Look At This F*cking Essay: Pilfering & Plundering Responsibly in the Age of Hipsterdom

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“The hipster is that person [...] who in fact aligns himself both with rebel subculture and with the dominant class, and opens up a poisonous conduit between the two.”

~”What Was The Hipster? A Sociological Investigation”

The above quote–one that smarts like a swift kick to the spleen for the many of us whom it describes–is taken from a seemingly silly book at first blush. I mean, who would think to take the perpetually reviled figure of the hipster–that uber self-aware, foppish scourge of pop culture–seriously enough to conduct a fairly coherent academic study of them? Answer: hipster academics, of course. Or, to name names, the ivy-league educated, NYU professor and self-denying hipster Mark Greif, more widely regarded as co-editor of the heady and often substantial N+1 literary journal.

The basis of the “sociological investigation” originated from a symposium and Q&A session held in an attempt to nail down, once and for all, the topic of “hipsterism” at the New School University in NYC on April 11, 2009. Post-debate, what resulted was a book-length study packed with concise, searingly articulated observations on what the hipster movement (defined by Greif & Co. as taking place between 1999 and 2009) might be and, ultimately, might mean. In that same spirit, here’s a look at some of their more meaty conclusions, an examination of how those findings translate quite directly to the so-called “creative classes” and lastly, why, as advertisers and media people and early adopters, we’re all somehow responsible for being responsible with our own areas of cultural influence.

How the hipster has aged over the last 10 years (+/-).

But before we get any further, it’s not without a certain dose of hipster irony that I also recognize the occasion of this article reading as a sad attempt to somehow cancel out my role in the hipster moment through my own authorship–which it won’t. It’s true, dear readers, there’s been many a time that I myself have been accused of being a “hipster”, as much as I’d like to disavow any/all affiliations (btw, #1 Way To Identify a Hipster: he or she disdainfully denies any connection to such).

For me though, the hallmarks are beyond defensible. White, male, heterosexual? Check. Gainfully employed? Check. (This, in fact, being the hipster’s largest social contribution, as we’ll see). Knows about bands not yet (if ever) embraced by mainstream culture? Check. Fashion choices that are somewhat questionable (and perhaps downright abhorred) at times? Check. A history of haircuts that look either half-finished, like a German dictator, or both? Check. A proclivity toward debating my own alleged hipster status usually resulting in me trying to excommunicate myself from the whole sad business of it? Check, check. And a business it is, folks. Let us count the ways…

Among all the warring and contradictory definitions of what a “hipster” actually is (from the N+1 book to wiki sources like urban dictionary, et. al.), Grief identifies one that’s both lasting and damning enough to stick: that beyond all of the hipster’s preciousness, pretentiousness and posturing, it’s basically the name we unwittingly give to the “hip consumer”. He goes on to elaborate:

“The hipster is the cultural figure of the person, very possibly, who now understands consumer purchases within the familiar categories of mass consumption [...] like the right vintage T-shirt, the right jeans, the right foods for that matter [...] as a form of art.”

Ouch. Or, how about this one:

“The 2009 hipster becomes the name of that person who is a savant at picking up the tiny changes of consumer distinction and who can afford to live in the remaining enclaves where such styles are picked up on the street rather than, or as well as, online.”

Hipster Kitty's more fashionista than you.

Which makes sense, and a lot of it. Think about it. What does Urban Outfitters, the flagship of the hipster movement, afford? At it’s simplest, it serves as the quintessential hipster convenience-store of all things trendy and current (although it’s been thought of us embarrassingly uncool by those “in the know” for years now). But a hipster convenience-store, nonetheless. It has everything one would need to go from a fratty “d-bag” (the hipster’s arch nemesis and Shakespearean foil) to a bona fide hipster literally overnight. And my, what expensive prices they have! Check. And what a robust e-commerce site they have, no? Check, check.

Historically speaking, the contemporary “hipster” in all his many guises (whether of the PBR-drinking, trucker-hatted faux-redneck variety or the skinny jeans and limited-edition-Nike-Dunks-wearing, sneaker-headed “hip hopster”) has one characteristically strong trait running throughout the whole species–what Anatole Broyard described in a 1948 essay as a priorism, or, de-Latin-ized, a superior knowledge of something, a knowledge predating anyone else’s awareness of it and is therefore worn like a badge of unattainable cool. Like that Bushwick tortilla factory that doubles as an all-ages DIY venue for underground bands on the weekends. The same one that would lose every ounce of hipness that’s been foisted upon it were it to be, you know, discovered. (The address? Sorry, please refer to Rule #2 of the Hipster Movement: A good hipster never reveals his sources.)

Token hipsters who may or may not frequent said Bushwick tortilla factory.

In a more socio-political context, Greif goes on to single the hipster out as “the subcultural type generated by neoliberalism, that infamous tendency of our time to privatize [and thereby monetize, I'd add] public goods and make an upward redistribution of wealth.” I mean, that’s some serious shit right there. No longer is the hipster simply that benign object of social ridicule that we can all harmlessly make fun of and be done with it. If there’s an ounce of truth in what Greif is saying, the hipster is responsible for some grievous errors in the harmonious and equanimous social project of cultural production. In essence, the hipster gentrifies whatever’s so-called hip through the bourgeoisization of “underground” values and references, behaving as an unwitting upper-middle-class culture scout or, worse, a cultural colonizer.

Further, if there’s a single, powerful ally in the Hipster Master Narrative, it’s that open source gateway to all things ever, the Internet. Usually regarded as a force for good, the Internet as a democratizing agent has, on the other hand, also been utilized as an e-commerce platform as much as (if not more so) a gathering of neutral social media networks. The web is a lean, mean, centralized-hub-of-capitalist-consumption-machine available to all with a valid credit card and a need to keep up with the latest fashions on Bedford Avenue. In fact, even those social media outlets are fast becoming infested (if not overrun) by these brands and partnerships that are turning these places of sociability into wholly corporate experiences.

And let’s face it, all ye who read here probably contribute in one way or another–it may even be part of your daily job description to do so. Whether buying into a trend, selling it, or tweeting about it, these are the inescapable realities of participating and being employed in a thoroughly modern, technocratic world. And it allows the consumerist movement of hipsterdom to flourish and keep on curating & co-opting, business as usual. You mean resembling an unkempt lumberjack is somehow hip right now and everyone’s clamoring to complete their “urban woodsman” or “Hipster Primitive” look? No worries! jcrew.com, giltman.com, and stevenalan.com are selling flannel and work boots aplenty and their e-shops are open 24 hours a day and, hey, the shipping’s free, so why not? There’s even high-design axes you can buy to be the first urban woodsman hipster on your city block to not chop wood but pretend like you might. Someday. Maybe. (No joke, these spendy luxury-brand axes are truly next level hipsterist: bestmadeco.com.)

Hipster Kitty's more "prosumer" than you.

And when it’s not the Internet itself, it’s the democratized, all-inclusive, deregulated spirit of the web that actually enables the hipster in all of us to co-opt and consume so freely. Take, for instance, this statement by one of the audience members (Maureen “Moe” Tkacik) at the New School/N+1 symposium last year:

“hipsterism–the growth of it [...] essentially, on some level, happened in order to convey to our generation the fallacy or the flaws in deregulation. It was the deregulation of culture [...] wearing American Apparel [...] is another form of deregulation, because the easy access to credit allowed American Apparel to open like 200 stores in two years, which was really unprecedented in retail.”

Which is to say, there’s a lot more to be critical of when it comes to mesh tank tops, colorful tube socks and sparkly onesies and unitards than simply how unsightly they are. As in, what are we really buying into when we buy into the hipster movement? (Or default into it, since no one would ever want to be a hipster, despite possessing many, if not all, of the hipsters trademarks anyway.)

Typical American Apparel billboard advertising, among other things, their "fashion".

In reference to Grief’s blistering critique that opened up this article positing hipsters as “poisonous conduits” between the marketing machine and the street, we’ve already identified how the Internet obviously plays an exceptionally large part in that. In fact, it might be the hipster’s greatest tool in the co-opting culture within which we currently find ourselves. But even more so, it makes one wonder how the Internet might aid in the contamination of certain fringe cultural groups with all its unchecked “cool hunting”, taste-making and general appetite to seek out for the sake of netting personal kudos (caring little if it corrupts the source material in the process).

In his essay “The Death of the Hipster” from the same N+1 book, Rob Horning questions, “Does the internet jeopardize this cozy relation between power groups and their hipster minions, or does it assure that the circuit will always be completed, forcing resistance further underground, perhaps into a region where it cannot be expressed publicly in any form without always already being co-opted?” Therein lies the danger. It’s not even so much a matter of if that cool thing you or your neighbor is doing will one day be co-opted by people who have no real connection to it beyond the cultural cache they might gain from being it’s first and newest cheerleader. Rather, now it’s mostly just a question of when.

Hipster Kitty's so digital, he's analog.

Now that people are getting high-paying and fiercely competitive jobs based on the amount of Twitter followers they have, there’s a huge incentive to co-opt by any means necessary. Oversharing Tweeters need material, after all, and in true “new-media-hipster” fashion, they’ll distill whatever’s cool and hip into a convenient 140 characters, ready for immediate consumption. Frankly, the temptation is too great and the pay-off much more sexy than the worry of the retroactive damage it may cause some small-time artist or fledgling creative community by glomming on to an artwork or project or aesthetic and micro-blogging it out to a wider audience (and forget about asking for permission beforehand in this era of informal, novice-laden iReportage).

In “What Was The Hipster?” Dayna Tortorici goes on to denounce the petty cultural curation that’s rampantly overtaking most corners of the Internet in a typically hipsterist way. She states:

“[...] real hipsters are not artists. They’re curators and critics, re-mixers and designers, the copywriters and “prosumers” who trail in the artists’ wake. At best, it seems, they’re art students: aspiring cultural savants who collect the names and past slogans of avant-gardes to hoard or brandish conspicuously, like capital.”

Wasn’t it Warhol that said something like “the artists of the future won’t pick up paintbrushes, but simply point”? (If he didn’t, he should have.) What’s so fascinating about Tortorici’s comment though, beyond her argument that hipsters can’t ever be Real Artists (which I think isn’t totally fair or true, anyway), is that anybody reading this site can probably recognize themselves somewhere in her critique. Which can be a kind of revelation, really–you (yes, you) aren’t excluded from being a hipster simply because you self-consciously avoid wearing skinny jeans and listening to bands given an 8.0 or above on pitchfork.com. No, it’s a trapping that’s not quite that simple to avoid. Which makes you, as a “de-facto hipster”, somehow just as accountable in the “prosumer” and co-optation movement as the next “real hipster” getting irritatingly literary tattoos and bike-commuting on his “fixie” to work every day (hi, hello, yes!).

How's this for hipster irony: anti-hipster graffiti in uber-hipster Williamsburg.

More to the point: remember Broyard’s concept of a priorism and the notion of hipsters possessing a superior knowledge about something? Now think of all the links you click on in a given day online. Or all the updates you might post with links of your own in the race to be the first to identify something timely, relevant, or even hip. Tororici’s “curators and critics” missive starts to become much more widespread and suggests something of an epidemic or “hipster contagion” than merely the expected and easily-maligned American Apparel set. Which is to say, we all play a part somehow. The question is, what’s to be done about it? How do we stamp out our negative hipsterist footprint on the landscape of cultural production?

To do so, we need not look any further than Grief’s “poisonous conduit” bit. As creative professionals and members of the “creative class”, we have an unique position in the perpetuation of mass culture. We occupy a place of privilege in deciding what hip person or thing, in fact, deserves to be brought to a larger audience through the brands and mass outlets we work with and within. And with that great power comes a greater responsibility, as the saying goes. Meaning, how do we muffle or mitigate altogether the potential damage we can cause as hipsters (in the curatorial, co-opting sense) when attempting to mainstream nascent artistic movements–especially while straddling the line between the “dominant class” and “rebel subculture”? What kind of poisonous conduit might we, as advertisers and marketers and brand consultants, be opening up as we simply elect to be good at our jobs?

Hipster Kitty's more punk than you.

Let’s get concrete for a moment. At a previous advertising agency, I worked with a guy who’s sole job it was to “musically supervise” which poppy, youthful and completely unknown bands would get the coveted, career-changing paycheck and sizable new fan base from soundtracking the Apple iPod commercials as they were shot and produced. Now, we don’t really need to unpack just how immense a creative, financial and fame-building opportunity that could turn out to be for a burgeoning new band (typically the only kind that attracted this guy’s attention in the first place).

And so with that huge ability to potentially change the trajectory of an as-yet “undiscovered” musical act and all those around them (their musical community, bands associated with any kind of collective “scene” they belong to, or the fans that are inspired by that band’s creative output and/or position as an antidote to mainstream culture, etc.), did he ever in fact recognize the weight of his own responsibility in such a decision? Did he ever understand his own unique position of influence in this way and therefore only choose bands that he had decided with the utmost sensitivity and consideration would probably only benefit from the opportunity to be the new music for a highly visible national commercial?*

Who knows, really. Unfortunately, I never got a chance to ask the dude, nice and thoughtful as he seemed. But if he didn’t, or only did insofar as how much praise he himself might receive for using the band’s untapped potential to his own professional advantage, then he absolutely should have. It all goes back to caring whether or not we’re operating as “poisonous conduits” in our vocational roles as trend-spotters and taste-peddlers. And that’s just one example that happens every day in our industry.

[An Apple iPod/Nano commercial featuring the then-"underground" and hipsterized band Chairlift.]

The short answer to the dilemma is, if we’re to be even better at our jobs, we’ll co-opt with care and remain hyper-aware of the impact of our massive influence. Whenever possible, we’ll resist becoming poisonous conduits and, admittedly risking sounding a little quixotic, we’ll refrain from abusing our roles as stewards of Good Taste in an attempt at being “conduits for good” for a change. How does one do that, exactly? It heavily depends on the circumstance. But, at the very least, it requires pausing before you tweet something out, exercising some consideration on the part of the source material you’re looking to mainstream, thinking hard on that up-and-coming band you’re about to suggest to the agency producer for that million-dollar 30 second spot you just sold to the client. It doesn’t take a lot, really. Some personal ethics. Some self-restraint. A double-dose of sensitivity. Nothing specifically written into our job descriptions per se, though certainly nothing beyond our pay-grade, one would hope.

And whether or not you’ll ever admit to being a hipster (either fully or even unknowingly), we in the fields of influence (media/advertising/branding/design/etc.) have the ability to reach vast, even global audiences with our communications (a Nike campaign we did was actually translated into 26 different languages worldwide). Which can be really, really awesome. But with that reach also comes the ultimate responsibility toward the references and cultural sources we appropriate and co-opt along the way. Sometimes as the hipsters we are, we might be attuned to a burgeoning or nascent scene that’s barely gotten off the ground before we’re incorporating some element of it into a presentation deck to a client or even into a seemingly harmless mood board, and soon enough it’s receiving the kind of attention and scrutiny unfit for it’s state of un-maturation.

While it might be an exciting time when uber-hipster Harmony Korine is doing 30 second spots for Liberty Mutual, it’s also incumbent on us, as the facilitators at the heart of these mainstreaming efforts, to use some consideration and self-restraint. So yes, it’s totally subjective. It’s up to our own good sense to discern whether or not it will be exploitive to commercialize the object of our co-optation and potentially spoil it’s natural trajectory within its own eco-system of cultural creation and influence.

[One of Korine's somewhat off-beat :30 commercials for the insurance company, Liberty Mutual.]

Again, Horning probes this very process and then provides another scaldingly apt possibility:

“Is the hipster a kind of permanent cultural middleman in hyper-mediated late capitalism, selling-out alternative sources of social power developed by outsider groups [...] infiltrators who spoil the resistance? [...] Perhaps, in an endlessly repeating pattern of co-optation, hipsters serve as agents for the stakeholders in the established cultural hegemony, appropriating the new cultural capital forms, delivering them to mainstream media in a commercial form and stripping their inventors’ groups of the power and the glory.”

Maybe so. In any event, it’s time to ask ourselves: what might we be unwittingly disrupting in our professions and roles as influencers? And, if so, how might we ease off that throttle when one of our borrowed interests or scene-stealing references might in fact become tainted by our attempt to do so?

What we need isn’t so much a renewed commitment to the separation of Work & Leisure–but more, a heightened sensitivity when it comes to the overlap between our personal interests and the professional opportunities to include those in our work. Perhaps it could be best articulated with the simple, if reductive, statement: “Think before you co-opt.” Maybe that’s the way we turn that “poisonous conduit” into a mutually beneficial one after all. And maybe it’s only when we stop trying so hard to deny being all hipstery (which makes us hipsters always already) and actually embrace our hipsterdom that we can then work toward muting the disservice we’re sometimes doing to our own cultural landscape.

Play us off, Hipster Kitty!

* This argument does not intend to portray the young artists who get co-opted and appropriated by us Big Bad Advertisers as helpless and clueless pawns in a game of cultural exploitation–not at all. Rather, the artists responsible for the source material that we’re hoping to incorporate into our own work have just as much accountability for their actions in determining if they or the creative community that they’re associated with would benefit from such exposure. This article simply means to encourage us, as the gatekeepers to our prized media channels, to be diligent and think critically of whether we should be approaching them in the first place. Ultimately, the artists are plenty capable of thinking for themselves.

Article Info
Posted by: Jared Elms
Thinking About: Advertising / Branding / Creativity / Culture / Digital / Fashion / Social / Technology
Location: Portland, OR
Website: http://jaredelms.com
Twitter: @timesuckage
  1. Caprice Yu

    Nice, Jared. Great observations.

    The interesting thing about the hipster and the subsequent commercialization of the hipster is that it’s not a new trend; it happened to the punk movement, grunge, and even the fratty d-bag ‘movement’.

    In my opinion, all cultural phases that become popular do so because they are a reaction to the social and economic climate of the time: flappers flapped their way into culture as a form of women’s lib; the hippy was a product of the vietnam war in a sense.

    Whether we’re conscious of it or not, the movements become popular and mainstream because society as a whole identifies with it at that time. My Hipster Creation Theory, is that it’s a combo of the collective need for comfort we find from childhood memories as the 20-somethings leave home for the first time (hey! atari t-shirt!) and a rather obvious reaction to the quick soundbites of having grown up with the internet (let’s unplug, become carpenters and read Kerouac in the woods/park.) Calling the whole thing ‘ironic’ is simply a way to admit love for something without the emotional vulnerabilty.

    It’s natural that the next step in the cycle is to profit from it – that’s capitalism.

    Is it wrong? I don’t know. Does it leave an icky taste in my mouth? To an extent. Is it ironic that we’re aware of the irony? Yup. But will it continue after the hipster becomes passe and the next trend comes rolling through Urban Outfitters? Absolutely.

    • Jared Elms

      Thanks, Caprice. Lots of thoughtful observations yourself.

      I think what differentiates the “hipster” from all the other “cultural phases” you mentioned is that Hippies, Punks, Flappers, etc. all had a strong platform or a guiding philosophy that governed their movement. The hipsters, as far as I can tell, don’t. Or at least not a unified one. And more to the point of the article, if they strongly believe in anything, it’s first and foremost “creative consumption” and curating the “hippest” lifestyle they can through capitalist means.

      Not that hipsters intend to be such rabid “prosumers”, but it’s the only channel by which they can procure all the objects they obsess over and need to live the perfectly designed, curated life they fetishize. It’s the pre-requisite to even being a hipster, buying all the accoutrements: the skinny jeans, the grandma glasses, the fixed gear bikes, the taxidermy, The Royal Tenenbaums Criterion Edition, the luxe-axes, etc. It’s not a “superior knowledge” of Edwardian history or how to rebuild a carburetor from scratch, after all; it’s what dive-y bar to go to this week, or where to buy the latest A.P.C. fashions. Which is why hipsters befall the “vacuous” and “empty” critique all the time, because their collective interests and preoccupations appear largely inconsequential and apolitical at the end of the day.

      Even more so, hipsterism seems to be the only de-facto cultural “movement” thus far that cannibalizes itself by not commercializing after the fact (punks, grunge, yuppy hippies, etc.), but is unwittingly about commercialization from the get-go. Which might be the zenith of all Hipster Irony in the end.

      All of this seems to be, for me, the most meaningful discourse I’ve yet heard to make sense of hipsterdom, through the lens of a consumerist movement and understanding it’s “raison d’etre” as a “hip consumer”. Thanks to Greif and the guys at N+1 for the refreshing cultural critique–much smarter guys than I, for sure.

      And again, when I say “they”, I also mean “me” as much as I do “us”. But especially James. Ha.

  2. James Tung

    I am a hipster.

  3. Tim Geoghegan

    I can’t stand the farm kids here who wear seed supply company hats when we all know they work on cattle farms.

  4. Carl Panczak

    Hipster is just the generic term for cool for the 00′s. Now that you’re getting older, I think you realize there is more to life than being cool, and how much it sucks to work in an industry that basically consumes cool to sell shit. Don’t worry though, that’s just life, and you’re only young once, so enjoy it man – being cool is ok.

    • Jared Elms

      Carl, thanks. Not really sure where to begin to unpack some of the ways that I think your comments miss the point of my article, but I’ll take the time to point out a few things.

      When the “hipster” term was first publicized and adopted into American vernacular–by critics like Anatole Broyard in the 40s and Norman Mailer in the 50s–it did largely describe what you mean by “cool” (and was in reference to a very particular demographic, namely the “jazzy” African-American youth of that time). But now, in the way the term is being reappropriated and divorced from the original historical context that it was referring to, I think “hipster” has come to mean much more than simply identifying what’s cool, trendy, hip, etc. To me, it’s not so much a harmless qualifier as it is a thinly veiled name by which we can now describe the “hip consumer”. This is a crucial distinction for me, and one that I think changes the cultural perception of the “hipster” in a vital way. For a more varied, nuanced definition, I invite you to revisit my article above, for it has plenty to say on the subject and I’d rather not risk being redundant by restating it again out of context.

      As far as you speaking on my behalf and venturing to guess what I “now realize” (an “intentional fallacy”, but okay), again, the matter isn’t quite that simple or reductive. But I’ll keep your well-intentioned advice in mind, no doubt.

      And forgive me if I don’t think that it sucks to work in an industry that reappropriates “cool to sell shit”. No, it’s not the most ethically-sound lifestyle and occupation (in fact, I’m suspicious of it and my involvement in it on a daily basis), but I find it much more interesting to be skeptical of it while still being a “participator”, if that makes sense. Which is why I wrote this article for this media-savvy audience. Ultimately, I find it much more useful and worthy to face the perils of advertising head-on as an active participant than anyone who just sits back and doles out knee-jerk anti-establishment and armchair Neo-Marxist critiques all day without the ability to actually change the conversation. The latter position is too easy, in my opinion.

      So yes, while I have a healthy daily skepticism about what I contribute to and am paid to do, I’d much rather that than being uninformed and unable to contribute to the ongoing dialogue of Art vs. Commerce. To know that I have a voice in that debate and the ability to impact the industry in a meaningful way precisely because I participate in it is one of the more valuable positions I can imagine. For you, maybe not. And that’s okay.

      Anyway, thanks for reading and engaging.

      • Carl Panczak

        My apologies Jared, I don’t know what the hell I was thinking with my previous comment earlier. Thanks for your well considered reply, certainly more than it deserved.

        Great article.

  5. Caprice Yu

    I guess I was trying to get at the idea that hipsters DO have a guiding philosophy or platform, albeit a subconscious one. I think they’re all driven to ‘consume creativity’ and squeeze that lemon dry but I think they do it because they subconsciously are grasping at something tangible in a fly-by-night-sound-bite age. Info is instantly available, gathered, consumed and forgotten in about the time it takes for their Twitter comment to run below the fold – but say, a Schwinn bike with tassels is a symbol of something that has lasted from their childhood. The ‘coolness’ of that comes from the fact that what they deem ironic (and nostalgic) has not yet been adopted by mainstream America. (Believe me. Come to a mall in Colorado. It hasn’t.)

    The whole thing is commercialized from the get-go probably due to the same thing: the flow of info is so instantaneous that the process of subculture->mainstream->urban outfitters has been truncated to a few months.

    Very interesting discussion indeed. I’d like to add that Mr. Tung is, always has been, and always will be his own cultural movement.

    • Jared Elms

      Good points, Caprice.

      Ultimately, if we can temporarily suspend the discussion of consumption when talking about the hipster (if that’s even possible), I would venture that while their guiding philosophies are not, in fact, born firstly out of the act of consumption and more in sentimental nostalgia, playful irony, and all-things-design-y–these so-called philosophies are really just shorthand for objects, things, possessions, etc.

      And while objects and things might be the most profound way for hipsters to combat the fleetingness and temporariness of the Internet Of Things, it still does this (sadly, I would say) through the proprietorship of produced goods. And so, the logic goes, no matter what unconscious desires compel hipsters to consume the way they do, at the end of the day, the most meaningful things they have to announce what they supposedly believe in with all of their hip, little hearts (nostalgia, irony, design-aesthetics, etc.) are things themselves. Stuff. Objects. Shiny shiny’s.

      Which is problematic, I think. And it was your positioning the Hipster vs. the Hippies, Punks, Flappers that helped me realize this. So thanks again for the discussion.

  6. Steve Peck

    Interesting thoughts on here from everyone. I just finished reading an article by Stanley BIng in Fortune magazine that gave me some harsh yet refreshing perspective of this thing called marketing. Here’s his introductory paragraph:

    “Marketing is the death of the new. It has its purposes in this culture, where if something is not available for sale and distribution, it has no inherent meaning. Marketing hoists objects and activities out of the realm of the personal and into the public sphere – quite literally into the marketplace, a location that used to be physical but now is psychological, financial, and transactional. It finds the things we like to dream of, dance to, play with, and shovels them into the maw of our collective desire. And we eat. And it is good, for a while. Then it all goes where consumed things eventually go, into the great ocean of somewhere out of mind. Then the whole digestive cycle starts over with some new product.”


    The above quote is so pointed that it provokes me to step back and assess what exactly it is we’re all doing here. We’re not making art. We’re in applied arts. We use art as a means to sell goods and services ultimately, and not the other way around. We’re given a brief tied to a specific marketing and sales objective and then create mechanisms and stories to lead people right into that objective. It’s not like we’re in a white space creating things with no commercial motivation.

    So really, we’re kind of a bunch of tweeners, stuck in a halfway house between art and commerce. Maybe we’re not as original or cool or have the tolerance for financial risk that true artists have. We’re also not as tuned in and geeky as the real people building tech startups even though we often think we are. Nor are we film directors or screenwriters, as much as we might want to be.

    But at least we’re not a bunch of suits right? So we’ll continue to see our roles through rose-colored lenses as purveyors of art, influencers of culture, inventors (co-opters) of technology, and tellers of stories. We’ll blog and speculate and gossip as if we’re in Hollywood. We’ll act geeky at SXSW and toast one another at Cannes and the One Show, celebrating the few things that some people in the real world might actually remember.

    And maybe, for the industry, that ignorance really is bliss.

    • Jared Elms

      Super thoughtful comments, Steve. Lots of good points to chew on there.

      The funny thing about what Bing is bringing up is that it’s not a new phenomenon–the same could be said about the 40s or 50s as much as today re: the somewhat insidious way that brands market to our unconscious desires. In fact, it was Edward Bernays, the alleged “Father of PR” and nephew of Sigmund Freud, who first integrated Freud’s psychoanalytics into the act of consuming, helping brands realize the power of consumption when linked to their target market’s unconscious desires and wish-fulfillments, really just covert ways to get them to part with their money. And that was all happening back in the 1920s. For seriously thoughtful insights on the matter, watch Adam Curtis’ fantastic low-budget BBC documentary called “The Century of the Self”. Here’s a link:


      You also mentioned our position as possible “tweeners”, which I totally agree with. Which goes back to Grief’s original quote that prompted this article in the first place–that we’re all straddling an ever-more-blurry line between the dominant class and rebel subculture, between Art and the Market, to the point where both are mutually constitutive. But instead of taking the industry stance of being, at best, carelessly ambivalent or, at worst, blissfully ignorant about our roles in incorporating Art into our Commerce, it’s time to confront our roles and opt for a renewed commitment to doing so responsibly and considerately instead of blindly co-opting at will.

      Which, ultimately, will make hi-fiving at the One Show all the more satisfying and deserved.

      • Steve Peck

        Yeah I definitely agree. My post wasn’t meant to be negative so much as it was to point out that it’s actually a good thing for all of us to perceive our role in the world in the way that we do, even though it can be seen as ironic from so many alternate points of view. After all, it’s what keeps us working till 3am and what makes producing good work feel rewarding. And occasionally, when we transcend the masses and create something magical, it makes the whole thing worthwhile.

      • Robin

        Jacqui brought me a v neck tee last week. My V neck atnyhing. I experienced something similar to you. I didn’t end up outing my underlying stuff’ but there was some turmoil. I just stuffed the i don’t want to be a hipster’ back in the box. Next time I’ll try and unpack it a little.

    • Caprice Yu

      Good points, though by pointing them out you’ve cracked the rose-colored glasses and become self-aware. Agreed that we can absolutely do more with our skills then churn out an endless cycle of marketing message wrapped in some white-washed version of art that the ‘target’ can digest. But I think those of us that don’t become disillusioned with the industry are the ones that see it for what it is from the beginning – applied arts – and like it.

      Applied arts or communication arts – the merging of business, marketing and fine arts is an art or skill in itself. It is a rare note that’s hit when those two things merge into something that’s poignant, entertaining or thought-provoking.

      The underlying tone of self-loathing that comes from people in our industry comes from those that somehow expect the next Gauguin to come out of a brief for Tide detergent. Time, place, audience, purpose and the always important – this is a business – is the thing that keeps us sane. And at the end of the day, our jobs constantly keeps us thinking in a creative environment with some very cool people and brings us to some pretty interesting places. And that does not suck.

  7. Ivy Motus

    The problem with cool is, is that it is tame and just a little edgy, like college rock. The stuff that is deemed cool is a little beyond mainstream but is never truly alien or requires much effort on the part of the consumer. Things that affront society’s realm and actually point out the wrongs or mistakes in cultural logic stay buried long until they can be dealt with from the point that they cant really hit back.

    • Jared Elms

      Ivy, some interesting thoughts you bring up.

      Again, I think it would be inadequate to reduce my entire article to being solely about the endless pursuit of “cool-hunting”, as I think that’s merely a symptom or byproduct of the hipster movement and doesn’t entirely do justice to the complexity of the hipster-as-we-know-it. As Caprice brought up, I don’t expect that hipsters (whoever they might be since no one wants to claim ownership) only cool hunt because of the mere desire to be cool or to actively consume. More so, it’s the pursuit of nostalgia, irony, design aesthetics, etc. that motivate the hipster to “prosume” and meanwhile manifest those pursuits into an objecthood that can serve as symbols or “totems” of their cultural interests.

      And I think generally you might be right about the somewhat toothless nature of the trends that actually go mainstream, but I wonder what you’d say about phenoms like Banksy or Shepherd Fairey who are seen as the epitome of mainstream cool–so much so that Bansky’s the “Art Star of the Stars” (selling to Brangelina for a $1million) and has his own film in wide-release in theaters. And Fairey himself sells his multi-million dollar Obey clothing in mainstream retail outlets everywhere. And both of those once-underground figures have been fully adopted and co-opted into the mainstream precisely because of their cultural critiques that affronted the conventional modes and collective behaviors of mainstream society.

      “Cool”, “mainstream”, “underground”–I guess all of these terms are a little suspect at the end of the day. We’d have to start there to make any sufficient sweeping generalizations about coolness today.

  8. Jared Elms

    Hey Carl, no worries, man. Again, thanks for reading the article and jumping into the discussion. Cheers.

  9. Ivy Motus

    Fairey has been around since the 1980s. It is not until more recently say the last ~8 years that he has been “cool.” When no one knew or understood his motive. With Levis the original supporters deserted him, but he had moved up financially so…

    You really hit the nail on the head with cool hunting. Those cool hunters are really doing it for external approval and acceptance, but the more intense ones, simply do it for themselves or hit muses of Art and Music… paying little attention to how audiences receive or dismiss them.
    Example Listen to Early Einsturzende Neubauten (cool today), buy one and play it at a hipsters party. You can still clear the room. Hipster is just a little cultural medley of essentially inoffensive items that have gained some sort of credence just by merely age or light difficulty.

    Cool is for weak people. I grew up very uncool now 20 years later people (my former classmates) are claiming they listened to the lighter end of exactly what they gave us so much trouble over back then.

    The real (and fun) test is to test “cool’s” limit. Not by going beyond public knowledge, but beyond assumed acceptability.

  10. Dell Adams

    Hey how are you doing? I just wanted to stop by and say that it’s been a pleasure reading your blog. I have bookmarked your website so that I can come back & read more in the future as well. plz do keep up the quality writing

    • Steve Peck

      Hi Dell, thanks so much for your kind comment. We’ll definitely keep working to bring interesting and valuable perspectives from different creative disciplines. Thanks for reading and if you’re on twitter, you can follow us there: @theknotcollectv. Cheers!

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