The ever present spectre of urban expression…a wall surface in Brooklyn

Most compelling article I’ve read in a while: What Was the Hipster? A Sociological Investigation, by the editors of n+1.

The history of hipsterdom is rich and nuanced, and its current “apotheosis” is told with a superb eye for detail and those often subtle but telling clues. Even so, the penumbra is everywhere in New York City and particularly Brooklyn. Tracing back the source of these social norms (in a manner that reminds me of Greil Marcus’ amazing book, Lipstick Traces) makes for fascinating reading.

Here’s just a few snippets. (You can buy the small book here or read an excerpt at New York magazine.)

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In the nineties, it had become commonplace to assume that one could no longer say heartfelt, sincere things outright, because all genuine utterance would be stolen and repeated as advertising. Whatever anguish this caused seemed gone in the artifacts of the early aughts. The ironic games were weightless. The emotional expressions suggested therapy culture, but hipster art often kitschified—or at least made playful—the weightiest tragedies, whether personal or historical: orphans and cancer for Eggers, the Holocaust and 9/11 for Jonathan Safran Foer.

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Of course, there are artists of hipster-related sensibility who remain artists. In the neighborhoods, though, there was a feeling throughout the last decade that the traditional arts were of little interest to hipsters because their consumer culture substituted a range of narcissistic handicrafts similar enough to sterilize the originals. One could say, exaggerating only slightly, that the hipster moment did not produce artists, but tattoo artists, who gained an entire generation’s arms, sternums, napes, ankles, and lower backs as their canvas. It did not produce photographers, but snapshot and party photographers: Last Night’s Party, Terry Richardson, the Cobra Snake. It did not produce painters, but graphic designers. It did not yield a great literature, but it made good use of fonts. And hipsterism did not make an avant-garde; it made communities of early adopters.did not produce artists, but tattoo artists. It did not yield a great literature, but it made good use of fonts.

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True countercultures may wax and wane in numbers, but a level of youth hostility to the American official compromise has been continuous since World War II. Over the past decade, hipsters have mixed with particular elements of anarchist, free, vegan, environmentalist, punk, and even anti-capitalist communities. One glimpses behind them the bike messengers, straight-edge skaters, Lesbian Avengers, freegans, enviro-anarchists, and interracial hip-hoppers who live as they please, with a spiritual middle finger always raised.

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