Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Last Days of Chez Hipster

Kirsten Dunst, meet Oscar Moment

"Hipster"1 has jumped the shark. 

This is not breaking news. I worked at an art school during the hipster grande époque of the mid-noughts and so immersed in their world it dulled my perspective and I'm a bit late to this observation.                                      

1. Blogger and celebrated hipster-hater Joe Mande offers this working definition: "College-educated babies...rich white trash — or people trying to stretch out adolescence as far as it’ll go." See also Paste Magazine's "Evolution of the Hipster>".

The evidence is everywhere but I didn't really catch on until sitting through Melancholia, the latest film by Swedish director Lars Von Trier. Well actually it was after watching the film and trying to sort through why I hated it so much. Von Trier is the international auteur du jour (At least he was until admitting Nazi sympathies during the latest Cannes Film Festival. Oops.) The best way I can describe it is Armageddon meets Rachel Getting Married meets Every-Bergman-Film-You-Couldn't-Sit-Through. If that sounds unwatchable, you have no idea. 

Melancholia is so devoid of even a shred of internal logic it makes the vastly superior The Tree of Life seem self-explanatory. Kirsten Dunst should be heavily fined and/or publicly shamed for her begging-for-an-Oscar performance as the kind of bourgeois who is both utterly self-absorbed and (of course) financially independent. This in turn gives Justine (Dunst's character) the widest possible berth to inconvenience and humiliate others. This includes her new husband by refusing him on their wedding night and minutes later engaging in random sex. With a stranger. Still in her wedding dress. On a golf course.

But wait. Justine is depressed, and a nihilist. And apparently because of this she knows things. And she's surrounded by decent but flawed people who are sort of freaking out that a planet twenty times the size of earth is hurtling toward them. It turns out Justine is the kind of savant who alone is able to embrace the coming extinction level event. Is it faith? Pluck? Courage? Please. This is the oracle from Justine: 
"I know things ... And when I say we're alone, we're alone. Life is only on Earth and not for long."
The moral and intellectual center in this tale is the one who hates life, herself and the world so much she's totally cool with the death of everyone and end of everything. And oh yeah, there's no God. Did not see that coming Lars!

Don't take my word for it. Go see it. Or you can click here and in a few seconds take in all you need.

Trying to understand the lavish praise this train wreck is getting I wandered over to a film message board to see if there weren't others equally dumbfounded. What I found was an endless, serpentine and oddly emotional argument over the question, "Is Melancholia a hipster movie?" My brain is already a bit spongy. It got a lot spongier trying to digest the emotional investment people had in warding off the term hipster from anything to do with their personal taste.

The line in the sand was basically this: Melancholia is a hipster movie vs. Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle is a hipster movie. The vitriol reminded me how Nick Hornby once described the anger in arguments over musical preferences,
"When you get road rage, a tiny part of you knows you're being a jerk, but when you get music rage, you're carrying out the will of God, and God wants these people dead."
"Hipster" took on the form of film-culture Kryptonite and there was a manic struggle as each side lobbed it between their trenches.

In a discussion brimming with absurdities, the clearest was there was no shared agreement what "hipster" meant. Not even close. And that didn't seem to matter. The word had become a white board on to which the most self-serving assumptions could be scrawled. How has a word so over-saturated kept its legs in popular usage? 

According to Foster Kamer of the Village Voice one reason is the "murky dark potion-making of SEO, or search engine optimization." News outlets figured out some time ago that if you created headlines with words people like to search for (as opposed to what may accurately describe the story) it helps drive visitors to their sites and helps business. "And," notes Kamer, "one of those magical words is 'hipsters.'"  So to keep web advertisers sated a perpetual energy machine is in place to make the word even more meaningless. (Of course the irony is that this potion-making may increase readers to this blog. I'm okay with that.)

Then a few weeks ago I saw a New York Times feature on a friend of mine, Vito Aiuto. Being one, I know lots of clergy. Most are good people but I can think of only a handful that I would really want to be my pastor. Vito is one of them. He is pastor of Resurrection Presbyterian Church in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, an area of New York City that is commonly considered the Jerusalem of hipsterdom. That perception lives on in spite of evidence to the contrary. The first odd thing about the Times piece is that it's in the "Fashion & Style" section. Huh? 

Then you realize from the second paragraph that at least part of the writer's intent is to reduce Vito and his parish to a sociological stereotype. See the skinny jeans, old sweaters and vinyl records. And they go to church! At least Vito is given the last word. On being seen as a hipster:
"It’s a way of looking at a person and not acknowledging their personhood. I’m trying to battle the trend of irony and sarcasm and not meaning what you’re really trying to say."
So this is what I'm really trying to say: Melancholia is pretentious nonsense. Hipster has passed its shelf life as a useful way of describing anyone or anything. Life is good. God is real. Grace and peace to you.


  1. Thomas my friend, if you have not already seen this, it is worth a passing guitar riff:


    Commended by my wife.

  2. Sounds like a disaster epic for the 'Occupy' movement.

  3. I thought hipster referred to J'lo Beyonce, and that "doctor/wacko" who injected herself and her patients with cement,fix-a-flat, and superglue to give them the ultimate junk in the trunk http://coffeeteabooksandme.blogspot.com/

  4. I think your "evidence to the contrary" link about Williamsburg is accurate. Williamsburg's moment must be over, because I, proud resident of Alabama, have recently learned of Williamsburg's existence and meaning. They don't tell me about these kinds of things until they are overripe.