Archive | August, 2012

Why Hipsters, Witches and Goblins Don’t Exist

23 Aug

When was the last time you had a girl put a curse on you that worked? Or when did you last hear a screech in the woods and turned around to find that it was not a peacock but, in fact, a banshee? Have you ever been chased across the cemetery yards by a goblin?

Have you met one single person this year, in 2012, whom when you asked what they were doing with their lives, said, ‘Oh, I’m a hipster.’ One simply doesn’t hear this, at least not without irony. Why? Because, like witches, banshees and goblins, hipsters don’t exist.

Now, I know many will want to say, ‘Oh, but on the contrary. I see hipsters everywhere.’ But—I regret to have to make this potentially clumsy correlation—in the McCarthy era, people saw communists everywhere too. What you are seeing is not a member of a definable, objective counter culture. What you are seeing is a boy with a striped shirt. A girl with large glasses. A fellow in a fedora. But sadly, these are not the signifiers of what it means to be (allegedly) a ‘hipster.’ They are only the symptoms, and yet, not very useful symptoms, for they’re so broad and far reaching that anyone who happens to deviate from a polo-shirt and jeans might fit the part to your standard. But what causes these symptoms—or rather, what do we strongly associate with these trite generalizations? Pretention, the-will-to-have-done-it-first, music you don’t happen to yourself like, books you’ve never heard of, the excesses you don’t happen to favor.

I must make my main point here: It is my suspicion that a ‘hipster,’ in the broad sense of the word today, is merely an annoying person who doesn’t share any of your tastes.

You might say, ‘Why would you defend people like that?’ Well, I don’t feel the need to defend them just as I don’t feel the need to defend evil hexes, unicorns or dragons. I simply wish to warn people that they mustn’t feel so threatened by dragons that don’t actually roam the woods.

Now, none of us like things that are annoying and pretentious, but I hardly think it fair that a guy in a club should be ostracized by a plain-clothes person because he happens to wear a bowler hat or because he happens to be reading a biography about Che Guevara while wearing loud colors just because someone who happened to annoy the plain-clothes person carried a similar book and wore a similar shirt on their seldom visit to a non-Starbucks coffee shop.

You may say to me, ‘Sounds like the words of someone who’s angry about being called a hipster at some recent point.’ On the contrary! This blogger has not been accused. There are a series of sayings that broaden the terms of hipsterism beyond its metaphysical range. Surely you’ve heard them: ‘No one hates hipsters more than hipsters,’ which would cancel out the one who accuses you of being one with no real problem. My personal favorite, ‘If you know what a hipster is, you’re probably a hipster,’—as if their mere mention is some kind of self-reflective threat that could turn back in on you unless you’re one step ahead (in hipster fashion) by knowing that mentioning them makes you one of them: an attitude that is so reminiscent of the ‘hipster mentality’ that it would, in a technical way, still make you a hipster.

All over the world, there are douche-bags. You might meet them in the street or on the bus, or you might work with them. ‘Hello, my name is David and I am a douche-bag.’ You don’t hear this either. But the difference between a douche-bag and a hipster: we don’t identify a douche-bag as having any kind of identifiable subculture. But yet the one important thing they both have in common is that nobody would identify themselves as either. If no one is willing to admit that they belong to a certain group, one then has to wonder if the title is a very useful way of categorizing people.

As I said before, there were once real hipsters, which probably means little beyond the fact that the real hipsters considered themselves such. The movement started in the 1940’s and is linked symbiotically to jazz, which cannot be so readily said of ‘hipster’ sensibilities today. The original term ‘hipster’ replaced ‘hepcat,’ for some odd reason—I’m not sure if there was a bebop council that voted on it or not.

This is not to say that they were necessarily better for being the originals. Depending on your taste, you might have found them just as annoying and just as pretentious. The movement was described as white middle-class kids trying to be black—which probably says less about the movement and more about insecurity to do with cultural integration among the generation before. But if they are correct in any way, it could then be said, in regard to the history of hipsters, that white folks have failed our African American friends once again by being second hand racist toward these other white folks who wanted to do what one African American subculture were doing.

Now, I must eat some of my words for a moment. Maybe some of you know people that refer to themselves as hipsters without irony. However, I suspect, that if you gathered all of these people together in one room, they would (similar to the Punks) try to out-hipster each other, which would ultimately trace their contradistinction to one another, thus making them nothing like a real culture of any kind once again—which proves my point.

The automobile has provided us with an easier way to move from place to place. The television provided us with hours of easy entertainment. The internet provided us with an easier access to knowledge and Facebook provided us with an easier means to keep in contact with old friends. But there’s a dark side to easier. Dismissing certain attitudes, fashions and tastes as that of a ‘hipster’ is an easy way for us to cope with our own embarrassment over the cultural fashion follies, philosophy follies and awkward tastes of yesteryear. Anything can be dismissed as outdated, but the great thing about hipster-phobia is that you can dismiss anything that is considered ‘freshly retro,’ or new, or more unknown, as something that a culturally unattractive person would admire. And this will to stay ahead of the hipsters is, by its current definitional nature concerning hipsterism, a hipster attitude which would make anti-hipsters the biggest hipsters of all.

Once again, I’m not defending hipsters because I have shown that they don’t actually exist. If they did exist in the form that people claim they do, perhaps I would be talking about how much I dislike them the way people want to. But I’ll say this, even if they do exist, are they that big of a cultural threat that we have to keep hearing about them everywhere we go?

More importantly, before you decide that someone is objectionable, perhaps you should actually speak to them. If they’re a threat, then you can deal with it.



Brief Thoughts On Bigotry

13 Aug

Darconix, on the postive aspects of bigotry


Cultivated bigotry is often easily mistaken for something that fashions itself as a sort of ‘social objectivity.’ ‘Let’s not fool ourselves,’ says the cultivated bigot, before he expresses a thought more common among more vulgar types of people—with high style and much pretense as to how he will be begrudgingly heard by his ‘equals.’ But when the more vulgar types express this very same thought, they are dismissed as uneducated and crass. Thus, the bigotry of this latter kind of man is dangerous, but only the way that all unbridled violence is dangerous—easily policed where it is not easily eradicated. Cultivated bigotry is more dangerous if only because it takes longer to articulate and, therefore, appears shrewder and humbler than it is. However, the more vulgar man does us all a great service by finding affinity with the man who displays cultivated bigotry. It is by him that those who don’t so easily form their own opinions recognize a stupid idea despite its having transcended its class, and it is through this revelation that many witness the architecture of their own biases. The so called ‘tolerant man’ resorts to vulgarity concerning classes and races whom he feels superior to as a kind of sweet dessert, long after the pre-prandial business of tolerance and the great feast of patient understanding have failed to reward him as a direct agent of its utility.

The Sanest Insane Man In All The World: the cheerful darkness of Nabokov

4 Aug






Several years back as I read Nabokov’s Glory on my lunch break, a coworker asked, ‘Are you reading that for school?’

‘Nah, I’m just reading it,’ I said. ‘You ever read him?’

‘No,’ my coworker responded. ‘I never really got into the Russians.’

Hearing this was strange at the time. But why? Nabokov is unmistakably Russian. But if there is anything Russian about his actual writing, it is a Russianness he has imposed onto the country and not the other way around. His writing has an alien feel, but this didn’t seem sufficient to say to capture his singularity. So, having known that Nabokov had spent some time living in Oregon, I said, ‘No, he definitely wasn’t Russian … He was an Oregonian.’ But he could have been Californian, Swiss or French. He could be anything as long as there were butterflies to be found there (he was a champion, obsessive lepidopterist).

Better known for his feat of acrobatic, playful language that is Lolita, he seemed to come out of the creative womb almost fully formed with earlier works of such synesthesiac intensity and maze-like thought architecture that one wonders if he was ever even young. A silly curiosity, really. He was obviously young at one time, we know, for how obsessed he was with memory. When an interviewer once asked him if he considered his fixation with memory Proustian, he responded, ‘I consider it Nabokovian.’

When asked why some of his novels played with very similar themes, he said that originality had nothing to imitate but itself. An Invitation to a Beheading, for instance, is the highly imaginative story, set in a fictional country, of a man in a room—a prison cell. He’s been sentenced to death for ‘gnostical turpitude,’ a crime we’re led to believe means, simply, that people don’t happen to feel good about him. People have compared this novel to Kafka’s The Trial, but Nabokov claimed he had not heard of Kafka at the time and did not know German, though he would later go on to praise Kafka as one of the four greatest writers of the 20th century.

Bend Sinister gained comparisons to Kafka’s The Castle. This one is set, again, in a fictional country—this one called ‘Padukgrad,’ after its theocrat, Paduk. We follow Adam Krug, a prominent philosopher who happened to go to school with Paduk, whom he bullied mercilessly. As Krug’s colleagues urge him to form some sort of alliance with Paduk to save their own hides, Krug remains apprehensive considering the amount of times he sat on Paduk’s face when they were in school together. The novel starts off darkly comic but spirals into the most refined territory of nightmare as Krug’s son, David, is kidnapped by Paduk’s people. The ending is probably one of the darkest and most stomach-turning conclusions in literature of the past two-hundred years, while the very last sentence offers us nothing but an impulsive cry of rage answered only by violent silence. We start to think that the manipulation which Humbert Humbert visits on Deloris in Lolita is pretty mild compared to the horrors visited on Krug’s son in Bend Sinister.

And where does it all come from, this darkness? Nabokov referred to his childhood as ‘perfect.’ His marriage to Vera was non turbulent and mysterious—he dedicated every single one of his novels to her. ‘We were always laughing,’ she told Martin Amis when he interviewed her. He was revered at the universities where he taught and gained enough financial success with Lolita that he was able to quit teaching. It wasn’t all perfect of course. There was the expected reaction to Humbert Humbert’s pederastry—they tried to ban the book, citing it as obscene and pornographic. Nevertheless, publically, Nabokov always kept his composure, remained stoic, and never showed more than mild annoyance.

Despite how often Nabokov tried to paint his childhood as uneventful and happy, one gathers from his history that it was not only eventful, but that it had all the makings of being unhappy. His family was forced to leave Russia in 1917 after the Bolshevik revolution, after which he remained nomadic for most of his life. What lasting effect did we ever see on him? Annoyance … a bittersweet sort of longing for the Russia of old that he remembered from his boyhood, gone, lost in the dusts of time. But in his work, in his interviews, in Speak Memory, even when the dewiest of memory romance melts away, he seems to merely shrug and trot forward, or if not forward, then high into the mountains, deep into the forests, looking for butterflies, looking for the perfect rays of light in his personal havens of nature. He hated political messages in literature, probably because he had a political childhood. As a matter of fact, he hated any message of any kind in all of literature and claimed that he had absolutely nothing to say or to teach the reader. He detested Dostoyevsky for his pessimism. He preferred Tolstoy’s Anna Karenin to War and Peace, which he felt was a large, preachy mess. In his notes and lectures on literature, when he appreciates something, we get a sense that he appreciates it out of a sort of fetishization of sense perception; that the thing itself is good enough, and the word-objects used to describe it are better than any message.

For as often as we try to get to the bottom of the darkness in Nabokov’s work it seems that, just as often, we see a light he constantly pushes toward, even if it is only in his own mind and memory. In a letter to someone in his last days, as he described the composition of his unfinished novel The Original of Laura, he imagined himself as some kind of magician in the forest with a great birdlike beak, commanding other creatures to dance and play. He claimed to get so little sleep at night that he should have been insane, and went as far as to refer to himself as ‘the sanest insane man who ever lived.’

How refreshing it is that, in pessimistic times, a man who brought that much attention to darkness (with such immense talent) was, in fact, very easy on himself, well-loved by those around him, and ever attentive to language, even in real life—He was once asked in an interview about similarities between him and Joseph Conrad, to which he responded, ‘I’m afraid that Joseph and I differ Conradically.’

In a Switzerland summer, thirty four years ago, the world lost a man who proved that, sometimes, behind a shroud of darkness, it is still possible to find butterflies, sunrays, and a little hard candy.