Monday, August 18, 2008

End On End

That I'm posting this four days post-facto only extends my reputation as a master of delayed reaction (my excuse comes later), but as soon as I thought the discussion had ground to a halt, K-Punk enters the fray to heap disdain upon disdain upon disdain upon the Adbusters anti-hipster "Jeremiad." More specifically, Mark slaps around Momus' defense of the amoebic subculture, taking particular note (as I did) of Momus' seconding ex-Vice-roi Gavin McInnes' schoolyard dismissal of hipsters' critics ("chubby bloggers who... are just so mad at these young kids for going out and getting wasted and having fun and being fashionable"). However, Mark rather oddly misreads this remark, proclaiming
I would say the opposite: the problem with "hipsters" is precisely that they are pathologically well-adjusted, untroubled by sexual anxieties or financial worries.
Uh... well, yes, that is precisely the problem with hipsters, no argument there, but this in fact is in firm agreement with McInnes' assessment of anti-hipster sentiment. Minus the "chubby blogger" snipe, of course.

But this puzzling misstep aside, Mark gets it absolutely right and cuts to the chase far quicker than I did: that such blasé hedonism & luxuriant narcissism can't possibly produce any worthwhile art. "The very seamlessness," Mark writes, "of these unalienated, guilt-free lives leaves no material for sublimation." Which, again, would put us in agreement with McInnes: yes, we are angry with these kids for getting wasted, having fun, and being fashionable because their vapid bacchanalia will give birth to sweet fuck all.
The Gavin McInnes' quote presupposes that resentment against the Last Boys and Girls is somehow illegitimate. But it strikes me as a classic case of good resentment - precisely the kind of resentment that, unlike the hipster's studied weltschmerz, could motivate the production of interesting art and culture.
That is the 24-karat nugget of Mark's piece: "When youth culture was interesting it was because of alienation, not pleasure-seeking." Lack, want, frustration, anger, resentment - these are the tools of anyone seriously intent on ripping open a seam and seeing what spills out.

Douglas Haddow's article was hardly a groundbreaking bit of sociocultural journalism. It was badly written, researched worse, and (by the twist-ending switch from third- to first-person) percolating with histrionic self-loathing. But the sensational headline - "The Dead End of Western Civilization" - is a succinctly perfect damning of hipsterism's artistic sterility. So, being fairly confident that we can write off hipsterism as a source of sublimation, where do we turn? Mark suggests that "Metal, Goth and even, God help us, Emo, are still animated and enervated by that sense of abandonment and maladjustment." I'd add Punk to that list, though I'd consider this list a registry of foregone opportunities. Any revolutionary potential these subcultures once possessed has long since ossified into stylistic orthodoxies as uninnovative as hipsterism's gluttonous nihilism. Even Emo, by a decade the baby of the subcultures, has become so conservatively defined that it can be legally targeted with laser-accuracy by culture-warriors in the Duma. Absent the presence of some supermassive oppositional Other, what is rebelled against becomes smaller and more localised, eventually winnowing subcultures into sectarian bickering ("Death to false metal," East Coast/West Coast, etc.). The revolutionary impetus is replaced by codifying an aesthetic.

A friend who's been following the above furor agreed that the debate too often turned towards specific signifiers, accessories, fashions - a tunnel-vision that not only misses the bigger point, but gets really dull very quickly. In declarative all-caps, my friend wrote to me, "ANY FUTURE CONVERSATION MUST BE ABOUT THE THINGS WHICH ARE AT STAKE." This is the best tactic, as it keeps to focus above petty symbols and stylistic bias. No taxonomic nitpicking, no trend-oriented trainspotting. The revolution will not be symbolised.

"If you're out there, and you're beautiful, maybe you're cute... there's more of us ugly motherfuckers than you."
~Frank Zappa
Non-sequitorial Postscript: David Berman of the Silver Jews perfects the art of talking too much about your own art and makes the curious claim that he titled his new album What Is Not But Could Be If because "the language that looks really plain on the album is actually completely Google-pure." You sure about that, Dave?


dudley said...

People resent others more beautiful/desirable/successful/sexually attractive than themselves, and this negativity seeks catharsis in similarly negative culture - hearing other angry or bitter voices is comforting as much as it encourages us to rip shit up. I'm not sure this process actually achieves anything more than the wank-mirror music that hipsters love.
Confidence/desire/exhilaration/love and the positive emotions have created as much great toonage as resentment/anger/bitterness, though probably my favourite stuff is where the two sides clash in one track or album, and I don't take sugar in my tea.
Everyone on the planet is sick with a narcissism - with varying degrees, they love the image they see reflected in society's eyes, or they start to believe that their deeper inner beauty and mind are secretly superior to those of the posturing idiots they so resent for their superficiality. Sorry to paraphrase the Farrelly bros, but everyone is just playing the cards they have. Find some like minds and fuck the rest...

Seb said...

I'm with you that music often serves as a tonic for what ails (or elates) the listener - the sense of empathy between the fan & performer keeps people grounded. I don't, however, enjoy any music that sits exclusively at one extreme or another; otherwise, my collection would be rife with simple-minded cabaret pap, Xasthur to one side, Mika to the other. True, the canon contains a great many emotionally-upbeat songs, but unless it bubbles over into a sensory-enjoyment overload, or at least retains some skepticism, "positive" music scarcely strikes me as very interesting.

Music born of resentment or anger would stall out as mere comfort food only if there's insufficient self-criticism or irony; if the creator or the audience revels in Woe-Is-Me histrionics without stepping outside themselves to catch their breath. I love Joy Division and Ministry, but minus any detachment, that music does dead-end at either, "Yeah, life is shit!", or (a) jumping off the council estate roof, (b) driving a Dodge Charger into a brick wall at 160mph, high on smack.

This is probably why I tend towards music that's either instrumental, or whose lyrics are narrative, snarky, or obtuse. In either case, a little more effort is required of the listener to decide what the music makes them feel, severing any short-cut to adolescent wailing & gnashing of teeth. Not to mention I've got a lot of respect for any artist who deliberately antagonizes their audience (Zappa, MES, Patton).

Anonymous said...

no link - bullshit!