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15 NOVEMBER 2015

The hipster as the postmodern dandy

"The hipster is, concurrently, developing into a form of youth subculture, though at present in a limited sense. Many of the tropes and defining characteristics of teenage tribalism are being draped in hipster attire, but with little of the angst-ridden and socio-economic preliminaries at the base of earlier subcultural trends and movements, such as skinheads, goths and punks (or some recipe based thereon). Without a solid, or at least only slightly shifting, base in materiality and social context, the attire of this set of genuinely disenfranchised youth is sign only; the woolly hat and the running shoe are talismans devoid of any intended meaning; the world seems flooded with signs without symbolism, with younger converts to the hipster 'style' aping their ape forebears. The sign has, in this context, lost its original referent and become 'hyperreal' (Baudrillard, 1994, p.1). The 'real' origin of the sign's meaning has been lost, or buried under meaningless affectation; the borrowing and commodification of a modern exoticism; that of various minority or 'retro' alternative fashions and attitudes. In reference to subcultural groups, Hebdige notes that 'humble' objects can be magically appropriated; 'stolen' by subordinate groups and made to carry 'secret' meanings' (1979, cited in Haralambos and Holborn, 2004, p.808). This explains the way punks could style safety pins into a new context, and teddy boys could subvert the traditional connotations of Edwardian formality – the coded meanings that charge such appropriated style-objects amounted to a kind of resistance to the ruling order, be that signified by the state or in the 'square' world of the mainstream. Each subculture is in some way 'spectacular', in that it creates a spectacle and intends to be noticed. The hipster is daily losing this status, as s/he becomes overloaded with signifiers (aesthetic surface) and has become divorced from the collective; there is no need for internal reinforcement against a subordinating external force when one has such a slippery class composition. The hipster is not oppressed, and purports to signify the pinnacle of individual choice and cultural savoir faire (though this position is problematized by the amoebic development of a youth subculture with roots in working class communities). The hipster's resistance is not to social subordination but to modernity itself, to a meaning-deficit brought on by a loosely defined, insecure mainstream culture that is less and less able to provide collective ontological sustenance. Perhaps the youth-hipster is an attempt to introduce a degree of collectivity in order to partially overcome alienation and inwardness, though this does not excuse the continued loss of substance and meaning in style and aesthetic value."

(Michael Reeve, 2013,




2013 • appropriated style-objects • boredomcommodificationcontagious assemblages • cultural bricolage • cultural codescultural resistance • cultural savoir faire • dandyism • Dick Hebdige • disaffected youth • disenfranchised youth • dressing up • Edwardian formality • facial hair • fashionable fad • hipster attire • hipster fashion • hipster girl • hipster style • hipster subculture • Holborn • identity performanceindividual choice • Jack Kerouac • Jean Baudrillardliminality rites • loss of meaning • loss of substance • Martin Holborn • meaningless affectation • Michael Haralambos • modern exoticism • plaid shirt • popular culturesocial contextsocial inventionsocial norms • social subordination • spectacular societystyle • subcultural groups • subcultural trends • talismanteddy boy • teenage tribalism • universe of regularised mutual responseurban clothing • urban fashion • youth subculture


Simon Perkins

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