Conspicuous Consumption

Whew! Nearly a thousand hits later, I feel covered in mud. You? I never dreamed that so many people would sit up and take notice of this little blog's attack on the giant. In the future, I may censor my rants slightly (only slightly) in the interest of a more diplomatic discourse. I think the vicious overtones on both sides of the fence distracted from the actual issues at hand. But. In truth, would you really expect the small guy to roll over on something like this? In accordance with the character and spirit of our company, and too the character of urban cycling itself, we are actually required by common law to stand and raise our little fists to the man if we pretend to have one shred of self respect. Now am I right or am I right?

The whole discussion following Copy Cat has really got me thinking about co-opting and culture and the sorted history of hipster fashion as a whole. The test of authenticity certainly plays a part, as we all are now quite aware, but too, the question of an item's trajectory through originality and replication. The supposed cache of hipster culture implies a cohesive, up-to-the-minute personality beneath a corresponding aesthetic. Traditionally this aesthetic plays tribute to a very specific taste and knowledge of music, politics, and sociality that is working class but referentially wealthy. Intellectual but popular. Apathetic and yet passionate. And while all this creates a singular subculture, the primary defining quality of the subculture is that it is constantly hypocritical in this ideal. It is nearly impossible for masses of people to uphold such a credo which condemns normality and relies on constantly defining the new trend while maintaining any sort of actual base in reality. This is further complicated since hipsters' heavy adoption of irony in its own performance of the average. Over and over, the culture's impossible standards of image and genuine lifestyle have made the reality of hipsterdom in fact the opposite of what it preaches. Which more often than not makes them the target of intense scrutiny, mockery and let's face it, jokes. This is the reason, precisely, that over and over again decided hipsters shirk the label, turn their backs on the identification, for its necessary reflection on their own participation in this farce and illegitimate snobbery.

What impact does this have when said subculture enters the marketplace as a workforce? That's when things get really interesting. Many people end up working for companies they criticized in college, corporations that stand for conformity. Even non profits that certainly would have been described as "problematic" in seminars. In real life, we can't all afford to uphold our core values on a simultaneously fashionable, economic and intellectual level. In some ways, this can be a good thing. Many people who reach a sort of snob apex in their late teens and early twenties, are capable of stepping down a level and speaking to the rest of us again. On the other hand, as the fashion component of hipsterdom is toned down, so are the values of hipsterdom. Which is (I believe anyway) why it is even possible to buy your subculture off the rack, prepackaged, predistressed. Because all cool kids grow up some day and sell the secrets to the man. And there's really no way this won't happen. It's built in. It all comes back to the dollar, who can spend it and who can make it on outfitting the youth of America. See: Coolhunting and The Conquest of Cool. These trends are so huge that there are entire books.

The cultural impact of something like a basement metal show is immediate, experiential. It's obvious the interest in packaging it, but also the impossibility.

So what happens to the values that supposedly underly all this trendsetting and rebellion and separation from mainstream America, when everything is swept up the mainstream? A fair question. To use our trusty example, does a messenger bag still stand for ride-in-anything, cars-R-coffins bike culture when its for sale at Urban Outfitters? Can these cultural badges withstand the coopting process and reach a wider audience? I'm not sure. It is a fine line for sure between actions and words, authentic and superficial, original and replicated. My intense interest in the whole issue lies far more in what it means to the people at the end of the day who use things like messenger bags and where their values fall in the wreckage of consumer culture. It is much less about the commodity than about the message. I imagine many will disagree.

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