Leonardo"s Notebook by Mattheus Mei

I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Intolerant Chic: Engaging my own solipsistic hypothesis and discussion

The women and hipsters may be white, but they’re not white—they’re members of the cool-looking pan-ethnic tribe, a tribe defined by economic and social status and by cultural and aesthetic preferences rather than by ethnicity.

"Intolerant Chic" from Atlantic Monthly

In my own way, back in January, I attempted to dissect and understand the (southern) hipster culture. It was a labor of love in a way, a served to as a solipsistic exercises in existentialism. I was trying to figure out how I fit into a particular urban environment because being a country bumpkin there's a level of suspicion (that still pervades) when it comes to city culture.

I still don't know how or if I fit (or want to fit) fully into this (sub)culture. I had an experience at Fresh Market the other week that revealed how as yet I'm still suspicious of urban culture and still make snap judgements and prove that I am still unable to differentiate between a hipster and the Synthetic Class which creates an internal crisis of sorts. This translated into a bit of anguish at the Fresh Market which lead to an awkward conversation with my lover in which I was unable to articulate my anguish appropriately into coherent logical arguments.

It was with that anguish still settling boiling that I was pleasantly surprised by two articles I found this week. One was Verena von Pfeten's from Huffington Post. The pictures are amusing and the article much like my writing of recent was acerbic. She deals purely in the fashion aesthetics of the sub culture, the guiding principals of which apply more broadly. The thesis of her argument is this:

"...no one group of people have ever so succumbed, so embraced, so clutched on to trends for dear life with cold, pale, smoke-yellowed fingers as that so-called creative counter-culture: The Hipster.

Am I generalizing? Probably. Am I aware there are exceptions to the rule? Absolutely! Am I going to clarify shortly? Let's hope so."

Verena unknowingly hit on part of my superficially(?) existential inner turmoil of the past week. And her argument fleshes out the problems that arise from the "synthesis" in my earlier hipster post, while admitting that it's difficult not to generalize and see that their are exceptions to the rule.

And at this point I'd like to admit that the sheer difficulty of parsing this group, or separating the wheat from the chaff as it were, is why when you talk of hipsterality such disclaimers are abundantly necessary.

The second article I found was actually a book review from the October issue of the Atlantic entitled, Intolerant Chic, it's a review of the now infamous website-turned-book deal Stuff White People Like.

Lander really points out the folly and foibles of the synthetic class.

White People approve of the kind of diversity that affords them the aesthetic and consumer benefits of what they like to think of as urban life—that is, the kind that allows them to

get sushi and tacos on the same street. But they will also send their kids to private school with other rich white kids so that they can avoid the “low test scores” that come with educational diversity.

Here and elsewhere, accompanying the book’s mockery of the essentially innocuous solipsism of White People is what Lander, a man of the left, described to me as his exasperation with progressives’ “cultural righteousness” and “intolerance and groupthink”—a set of attitudes that enhances and is enhanced by a profoundly smug and incurious outlook. To be sure, these faults aren’t peculiar to the progressive and the hip, but Lander repeatedly and cleverly shows how some of White People’s favorite activities (watching political documentaries, “raising awareness,” foreign travel), which they complacently embrace as broadening, are in fact lazy and tend to be intellectually and politically stultifying: White People “like feeling smart without doing work—two hours in a theater is easier than ten hours with a book.”

This group of people may be pan ethnic as the quote from the top of the post suggests, but one thing it is not, generally speaking, is pan generational - and it just so happens that this is my generation. The most eye rolling example of how prescient Lander's book/site is, is this article an article from Reason online in 2007.

The Atlantic review of Lander's book continues though highlighting his very pointed conclusion,

More damning is the conclusion produced by a careful reading of this often fine-grained semi-sociological analysis: a good deal of the progressives’ attitudes, preferences, and sense of identity are ingrained in an unlovely disdain for those outside their charmed circle. In Lander’s analysis, much of their self-satisfaction derives from consumption (the slack-sounding “stuff” in the title is deceptively apt)—and much of that consumption is motivated by a desire to differentiate themselves from the benighted. Sushi, for instance, is “everything [White People] want: foreign culture, expensive, healthy, and hated by the ‘uneducated.’” And whatever its goals, the ACLU is beloved by White People, Lander satirically but not wholly unjustifiably asserts, because it protects them “from having to look at things they don’t like. At the top of this list is anything that has to do with Christianity”—an aversion, Lander discerns, rooted not in religious enmity but in taste (Christianity is “a little trashy”), formed largely by class and education. To those of this mind-set, the problem with a great many Americans is that they don’t “care about the right things.”

I of course take issue with the second to last line about Christianity, not because I'm a Catholic Christian but because even Christianity and religion have a role within this tribe as a means and vehicle for achieving (experiencing) authenticity.

Authentic and it's various forms, it's a word often used by this tribal group and achieving 'it' is the penultimate goal. It's an adjective that has transcended the normal limitations of diction to become a quasi ontological pursuit usually made manifest in this tribe by the pretense of rejecting "consumerism." As pointed out above by both Verena and Lander though, this pursuit ends in abject failure because such lofty pursuits have been subverted by that which they have tried to reject. It comes back to the 'synthesis' of my earlier argument whereby noble goals and principled stands looses their credibility and become nothing more than fads and catch phrases.

That's not to say that there's not a subset in this tribe that still adhere to such principals, as both I and Verena disclaimed above, but as pointed out in my own belaboured experience, it's increasingly difficult to differentiate between an actual 'hipster' and a member of the 'synthetic class' when, and this is a 'racial' throwback, they all 'look' the same.

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