Le plus ca change…

There’s a good number of Serious Topics that I’ve been meaning to write about for some time now, but work keeps getting in the way. So, you get the Hipster Kitty instead.

This page has more info on the credits, history and context; that’s also where the image above came from. This one, too.

More images here, along with dinosaurs and superheroes. (Thanks to Matt for the link.)

So. Hipsters. According to Wikipedia:


Hipster is a slang term that first appeared in the 1940s, and was revived in the 1990s and 2000s to describe types of young, recently settled urban middle class adults and older teenagers with interests in non-mainstream fashion and culture [...]

In the late 1990s, the term began to be used in new, sometimes mutually exclusive ways. In some circles it became a blanket description for middle class and upper class young people associated with alternative culture, particularly alternative music, independent rock, alternative hip-hop, independent film and a lifestyle revolving around thrift store shopping, eating organic, locally grown, vegetarian, or vegan food, drinking local beer (or even brewing their own), listening to public radio, and riding fixed-gear bicycles. Time described them as follows in a 2009 article: “take your grandmother’s sweater and Bob Dylan’s Wayfarers, add jean shorts, Converse All-Stars and a can of Pabst and bam — hipster.”

But wait… Terminology aside, the phenomenon of putting together personal lists of top 10 albums of the year that nobody else has ever heard of was already kind of old back when I was growing up in the 1980s, as was the phenomenon of ridiculing such lists. (It indeed goes back to when those things were called “albums”.) The Hipster Kitty captions might as well have been targeted at my generation, and in some cases, specifically at me.

“ARCADE FIRE WON A GRAMMY? DEAD TO ME.” I’m old enough to remember the same exact jokes being made about U2, back when they first started to hit it big time.

“I LIKE JUSTIN BIEBER. IT’S TOO MAINSTREAM TO HATE HIM.” Muriel’s Wedding, 1994.

“THE FIRST ALBUM WAS BETTER.” I do have a sometimes unreasonable fondness for the obscure first (or at least early) albums. Take Pink Floyd, for example.

If that’s not obscure or weird enough, see also The Laughing Gnome and I Before E Except After C. And Black Smoke Rising From The Calumet. You didn’t even know that those things existed, didja? (If you did, I will be very disappointed and will start doubting my own indie cred.) By the way, new and obscure is good, but old and obscure is better. It somehow managed to remain obscure for a long time and that accomplishment needs to be applauded.

“I EXPRESS POLITICAL DISSENT BY ABSTAINING.” I don’t suppose that this is what the author had in mind, but that’s indeed how political dissent was expressed in the communist Poland up until the end of 1980s. The Parliament (“Sejm”) was elected every 4 years and all candidates had to be pre-approved by the ruling coalition, so the only way really of withholding support for that coalition was to refrain from voting. I’ve heard stories from the 1950s and 60s of how the police would show up at people’s homes and check on when, exactly, they were planning to go and vote. That practice was apparently abandoned before my time.

Speaking of that, there was a political subtext to counterculture back there and then. Most of the TV programming and mainstream music festivals were totally and completely uncool. Some of the radio programming could qualify as moderately cool; so did certain film festivals. But the real counterculture looked like this.

The counterculture canon included Orwell, Vonnegut, Vysotsky, and more, right up to (perhaps somewhat surprisingly) Leonard Cohen. And of course many other artists that you wouldn’t have heard of. (Insert a gleeful hipster smile here.) Anything published in the communist-controlled mainstream media was tainted already. Success was a mark of compromise; obscurity was a badge of honour, proof that the artist had his or her political allegiances in the right place.

Then again, nothing in real life is really a linear fuction of a single variable. The compromises often went both ways, and I was indeed being a little bit ironic in that last paragraph. On the other hand, it wasn’t uncommon for movies or books to be thought of as cool based primarily on their unavailability in the country, regardless of either political allegiances or intellectual merit.

So… what about you? Are you a hipster? If so, please feel free to tell everyone here about it.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Le plus ca change…

  1. Matthew Bond

    Hmmmm. I don’t know how to describe one other than that I know one when I see it. Having several things in common with one list one author put together doesn’t necessarily do it. I just know that they’re all over Ann Arbor, and not nearly as much all over Lansing.

    Also, I hated Darjeeling Limited, and the only explanation I could come up with why it would be made was, “hipsters would like this”. But my definitional standards aren’t textbook, either.

    Comment #8 on valuevar’s link has a lot of samples.

  2. I’m not sure that this was ever supposed to be a well defined concept. I guess I would expect more from any self-respecting hipster than just picking some random movie or video game that nobody’s ever heard of and declaring that now this is their FAVOURITEST thing EVAH… does this make me snobbish?