Saturday, October 25, 2014

Cash is the limit point of irony, or, things that have been in my head for a long time

If any of you were reading me five years ago, you might recall that one of my many failed projects was an examination of hipsterdom.  Back in 2009, this would have been cutting edge research, but because I was either lazy or busy (or other things that one could discern from this blog back in the day...) I never got past the first piece U did on the Black Hoof, which has become an institution.

I talked about hipsters as an artifact of late capitalism.  I thought that sounded pretty novel - well, it turns out that pretty much everyone already thought this.  Indeed, N+1, the literary magazine founded by white guys my age (like me!) published a book called "What was the hipster?", which I got with my subscription to, uh, N+1.

It's a good little book, and it kind of killed my project, in part because it had so much more authority than my blog, and better research too.  But there was always one thing that bugged me about the book, of which a good excerpt is here, which was that Mark Grief, the author of the piece, stated that the hipster emerged in 1999.  I don't really disagree with him, but I've always been convinced that the hipster aesthetic emerged before that, and my evidence for this has always been Fiona Apple's "Criminal" video:

Actually, I'll just say right now that I think this video pretty much invented the aesthetic.  By which I mean it made the 70's look like the 90's, and this is where we are now, isn't it?  Go back and watch and episode of Friends, or the last season of Seinfeld, and tell me they haven't aged.  But this?  It could have been filmed yesterday.  Or 10 years ago, even!  But this video is closer to 20 years old, which is mind boggling.  (Oddly enough, Tidal represents one of maybe 10 popular music albums I've purchased in the past 20 years, most of which happened around 1997-98.)

The reality is that the most authority I've ever had on this is when I wrote a post eight years ago about Ossington Avenue, and it's kind of cool because Ossington is so unrecognizable now in that piece, entirely due to hipster gentrification (I'm actually using this term ironically, just wait!)

It captured a moment, and also my own ambivalence about my role in the world, which at that time was centered around Queen and Ossington. (This ambivalence is a large part of why I post so infrequently now)

But I do have a couple of things to say about hipsters that I couldn't say five years ago. Besides my Fiona Apple Conjecture,  I'm pretty sure the early 21st Century hipster and what we refer to as hipsters now are two totally different things - the early version were people who get referred to as the shock troops of gentrification - they gave a place a cool edginess, but usually without the scariness of the Other -they somehow felt both welcoming and exclusive.  I'm thinking of a place like the Communist's Daughter, which is now an institution.  Or the Lakeview Diner, which was an institution before its makeover, and is now an institution.

But always lurking in the background were people like me - thirtysomething upper middle class white people. We were waiting there, letting the hipsters do the heavy lifting, and then we got in there and built condos and squeezed out the original hipsters.  But the process was so strangely organic, with Category 1 hipsters becoming Category 2 hipsters once they got a job in the civil service, that no one really noticed that the hipster, who everyone associated with say, Dash Snow, somehow became the hipster of the Portlandia series, that is, bourgeois, domesticated. 

The hipster that Mark Grief describes died out a while ago, but it still signifies two things - people with big glasses and lumberjack shirts, and then people who own the bars these people drink at.  They kind of look the same, but they seem to represent two very different things.

I mean, you can have conservative hipsters now!  There are actually guys, who wear lumberjack shirts and have beards with short, pomaded hair, and who vote for Stephen Harper.  I've met them.  This is not something I could have imagined 10 years ago.  Hipsterdom is rather like punk now - something a lot of people loathed, and a lot of people loved, but now it's just an aesthetic.

This is also why I got tired of writing about this stuff - I wanted to deconstruct the irony that the  hipster, in the movement's (actually not bad) celebration of kitsch and trash begat the $15 macaroni and cheese. But in doing this it also meant participating economically by consuming all this expensive crap. Because the only way one could participate in being a hipster was by paying $20 for a hamburger and fries, which was actually a pretty good sign that the way I, and everyone else, was talking about hipsters was deeply, deeply confused.  For a brief moment, hip meant affordable and interesting.  But then irony got expensive.

There's maybe no better example of this now than Wallflower.  It's a bar on Dundas near Lansdowne.  I was first attracted to it because it has that faded charm that so many bars in Berlin have. (Yes, I am aware of the fact that just saying that says a lot about me, but here we are!)

But then they charge $6 for a "mug" of beer, which actually works out to $8 a pint, and it occurred to me that I was not in a Category 1 hipster bar, but a Category 2 hipster bar.  By which I mean that people with money, who want to make money, are running Wallflower - it is such a calculated environment, but not in the way a fancy restaurant is, no, all the calculation is in the effort the owners took in hiding its calculatedness.  Hey, it's really just a low key relaxed place, with distressed wood and faded wallpaper.  And expensive beer served in a way that evokes drinking out of mason jars.  

There is some irony in this digression - I'm pretty sure that the person who owns Wallflower owns the Communist's Daughter.  So there's a circle there, somewhere.

But I am boring myself with this, and I didn't really have a point except that this has been laying in the fragments of my mind for a while, and now that it's gone, I can make room for other thoughts.  At least I think that's how it works.


M said...

Some early(ish/) hipster confirmation of what you have written:

I think what separates this from the Fiona Apple aesthetic though is a determined cheeriness in spite of the hostile and hypocritical nature of a capitalistic world -- badly drawn boy showed this well in 2000.

I suppose that specific kind of cheeriness survived, but the critique didn't.

Andrew W. said...

That video is cute!

I've always thought cheerfulness to be the most refined form of hopelessness.