Friday, May 22, 2009


I'm graduating tomorrow morning! In celebration, I present to you an abridged version of my senior thesis. Pasting from word always makes hell for formatting and punctuation, so bear that in mind. Thanks to everyone who helped me out personally and academically the last four years.

Young Masks on Old Faces, Old Masks on Young Faces
“Parents just don’t understand” – Will Smith

As long as a cultural phenomenon exists, it demands explanation. The end of a cultural phenomenon does not extinguish this need. In fact, such a demise only raises more questions and allows for any number of interpretations. Since World War II, the march of subcultures and countercultures has bewildered, angered, and generally demanded an interpretation of what the kids, or their parents, are doing out there exactly. Experts, intellectuals, zealots, journalists, and anyone willing to take a guess have been consistently happy to do just that. The emergence of the idea of the teenager signaled the true advent of not only sensationalist accounts of subcultures and countercultures, but their methodical analysis and interpretation as well. This interpretative act takes shape in fiction, journalism, and academic papers, many flawed, but still worth analyzing, if, for nothing else, extracting the biases of the author. These interpretations have the power to reach outside of the cultural bounds of the subcultures they pertain to, thus shaping, even becoming, the legacy of the people and times they intended to describe, demonize, or canonize, in addition shaping the cultural aspirations of later generations who seek to emulate and borrow from them.
In Absolute Beginners, Colin MacInnes strives to paint the portrait of a Britain grown into a cosmopolitan, classless society, having shaken itself free from the traditional, hierarchical norm that was so dominant preceding World War II by using the perspective of the exotic creature at the center of the novel, a teenager. Here, 1950s England sits as a pinnacle of opportunity, consumption, and, oddly enough, a very explicit brand of general tolerance. Instead, MacInnes reveals the persistence of a class structure in Britain by emphasizing characterizations traditionally employed in marking distinctions between classes. MacInnes also presents an interpretation of the rise of mass culture and the new teenage culture, which he saw as so potently demonstrative of the new affluence, that says more about the sensibilities and tastes of the writer himself than his topic.
Colin MacInnes frames the beginning of his novel with a reflection on the nature of the teenage phenomenon. This seems to be intended as a sort of crash course in teenager for the uninformed reader, so as to provide color and context before introducing the main dramatic arc. In these opening pages, the protagonist narrator and his crony, Wizard, lead a carefree consumer existence, shopping for records, coyly eying the “latest furnishings and fabrics, just like some married couple,” and selecting a restaurant to dine in not for its food or value, but rather the novelty of its panoramic view (Absolute Beginners 9). This leisurely afternoon exemplifies the idle affluence that MacInnes feels defines teenage culture (English, Half English 54). Indeed, MacInnes’s teenagers themselves seem acutely aware of their own special situation, even going so far as to define their teenage experience as of a function of affluence. The protagonist narrator sums up his generation’s situation like so:
This teenage ball had had a real splendor in the days when the kids discovered that, in for in the first time since centuries of kingdom-come, they’d money which hitherto had always been denied to us at the best time in life to use it, namely, when you’re young and strong, and also before the newspapers and telly got hold of this teenage fable and prostituted it as conscripts seem to do to everything they touch. Yes, I tell you, it had a real savage splendor in the days when we found that no one couldn’t sit on our faces any more because we’d loot to spend at last, and our world was to be our world, the one we wanted and not standing on the doorstep of somebody else’s waiting for honey, perhaps (Absolute Beginners 10).
This selection is very telling about MacInnes’s own convictions. Firstly, it reflects MacInnes’s opinion that the “teenage party” is a product of “economic power” (Absolute Beginners 10, England, Half English 57). His narrator is simply echoing MacInnes’s declaration in England, Half English that:
The ‘two nations’ of our society may perhaps no longer be those of the rich and the poor (or, to use old-fashioned terms, the ‘upper’ and ‘working’ classes) but those of the teenagers on the one hand, and on the other, all those who have assumed the burden of adult responsibility. Indeed, the great social revolution of the last fifteen years may not be the one which redivided wealth among the adults in the Welfare State, but the one that’s given teenagers economic power. (English, Half English 54).
MacInnes continues on to assert that, because of their economic mobility, teenagers are socially mobile and tolerant as well, labeling them “much more classless than any of the older age groups are, or were" (English, Half English 55).
It’s also worth noting here that MacInnes is trying to create a link between mass media and the decay of whatever he seems to be implying are the more genuine, pure, and legitimate aspects of youth culture. He revisits this particular theme throughout the novel, casting mass media, and television in particular, as inherently reductive and pacifying (Absolute Beginners 76). He even goes so far as to provide a lengthy portrayal of the production of a television program. Breaking from the main arc of the story, this particular anecdote seems intended to do nothing more than to strip television of its glamour, revealing it as a “circus” that is nothing if not “anxious to mislead you" (Absolute Beginners 143, 141).
Having so firmly outlined the dissolution of the class structure in the vibrant new era of the teenager, MacInnes proceeds to reconstitute it a few paragraphs later. In an attempt to get a rise out of the barman at the aforementioned restaurant, Wizard condescendingly declares, “This serf speaks authentic old-tyme My Fair Lady dialect" (Absolute Beginners 11). MacInnes explains this away as the “art of clawing the poor tax-payers on the raw,” referring to Wizard’s supposed hatred, of, not social class, but of age (Absolute Beginners 11). It’s impossible to ignore the class connotations of this statement, especially given the plot of My Fair Lady, which revolves around just that type of class distinctions MacInnes would have the reader believe Wizard somehow isn’t making. MacInnes seems similarly confused about the main character’s half-brother, Vernon. Despite living with his mother in a traditionally working class neighborhood and constant allusions to hisThough MacInnes frequently mentions Vernon's lack of education and points out that he lives with his mother in a traditionally working class neighborhood lack of education, the reader isn’t meant to view him as embroiled in the struggles of the class he identifies himself so strongly with. Instead, he’s simply someone who “missed the teenage rave” and the accompanying tide of affluence and is, therefore, characterized as a savage “King Kong” with “cucumber fingers” (Absolute Beginners 28-31). This notion of primitiveness also comes into play with the narrator’s father, whose apparent obsession with the past is a potent point of derision for the narrator, despite his obvious affection for him (Absolute Beginners 32).
The ultimate primitivism, however, is manifested in Ed the Ted. By the word of the narrator, Ed isMacinnes describes Ed as a “full-fledged Teddy Boy,” even though the first time the reader encounters him, he lacks the most distinctive trappings of a Ted (Absolute Beginners 41). Stripped of his Ted insignia and described in the most “unsanitary” terms, Ed appears almost as a cruel parody of working class cockneys. Aside from the barman at the beginning of the novel, Ted is the only character whose speech is spelled out phonetically, highlighting and exaggerating his cockney pronunciations. It’s also clear that he still lives with his mother in some sort of government sponsored housing with his mother, referring to her as being “re-owsed" (Absolute Beginners 40, 41). Instead of accepting the obvious working class parody he has created at face value, MacInnes explains Ed by labeling him as a backward, degenerate thug who refuses to accept the validity of the teenage revolution (Absolute Beginners 40). MacInnes treats the Teds in general no better than Ed. Like their leader, Flikker, the Teds are portrayed as racist deviants “highly trained in anti-social conduct" (Absolute Beginners 127). By substituting such sinister appellations for even a simple class-conscious approach, MacInnes succeeds in vilifying the Teds at the expense of any actual analysis of their situation. In his other writings, MacInnes describes Teds as disdainfully “tribal,” following “primitive [patterns]" (English, Half English 53). MacInness seems to be echoing the popular response to Teds: “scape-goating” them as violent “lumpen,” while denying the effect of “structural causes [that] could not be admitted” in an “age of ‘affluence’" (Hall 83).
Accordingly, Characters characters who show class awareness are consistently labeled old-fashioned, or in the case of Ron Todd, the “ballad-and-blues” enthusiast, written off as ridiculous Marxist dreamers and given a cartoonish, fanatic edge that prompts the dismissal of even the faint possibility of serious dialogue and exchange (Absolute Beginners 122-125). Likewise, Ron Todd’s emphatic rejections of commercial music and mass media are met with scorn and written off as more idealistic drivel, even though MacInnes’s narrator seems earlier expresses a similar level of discontent (Absolute Beginners 124, 76).
This brings up the interesting question of what MacInnes might consider “authentic,” or at least tolerable, art (Absolute Beginners 125). He decries the manufactured castrato rock of “Laudie London,” dismisses the blues protest movement as intellectually absurd, only seems to mention rock and roll in the context of media over over-saturation and the machinations of commercialization, stands thoroughly unimpressed by the English answer to artists like Billie Holiday, and sums up traditional Jazz jazz and skiffle as a “horrible [leaning]" (Absolute Beginners 9, 124, 76, 123, 60).” The only musical genre our narrator and MacInnes seem to agree on is modern jazz, which MacInnes describes as a powerful, seductive, and pacifying force:
And that’s what jazz music gives you: a big lift up in the spirits, and a Turkish bath for all your nerves. I know even nice cats (like my Dad, for example) think that jazz is just noise and rock and sound angled at your genitals, not your intelligence, but I want you to believe that isn’t so at all, because it really makes you feel good in a very simple, but very basic, sort of way. I can best explain it by saying it just makes you feel happy. (Absolute Beginners 160).
It’s may seem odd that MacInnes’s narrator chooses jazz as his perfect medium of expression, instead of the American and British rock and roll MacInnes uses to frame the teenage experience in English, Half English (English, Half English 14, 15, 55, 45). The mode of expression MacInnes is describing is not to be confused with active self-expression, as it is inherently passive and seems to have many of the supposedly negative pacifying effects he is so fond of ascribing to mass media (Absolute Beginners 76). In keeping with that, it’s interesting to note that the protagonist never attends a rock and roll concert in the duration of the novel, but he attends at least two jazz performances, as well, of all things, as a classic British comic opera (Absolute Beginners 160, 123). In light of the novel’s various absurd biases and conflicting ideals, the protagonist is obviously serving as a vehicle for MacInnes’s own confused analysis. Perhaps MacInness’s nameless teenage avatar reveals more about the author’s own desire to be young again than about any realities of youth culture at the time. After all, MacInnes seems thoroughly convinced that being young is sitting on the highest rung of a mysterious new social ladder, based not on class but youth. Absolute Beginners works as a novel, but it also serves as a chronicle of the prevailing winds of British popular thought and cultural motion, as peculiarly interpreted by MacInness.
Another work by an older author that features the adventures of a teenage narrator, A Clockwork Orange has had an enduring cultural impact. Many people, including, not surprisingly, Burgess’s own publisher, classify this highly stylized, violent, alternately vague, and, in the author’s own words, “didactic” short novel as a “modern classic" (A Clockwork Orange XIII, 1985 94). If profitability, popularity, a successful film adaptation, and a seemingly endlessly self-perpetuating cultural influence define the modern classic, then it’s worth wondering why Stephen King isn’t included more often in high schools’ required summer reading lists. Burgess claimed to have written the novel as Pelagian testament, a refutation of “the view that some people were criminal and others not,” specifically teenagers (1985 94). Burgees seems to have thought youth culture was being accurately represented in total by reports on the “playfully aggressive” violence Teds, Mods and Rockers had received so much press for around the time A Clockwork Orange was being written (1985 94, Hall 84). He consistently typifies teenagers, Alex and his droogs included, by the “commodity objects” they display, their speech, drug habits, and other presumptions and readily apparent subcultural markers that so often form the basis of stereotypes, especially in journalism (Hall 54, A Clockwork Orange 180, 181, 188). Instead of trying to pass off his own brand of unauthentic teenage slang as the real deal, Burgess learned from MacInness’ mistake, creating a fantastically Russified cockney dialect that lends the book a great deal of its sense of otherness and danger, as well as appeal. That being said, A Clockwork Orange is not a guided tour through British youth culture, although, much like Colin MacInnes’s Absolute Beginners, examining how the Burgess portrays his protagonist’s interactions with his environment plainly reveals the author’s own inclinations, opinions, and taste, especially in regards to music.
At face value, A Clockwork Orange portrays rock and roll as a distinctly Russian influenced genre of music, specifically as a bold agent of Russification. Where MacInnes notes the profound influence of Elvis, Tony Curtis, James Dean, and other American icons on teenage culture, Burgess has “Jonny Zhivago,” “Googly Gogol,” “Lay Quiet Awhile With Ed and Id Molotov,” and a slew of other fictional pop stars with stereotypically Russian names (MacInnes England, Half English 50, 53, 52, 56, A Clockwork Orange 27, 43). It’s puzzling why Burgess chose rock and roll, a genre of music so inherently tied to conspicuous consumption among teenagers as a vehicle for Russification. Interestingly enough, the narrator also mentions a pop singer with an oddly Japanese sounding name, Ned Achimota (A Clockwork Orange 181). If rock and roll is as firmly entrenched in socialism later in the novel as it appears to be elsewhere in A Clockwork Orange, this is a strong hint at a world that has arrived at the end result of the much feared, so-called domino effect: an Asia dominated by Maoists, who in turn, for some reason or other, which in light of history usually ends up making very little sense, are merely puppets of the vast Russian conspiracy. The mention of satellite television broadcasts, also further implicates mass media in the spread of Russian culture (A Clockwork Orange 17). Given that, it’s easy to find other, more subtle examples of what some people (in need of a dictionary) might call socialist, if not always overtly communist or Russian influenced, namely the Alex’s descriptions of “state aid” and public housing covered in murals depicting
vecks and ptistas very well developed, stern in the dignity of labor, at the workbench and machine with not one stitch of platties on their well-developed plots. (A Clockwork Orange 8, 31).
The highly stylized “nadsat (teenager) talk” that seems to set Alex’s gang of “droogs” apart from the adult world around them, and, to a degree, Alex himself, is also worth mentioning once again, not only as a deliberately recognizable subcultural affectation, but of Russian influence as well (A Clockwork Orange 1, 162).
Even though Burgess presents rock and roll as a cultural mainline for Russian ideals, he avoids condemning the music itself as being inherently destructive. In fact, Burgess himself states that art is “morally neutral" (1985 55). If Burgess doesn’t see rock and roll as the de facto basest form of music on its merits as propaganda, then it’s worth examining why he consistently portrays it as so distasteful through Alex’s emphatic, condescending rants about “yarbleless” pop music, echoing MacInnes’s own distaste for castrato rock (A Clockwork Orange 45, Absolute Beginners 9). The answer lies not only in Burgess’s fear of socialism, but also in his fear of youth itself. Burgess defines youth as an anarchic force that perceives itself as
moving [with history] towards a better world [and] that new things better [are] than old. [And if] you destroy old things, new things [will come] into being to take their place. Ergo, let us all start to destroy old things (1985 70).
In Burgess’s thinking, this is the prime dialectical struggle: youth’s constant state of revolutionary fervor and desire for change lead to a constant sense of alienation from the existing establishment. This cultural flux not only manifests itself in the “senseless violence [that] is a prerogative of youth” Burgess fills A Clockwork Orange with, but in youth culture as well, which he characterizes by its lack of “continuity,” listlessness, and inherent inferiority (1985 73, A Clockwork Orange VII). According to Burgess, the real danger of youth culture doesn’t lie with its anarchic tendencies, but with the ability of “professional agitators” to harness youth culture to their own ends, which apparently include “shoplifting, incest, and killing" (1985 76,77).
Burgess views that sort of leadership and imposition of will as essential to any effective movement, especially among the ranks of such alternately apathetic and wildly violent youths as the author the must have read about so often in his evening paper (1985 76). He presents Alex as being such a natural leader through his often brutal assertions of dominance over his “sheep,” even while setting him apart from his fellow nadsats by a consistently ironic use of Elizabethan address and his rapturously intense love for classical music (A Clockwork Orange 55, 28, 73). Alex participates in the nadsat world, but only on his own terms.
The constant battle between the world of rock and roll around Alex and the classical music he holds so close within himself is a manifestation of Burgess’s idea of the battle between young and old, with young, socialist, communist values being at odds with the Pelagian, “Hebreo-Helleno-Christian-humanist” values of the author, as well as his unwavering pride in being over-simply self-defined as one of “we old" (1985 97,75). Even the fact the young narrator is so manipulative of everyone around him is intended to make him seem self-aware, capable of choice, “insidiously identifiable with us [meaning the old], as opposed to them" (1985 95). Burgess also attempts to use Alex’s love of classical composers to emphasize his humanity and capacity for choice.
If classical music is beauty incarnate to Alex, then denying him access to it is not not only denying him choice, but beauty. In that way, the author seems to be saying the state is committing a crime against Alex’s humanity in the name of protecting himself (1985 54, 95, 96). Here the novel seems to confuse (at best) its own explicit moral message as Alex, finally free to make his own moral decisions, abandons his new gang and begins to make vague plans for starting a family with an as of as yet unknown woman (A Clockwork Orange 190, 191). Alex’s miraculous ability to transcend his own past is unbelievably sudden, as if turning 18 flipped a switch inside him that hours of torturous psychological treatment at the hands of an oh so mean nanny state couldn’t.
The idea that the same capacity for moral choice that put an individual inherently at odds with the state must suddenly, someday surrender to societal norms as a function of age is starkly at odds with Burgess’s assertions about Pelagian free will and undermines his attempt to criminalize the state for denying Alex moral choice (1985 54, 95, 96). If the oppressive system that reared him were was truly as responsible for Alex’s own state of moral degradation as Burgess seems to suggest, which is to say the state is truly the defining factor in his life, it would stand to reason it is somehow responsible for this sudden reformation (A Clockwork Orange 172). Either that, or Alex has some sort of innate goodness within him that is suddenly manifesting itself, not only conveniently so near to the end of the novel, but also as an unprecedented desire for the conventional domesticity he took such pleasure in turning on its head just a few pages earlier (A Clockwork Orange 174). That obviously doesn’t make sense either. As an illustration of Alex’s innate capacity for good, this sudden change of heart is as inoperable as the elevators in Alex’s Municipal Flatblock (A Clockwork Orange 45). More telling, but equally problematic, is Alex’s own explanation of, “I knew what was happening. O my brothers. I was like growing up" (A Clockwork Orange 190). This reflects Burgess’s own idea of youth as a fleeting, vapid state: “time’s fool" (1985 73). Burgess presents the progression from the pliable state of youth to the static state of oldness, which he sees as tied to the sacred “continuity of culture,” as inevitable (1985 74). He views participation in oldness as a function of time itself, ignoring the fact that the activities of the old must necessarily vary as much from one generation to the next as much as fads of youth come and go. Even the eclectic term “Hebreo-Helleno-Christian-humanist” that Burgess uses to define his own cultural inclinations reveals just how much culture morphs through time, context, and interpretation (1985 97). Culture cannot be as Burgess wishes, because it is not the inherently conservative cycle he and his heroes, namely Vico and Joyce, believe it to be. This sense of this inevitable cycle hurts A Clockwork Orange, not only as a piece of fiction, but as an illustration of the author’s own viewpoint.
Both of the works discussed above draw much of their impact from their clever use of point of view, namely young, vivacious narrators living their fast paced, thoroughly modern (relatively) lives. Underneath this glamour of consumption and, in Alex’s case, violence, the reader finds two old men wearing masks of much younger men. Their approaches are their own. Their views and agendas are their own. Much as the Teddy Boys they deride co-opted the suits of the Edwardian era, these two authors harness their interpretations of such cultural phenomena to their own opinions, tastes, and preconceptions for the purpose of their own self-expression (Hall 85).
Such criticism is not bound to fiction. Popular reinterpretations of youth and drug-centered subcultures have continued uninhibited by the popularization of cultural studies techniques. Indeed, many detractors of various subcultures employ research and analysis techniques, which are, to a degree, derived from an awareness of cultural studies.
A simple Google search of the word “hipster” reveals such an article. Brimming with academic vocabulary, Douglas Haddow's cover story of Adbusters Douglas Haddow’s in July, 2008 article from Adbusters begins with the declaration:
We’ve reached a point in our civilization where counterculture has mutated into a self-obsessed aesthetic vacuum. So while hipsterdom is the end product of all prior countercultures, it’s been stripped of its subversion and originality (Haddow).
He continues on to regale the reader with harrowing tales of hanging out a “dive bar turned night club” in a crime crime-heavy part of town, vapid, and inebriated conversations he quotes like formal interviews, and, horror of horrors, a venerated “’DJ’ keystroking a selection of MP3s off his MacBook" (Haddow). From here, he moves into a brief history lesson, before reiterating his millennialist hook:
Ever since the Allies bombed the Axis into submission, Western civilization has had a succession of counter-culture movements that have energetically challenged the status quo. Each successive decade of the post-war era has seen it smash social standards, riot and fight to revolutionize every aspect of music, art, government and civil society.
But after punk was plasticized and hip-hop lost its impetus for social change, all of the formerly dominant streams of “counter-culture” have merged together. Now, one mutating, trans-Atlantic melting pot of styles, tastes and behavior has come to define the generally indefinable idea of the “Hipster.”
An artificial appropriation of different styles from different eras, the hipster represents the end of Western civilization – a culture lost in the superficiality of its past and unable to create any new meaning. Not only is it unsustainable, it is suicidal. While previous youth movements have challenged the dysfunction and decadence of their elders, today we have the ““hipster”” – a youth subculture that mirrors the doomed shallowness of mainstream society (Haddow).
Haddow continues on to characterize the hipster as “universally loathed,” with people he identifies as hipsters denying their own “hipsterdom,” and characteristically unwilling to characterize themselves as such (Haddow). Haddow seems to see this reluctance to accept such a label as a potent statement of apathy and conformity; , a sort of self-identification by sole means of negation. He presents this subculture as uniquely shallow, characterizing them at every turn as rampant consumers, whose cultural paraphernalia is especially offensive because of its perceived lack of cultural meaning. The only meaning these artifacts seem to have is as markers for the author to identify “hipsters” as members of the community they deny being a part of. The culture Haddow describes is built around music, drugs, and a type of dancing, which he generalizes as “a faux shrug shuffle that mocks the very idea of dancing or, at its best, illustrates a non-committal fear of expression typified in a weird twitch/ironic twist" (Haddow).”
One thing Haddow simultaneously manages to bemoan and ignore is the analogous, even incestuous relationship this subculture has to the British dance- music music-driven rave scene, especially in at its roots in Manchester. Much of the idiosyncratic music from this period translates directly to the current hipster scene with Factory bands like New Order serving as floor standbys and stars like Morrissey functioning as beloved cult figures (Rave Off 14). During the 90s, when the United States was busy shaking its groove thing to hip hop, much of Europe was taking ecstasy and participating in some incarnation of rave culture. The collision of the American punk revivalist, indie, and hip hop traditions with the European emphasis on world music, especially from Brazil, and club culture has resulted in a “trans-Atlantic melting pot of styles, tastes and behavior" (Haddow). In effect, current “hipster” culture might simply be how rave culture has managed to potently manifest in the United States.
As well as their affection for inebriation, both scenes share a penchant for embracing and exploiting new technology, as well as bending musical genres (Rave Off 162, 163). Haddow’s “keystroking” “DJ” playing “what sounds like he took a hatchet to a collection of yesteryear billboard hits, from DMX to Dolly Parton, but mashed up with a jittery techno backbeat” is the product of these shared values (Haddow). With the proliferation of cheap, powerful, technically sophisticated, and user-friendly audio production software programs such as Ableton Live and Traktor, “'DJs'” are now able to rip apart individual elements of songs and reassemble them in unheard unheard-of ways, not only mixing in drum beats or layering on samples through clever cross fading, but by building new songs out of both preexisting and original material. This practice is hardly new, but once again, it has its roots in the British rave scene and acid house scenes with groups such as the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu (a.k.a. The KLF, The JAMs, and the The Timelords), who used not only analog sampler instruments built for that specific purpose, (such as those usedemployed by Kate Bush and others, ) but also Apple II computers. These increasingly complex digital arrangements are merely a logical progression of the “acceptance of computerized technology that [have] been increasingly been adapted into our societies, and now culture, since the late 50s” that Redhead notes exist so distinctly among members of the Acid House and Ambient House(Rave Off 163).
By adopting the high quality MP3 as the creative medium of choice, these “'DJs'” are liberating themselves from the burden of fragile, expensive vinyl discs and similarly disadvantaged turntables, allowing them to perform spontaneously anywhere there is electricity and any sort of sound system. The term “Disc Jockey” is rendered largely inapplicable for these performers/presenters, seeing as since vinyl discs are no longer intimately involved in the music presentation process, apart from providing samples to be manipulated by software. There is no unique title for this as ofas -yet unlabeled form of creative expression. The title of “DJ” comes from this new presenter/performer’s co-opting of the traditional role of the Disc Jockey at dance parties, clubs, and other culturally analogous gatherings. The new “'DJ'” is an unprecedented cultural animal, liberated to experiment and create as far as he, she, or they are willing to exploit the liberating technology at their disposal. The “'DJ'” is derided because he has the label and fills the role of the Disc Jockey, but is not one. This new breed of presenter/performer needs a new label (but not "presenter/performer" with its acronym of "PP"); a new term for such a presenter/performer a new name would liberate the “'DJ'” from many of the stigmas of the past, as well as the role of what Nation of Ulysses and Make Up front man Ian Svenonius depicts as
a preposterous poseur, once adjunct to wedding parties… [who] has no talent but to play with other people’s labor. His talent is to turn junk into gold… his “scratching” of records is his display of contempt for the labor of his subjects. (The Psychic Soviet 244, 245).
The widespread use of just such technology is serving to democratize the “'DJ'” experience, as well. No longer is the DJ a god in a booth. The suddenly commonness of the common tools used in “Djing” to “DJ” is are demystifying the process and execution of the whole dance party experience. Just as, once upon a time, cameras were reserved only for the professional photographer or emphatic amateur, now music production and arrangement tools are in the hands of anyone willing to learn to use them. What’s more, there is an eager audience waiting every weekend. Upon hearing loud music, laptops are pulled from padded bags, and the process of negotiating some playing time is under way. This “Djing” is quickly becoming a communal experience, not the imposition of the will of one down to the huddled masses on the dance floor.
This embrace of technology has also manifested in the explosion of music blogs Haddow largely blames for the blight of hipster culture. Replacing the zines and mix-tape mailing chains of previous subcultures, blogs are an extremely interactive, simple medium that allows for exchange of media of all kinds across distances that seem dizzying in comparison. This has allowed legions of bands, producers, and "'DJs'" (surrounded by quote marks and not) to barnstorm across the Atlantic distant nations without ever setting foot there. What started as the cult admiration of such transatlantic trans-global figures has broken into the mainstream with the likes of Daft Punk and MIA, who have exploded in popularity in the new millennium and are often sampled by mainstream commercial hip hop producers. Smaller acts are also able to book international tours by promoting themselves through the medium blogs. Dance music also allows foreign foreign-language acts a measure of popularity rarely achieved in the United States outside of the more traditional world music arenas. Swedish artists, such as The Tough Alliance and Familjen, as well as; Brazilian, notably Diplo, Bonde do Role, and the The Twelves, ; French, including Yelle, Justice, and Yuksek, ; and Australians, such as Cut Copy and the Bloody Beetroots, received most of their early international press from blogs. Musically, these bands, producers, and artists reflect the diversity of approaches within the umbrella of hipsterdom. Meanwhile, websites such as Hype Machine ( have emerged. These sites compile and sort various blog posts into a single, customizable, digestible feed. They even allow you to spy on what other users are listening to. These blogs provide a significant portion of the source material for many “DJs,” opening up a seemingly infinite sample library of musical samples, which although supported by selling ad space, remains largely free. Oftentimes, the remixes these “DJs”DJs and producers create can grow immensely in popularity, overshadowing the artist’s original release, even asand functioning as free publicity for the original artist. This universality and ease of participation and interaction within these new spheres Havehave not only contributed immensely to the popularity of current dance culture, but have also opened up active participation in it to anyone who owns or is able to use a computer. No actual dancing required.
Prolific exploitation of blogs and many of the other phenomena associated with and proliferated by hipsters are not merely commercially exploited, self-reflexive, inane activities. Neither are other targets of Haddow's complaints, including is the ever-present concern with style, professional party photography, and throwing profitable parties (Haddow). As Angela McRobbie points out concerning the original rave culture:
Thethe magazines produced by fans, the music produced by DJs, the clothes bought, sold and worn by subcultural stylists, do more than just publicize the subculture. They also provide the opportunity of learning and sharing skills, practicing them, making a small amount of money and more importantly they [may] provide… self-employment, a hedonistic job creation scheme. (McRobbie 412).
Even Adbusters’ own website Web site encourages participation through active forums and a variety of hosted blogs (including topics interesting to hipsters), all while stressing their own brand of responsible consumption by encouraging visitors to visit the site's heavily advertised “Culture Shop(ping)” section of the site.
Mc Robbie continues on to emphasize that this self-proliferation is not the sole realm of “hustlers” seeking to turn a profit from others’ so-called self-expression:
The point is then that far from being merely the commercial, low ebb of the subculture, as far removed from resistance as it is possible to imagine, these activities can be seen as central to them. The??? are also expression of change and social transformation… The turn to fashion and music as career rather than consumer choices (no matter how shaky these careers might be) represents a strong preference for the cultural sphere… [ and] can be an empowering experience. (McRobbie 411, 412).
The analogy between the original rave culture and hipster culture is clear here, including the fact that neither are. Not to imply hipsterdom is bereft of escapism. Any culture so centered around dancing, drugs, and the internet seems inherently so, but McRobbie sees a culture of avoidance as providing an integral element of rave culture, in addition to its lack of unity and direction (McRobbie 422). The fact Haddow is so enamored with the subcultures of the past is a symptom of his lack of understanding of them. Arguably, there are inherent escapist tendencies in nearly all subcultures. This is part of what creates a strong reaction to them and gives them a measure of power, or at least impact (McRobbie 422, Rave Off 164). That said, subcultures of the past are fascinating, yes, but can’t, in hindsight, be ruled effective at accomplishing their aims, if any (Hall 47, 48). Likewise, the “cause” or even “purpose” of a subculture or counterculture can never be so easily decided as retroactively, and even then, not always accurately. Haddow is hung up on the idea of progress and sees the commercialism of the hipster as a sign none is being made. It’s arguable the same commercialism he derides has colored punk and hip hop (especially), ) and the subcultures Haddow venerates and mourns,. The same commercialism, inherent since their those cultures' inception, perhaps even triggering triggered the cultures' their birth and doubtlessly proliferating proliferated them (Haddow). The degree to which the advertising industry has embraced hipsterdom seems to be the cause of much of our narrator/interpreter’s dismay, but even that is hardly unique given the cases of mod, punk, hip-hop, and let’s not forget rock and roll.
Haddow’s doomsday proclamations are not unique to the hipster plague. Much earlier, Steve Redhead noted this growing perception, during the confusion and blending of rock and pop sensibilities, as well as a huge infusion of ethnic and regional genres, writing, “Pop history seems, for some writers, to have reached something of a halt" (The End of the Century Party 7).” Redhead also notes that counter cultures by their very nature have “at least as much to do with shopping and consumption as with opposition" (The End of the Century Party 7). Interestingly enough, Haddow seems to be critiquing how these hipsters party, not how they live. If anything, Haddow is expressing a discontent with how things have turned out. Self-identifying himself as a member of this “lost generation,” Haddow declares, in terms appropriately vague for such a generation as he’s described, “[we are] desperately clinging to anything that feels real, but too afraid to become it ourselves" (Haddow). As with Absolute Beginners and A Clockwork Orange, the reader finds the narrator slipping into the shoes of the expert eyewitness; the self-aware sage of his generation; the determined agent of his own uncertain destiny. As in the preceding fictional examples, Haddow reveals more about himself than he does about his subject, even though that admittedly lends for more insight in this specific case.
Hipster culture is a progression of culture in the vein of the subcultures and countercultures that preceded it, and, to a degree, may persist become transformed within itself as its predecessors have. Whether Western civilization is truly doomed or not is up for debate, but as quickly as this subculture has grown, it will transform into something else. As surely as millenialist declarations of the imminent end seem to be an excellent way to get noticed, they are largely counterproductive, shortsighted, and irrelevant.

Works Cited

Angela McRobbie. Shut Up and Dance.

Anthony Burgess. 1985.

Anthony Burgess. A Clockwork Orange. New York: W W Norton, 1986.

Douglas Haddow. “Hipster: The Dead End of Western Civilization.” Adbusters, 29 July 2008. 15 December 2006, 18:41

Ian MacInnes. England, Half English.

Ian MacInnes. Absolute Beginners. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1985.

Ian F. Svenonius. The Psychic Soviet and Other Works. Chicago: Drag City, 2006.

Stuart, Hall. Resistance Through Rituals. Cambridge: Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, 1976.

Steve Redhead. Rave Off.

Steve Redhead. The End of the Century Party.

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