Thursday, August 25, 2005
Addicted to Cool: Affect and Irony in Hipster Club Culture
In his landmark study Hustlers, Beats, and Others, sociologist Ned Polsky observed how Greenwich Village bohemians policed their subculture using the terms ‘hip’, ‘square’, or a third category: the ‘hipster’, who was a “mannered ‘show-off’ in his hipness”.
In contemporary Western culture, ‘hipster’ has come to denote a category of young, inner-urban, hedonistic consumers who ostentatiously (and sometimes professionally) perform ‘cool’. Hipsters are not a subculture; rather, their constantly shifting cultural location is what Lawrence Grossberg has called the “hip mainstream”. They engage in exhaustive and intertextual consumption across both mainstream and subcultural fields of production; and the resulting cultural capital is performed ironically as pastiche.
It is easy to dismiss hipsterism as an amoral, depoliticised obsession with cool from which its adherents obtain little genuine pleasure. Fredric Jameson famously wrote that a waning of affect accompanies postmodern irony and pastiche. But this paper argues that hipsterism fuses cultural capital and affect, and that the pleasure of feeling ‘cool’ is predicated on an ironic mode of consumption and self-presentation.
The nightclub or party is the key expressive space for hipster irony, because it puts the ironic-affective hipster body on display, in close contact with other bodies. This paper combines perspectives from sociolinguistics, musicology, fashion and dance theory to propose a new analytical model that I call ‘corporealinguistics’. Hipsterism is a kind of embodied conversation through the interdependent acts of moving, touching and watching. Hipster bodies call and respond; they feel; they converse.