affected primarily Americans, rather than the rest of the world. I’m aware that Kennedy started the Peace Corps in the 1960s and that many of the revolutionary events involved the Vietnam war in some way, but there can be no comparing the global understanding of that age and ours.
Unfortunately the marketing world has become too observant to let this movement develop untainted. GAP has its Red campaign selling clothes that benefit HIV/AIDS relief in Africa. And we also have Tom’s shoes. Toms is the company that donates a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair you buy. They now sell $120 boots that look like an Ace bandage wrapped around your calf. It’s a good idea for a socially conscious company. It’s just funny to see a pair of Toms as an accessory to an outfit that includes a pair of $300 sunglasses. [full disclosure: I’m wearing Tom’s as I write this. And tight-fitting jeans. Yes, apparently I’m a hipster too, damnit.]
However, even with this mainstream aspect, the social justice movement is still counter-cultural. What’s more counter to American culture than a movement rejecting political boundaries, and striving for just treatment for everyone, regardless of which side of an arbitrary line a human was born? Obviously we can be sedated by the ads into thinking this is just a fad.
But I believe there’s too much information being communicated out there for this to be the case for everyone. And we as a generation have experienced too much of this first-hand. If I had enough fingers and toes, I could count for days the number of people I know who’ve been to or even lived in a third-world country.
This is why the isolationist approach of the past does not take hold on our generation. This is why we don’t give in to blind patriotism. This is why we don’t want to just bomb the hell out of our “enemies”. We’ve looked into their eyes, and can see from their perspective. We want reconciliation. We want to talk.
No, the aimless, self-involved hipsters are not the counterculture of our generation. It’s the global revolutionaries.
The Calico Rebellion