Print Story Nothing like the pros
By blixco (Wed Aug 06, 2008 at 05:51:09 AM EST) (all tags)
Or the prose.

Last week when AdBusters ran that article decrying hipsters as the end of western culture, I forwarded it to one of my co-workers. She's hipster-ish, in dress (at times) and in her listening habits. We laughed about the supreme irony of a hipster magazine gunning for hipsters. She exhibited some hipster pride, or at least a lack of caring for the people who hated the scene.

The premise, for those who haven't been able to bring themselves to read the article (it showed up on reddit / digg, then mefi) is just like any other cynical take on any other scene: there are people who are into this scene, and the author and yourself are not. People in this scene are not as cool as they think they are. Most of them don't realize that they are sheep. Oh, and because they're the ones in charge of this "underground" marketed culture, they're the ones driving your very existence by defining popular fashion, so you're a slave to their whim.

Something like that.

The author may not be aware of previous music-influenced scenes that turned into marketing exercises. He'd have to have been brought up in Afghanistan for this to be true, but maybe, for the sake of argument, he's never heard of pop culture. Maybe he missed punk rock. Or disco. Or rock and roll. Or hip hop. Or baroque. Or country swing. Or or or.

Regardless, it was a very funny article if you read it with the Onion News Network soundtrack in your headphones, and the comments really made my day.  Some of them are the very best example of people brought up on the internet who are casually careless with their vitriol on a message board. The language is fantastically bad in some, boring in others.

Kudos to AdBusters for trolling the scene.

What fascinates me is how these memes become movements become markets. For instance, the meme factory that is 4chan (stay away! if you have never been there) has generated some of the most widely known devices on the internet.  LOLCats, for instance.  LOLCats is one of the more insipid and annoying memes that ran ragged among relatively intelligent people (myself included!) though it never quite made it to marketable (outside of the lolcats website and whatever ad revenues that generates). Maybe because it didn't have a soundtrack around it, so it couldn't gather a fashion audience.

Fashion seems to be the new(?) bumper sticker, and it does so usually without an overt linguistic statement. It is extraordinarily powerful among youth and a certain subset of the not-so-youthful. There are tribal and / or other prehistoric underpinnings to the ways we dress, and I know for a fact that billions of pages are written about it, and I'm sure it is interesting to study if you're into that sort of thing. What cooks my noodle is, what moment does someone's aesthetic in music and dress grow from the individual to a marketable product? Where are those hooks sunk in, and how?

The interest in markets on my part is not driven by money. It is driven by a study of control. I've learned enough to know that culture's controls are tied to the marketing of the ideas that we deem profitable or important. That point of control is fascinating to me simply because it is so ephemeral and hard to define. Unlike most other forms of magic (money, or religion, or family for instance), naming it does not make it visible, even in hindsight. The reason why Tay Zonday became the minor internet celeb that he was....? The reason skinny jeans and faux eyeglasses and PBR are the haute couture of lower 4th street is....?

I am fascinated, I guess, by control. The sorts of incantations and linguistic hacks that force us to do one thing or another, usually on a level we're not even aware of. Cultural influences that used to take decades and created ruts the size of 5th Avenue are now taking shape on imageboards and lasting eight months, tops. Music is no longer an art, is an art, is no longer an art, is nothing, is everything.  Our politics with Obama's team in charge are shaped largely by iconography that simply and powerfully surpass previous jingles and slogans.

We're rapidly moving through a chaotic amount of data, and some find common threads and tie them to themselves. They become identified by something they buy.

This, to me, is a form of control that surpasses God in modern society. The ways we market ideas-as-fashion, and the statement that makes about our culture.  It's not the end of western civilization, and it never has been. But it is a sign of the shape of things to come.

If only we could find the spark that creates the fire, we could be very, very powerful indeed.

My hipster-ish co-worker was asking about smartphones recently, as she was in the market for one. "You should just get an iPhone," I said, speaking from a purely technical standpoint.

"But I already drive a Mini and have an iPod! I can't do that hipster trifecta. It would be too much."

Ah, culture. What weirdos we are.

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Nothing like the pros | 25 comments (25 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback
4chan is great by debacle (4.00 / 2) #1 Wed Aug 06, 2008 at 06:02:27 AM EST
Nothing like it (besides 2chan, of course).

LOLCats, however, is Fark.


Hrm. by blixco (2.00 / 0) #4 Wed Aug 06, 2008 at 06:14:47 AM EST
I seem to remember seeing Caturday on 4chan a good year before it showed up on Fark. But, hey, it's one of those things that has no owner. If it did, I'd nuke the site from orbit.
"You bring the weasel, I'll bring the whiskey." - kellnerin
[ Parent ]
Yup, LOLcats is definitely fark. by vorheesleatherface (2.00 / 0) #25 Sat Aug 09, 2008 at 08:39:56 AM EST
It inspired the icanhascheezeburger site too. Popular Science had an article earlier this year about internet mems. Worth reading if it can be dug up. Now then, I'm off to laugh at Caturday.

[ Parent ]
I, too, am fascinated by control by MohammedNiyalSayeed (4.00 / 2) #2 Wed Aug 06, 2008 at 06:07:00 AM EST

and lately even more fascinated by control via visual cues that one can induce with simple fashion choices. Kids may use it to let each other know which particular subculture they claim membership to, but I've become amazed by how certain clothing choices invoke almost completely predictable, yet subtle, responses in unknown people. The more fascistic I dress, the more space I get walking down the sidewalk; yet, the crisper and more official I look, the more likely I am to be stopped by tourists and asked for directions.

At Stanford Hospital, on Sunday evening, I was walking up from the ground floor to exit on the first floor (what the fuck ever, with regard to their naming conventions for floors), I was asked five times if I worked there by both patients and visitors. It's enough to make a man disregard a court order and take the practice of medicine back up, I say!

You can build the most elegant fountain in the world, but eventually a winged rat will be using it as a drinking bowl.
I've been thinking by blixco (4.00 / 1) #3 Wed Aug 06, 2008 at 06:13:47 AM EST
about dressing in suits exclusively. This being Austin, the only people who wear suits are politicians. People who wear ties every day are salespeople, or someone in the service industry. Rarely do you see a CEO with a closed collar here.

Two guys...just my office wear shirts + ties. They do this every day. One looks like a mormon, and the other is, well, an enigma.

It says a lot about a person in this town if you go out of your way to wear a necktie. I'm curious what the reactions would be.

So far as uniforms go, the industry that I work in responds to uniforms in predictable ways, assuming the wearer is genuine.
"You bring the weasel, I'll bring the whiskey." - kellnerin

[ Parent ]
Same here by theboz (4.00 / 1) #6 Wed Aug 06, 2008 at 06:40:15 AM EST
In Houston the only people wearing ties are weirdos and salesmen, with the latter being maybe around a 50-50 split.  There is one guy in my company that wears a tie almost every day, and he's very weird.  He's so weird that I won't discuss all the weird stuff about him because this post would probably come up in a google search for him if I put those topics together.  Just imagine an adult Napoleon Dynamite crossed with a hetero male ballerina with a lust for extreme violence, while driving an unusual sports car known for a movie about time travel.  Some of those details are not completely accurate, but the truth is actually stranger than what I described above.
- - - - -
That's what I always say about you, boz, you have a good memory for random facts about pussy. -- joh3n
[ Parent ]
Whoa whoa whoa. by blixco (2.00 / 0) #11 Wed Aug 06, 2008 at 08:20:40 AM EST
The one guy I describe as being an enigma could possibly be the same person you re describing, except the guy I'm describing has unusually long hair and drives a well-known hybrid.
"You bring the weasel, I'll bring the whiskey." - kellnerin
[ Parent ]
Maybe they're related? by theboz (2.00 / 0) #14 Wed Aug 06, 2008 at 08:44:06 AM EST
The guy I'm referring to has lost a lot of his hair, but what he has left is curly (for some reason I find white people with naturally curly hair to be assholes.)  Oh, and he talks a bit like Super Dave, if you remember that show.  Perhaps there is a weirdo club that we haven't been invited to yet, that exists only for these guys.  Either that, or it's the same guy and somehow he gets between Houston and Austin quickly by experimental jetpack and puts on a wig.
- - - - -
That's what I always say about you, boz, you have a good memory for random facts about pussy. -- joh3n
[ Parent ]
Culture, counter-culture, and fashion. by nightflameblue (4.00 / 1) #5 Wed Aug 06, 2008 at 06:36:32 AM EST
I once read a fascinating essay on the way supposed "underground" music was actually just another device used to control the youth and help keep their urge to fight the power under the proper influence. It tied together neatly the idea of things like the punk movement, the goth and emo movements, and similar underground rock and metal resurgencies and the way they not-so-subtly take over teenage fashions for brief times and also influence the general teenage population with ideas that they somehow are powerless to fight against the world, yet they can wear these awesome clothes to show they aren't happy about it.

I wish I could remember where I found that essay. It had some stupid in it, but was still fun to read.

Initially by Herring (4.00 / 1) #8 Wed Aug 06, 2008 at 06:45:56 AM EST
I was reading your post and thinking "heh - nice paranoid conspiracy", but then I thought a bit further. The counter-culture was supposed to have begun in the 50s/60s with the beatniks and all that. When was the last time there was a real, full-on youth riot type rebellion? I mean a youth one - not just a post Rodney King general riot.

It's almost as if, at the end of the 60s/beginning of the 70s, establishment forces had learned to take over and control youth culture so they would, as you say, wear the clothes but they wouldn't actually take any real action.

You can't inspire people with facts
- Small Gods

[ Parent ]
Youth don't riot in the states anymore. by nightflameblue (4.00 / 2) #9 Wed Aug 06, 2008 at 06:49:59 AM EST
There's too much fear. A lot of it planted their by their idols and heroes.

This is one of the things that essay got right.

[ Parent ]
MTV in the eighties. by blixco (4.00 / 1) #19 Wed Aug 06, 2008 at 12:41:43 PM EST
I always assumed that the whole reason for MTV was to attempt to divert the youth, corral them into handy focus groups, and market to them in ways that would enslave them.

And, in fact, I just finished reading some terrible article about how Gen Y is broke and stupid about money because they're so impulse and credit driven. The place status on the ability to procure, among other things, and no-one teaches a budget anymore.

Now, was it the intention of the market to control the youth and prevent uprising, or is it just a happy circumstance? I don't think anyone necessarily plans to enslave their customers, but it definitely happens, and they're definitely not un-happy about it.
"You bring the weasel, I'll bring the whiskey." - kellnerin

[ Parent ]
But, by nightflameblue (4.00 / 1) #21 Thu Aug 07, 2008 at 04:02:53 AM EST
you can't exactly blame MTV for people today sucking at money management. What's weird is I know several families where the older kids, somewhere in my age bracket (30-40) do really well with finances and the younger kids (20-30) suck balls and can't make it paycheck to paycheck without having an older relative toss a little more into the pot month after month. There seems to have been a breaking point between those two ages where maths haz failz itz! Even with constant explanations and older siblings helping them do their budgets the 20-30 year old group just can't understand how you can live on a relatively healthy paycheck.

I'll admit that the culture promotes the idea that things are more important than stability, but you don't cross the proverbial financial line in the sand without some sort of failure on the part of your parents and your teachers to instill the concept that anything less than zero in a bank account is a BAD thing.

Personally, I've always been curious how it came about that even kids raised by the same parents didn't get that news past a certain point.

[ Parent ]
I don't think it was a single by blixco (2.00 / 0) #22 Thu Aug 07, 2008 at 04:15:09 AM EST
point of failure.  There aren't any single points of failure outside of engineering (excluding social engineering unless a single organism is a point).

Wen I went to highschool I had a "sociology and social living" class. It was for all of us who didn't take home economics, who also didn't have the brains for AP physics.  Half of the year was: how to budget, make a shopping list, pay bills, fill out a form, etc. The other half was: why do all this nonsense.  Oh, and somewhere in there was a voting lesson, including a recap of how the electoral college works.

The thing is, the budget lessons I learned there and at home taught me that, despite how neat stuff is, you can't just go buy a lot of stuff and expect to live.

Maybe we're teaching people how special they are, and how capable they are, and how they are going to do everything! And we're lying, but the popular culture is certainly telling them otherwise. Because to get people to spend money on irresponsible crap you have to make them irresponsible. You have to make the lifestyle of debt and bling look better than reality.

And how hard is that?

So, watch MTV sometime these days. The commercials, the shows, the videos (if they have any) are all leading to one thing: buy this stuff and you will be cool.

All that being said, MTV ceased any sort of social relevancy about the time I was taking my sociology and social living class. But it has remained a good market indicator.

If you were to study that pop culture thread long enough, you'd find the watershed moment where things like saving and self-reliance ceased to be cool, thus ceased to be necessary. My nephew may surprise us, but I have a feeling he is ill-equipped to take on the vagaries of financial existence without significant help. He's a 17 year old in California. It doesn't get any more middle America than that, marketing-wise.
"You bring the weasel, I'll bring the whiskey." - kellnerin

[ Parent ]
Too late to worry about it now. by nightflameblue (4.00 / 1) #24 Thu Aug 07, 2008 at 04:22:13 AM EST
At seventeen, he's set up to do what he's going to do when he gets on his own.

I know very few people my age or younger that can hold a budget together. I had a period in my early twenties where I got scary close to falling apart financially, and once I crawled out I swore I'd never go that far down again. Sadly, the younger folks these days keep getting bailed out by mommy and daddy and never realize that they won't be there forever to help financially.

Granted, every time spending slows down a little bit even the news programs put out statements calling people who save evil for daring to stop sending all their money and credit the way of whatever awesome product happens to be coming down the pipeline, so it's tough to get younger folks to realize they'll survive without the latest and greatest phone, music device, tv, DVD alike, and the best car money can buy. When I was sixteen I got a then twenty year old piece of shit car and built it into something driveable. I see sixteen year olds today driving around brand spankin' new $45,000 and up SUVs because mommy and daddy want to make sure they are "safe." That's a pretty big shift in philosophy for such a short, or not so short, period of time.

[ Parent ]
Article was pretty much dead-on, though by Clipper Ship (4.00 / 1) #7 Wed Aug 06, 2008 at 06:41:45 AM EST
Yeah, it's badly written, but everyone wants to be Hunter Thompson these days in the Left-leaning mags, so they don't know how to not write that way - chock-a-bloc with 'like a X meets X in X'.

However, there's not much difference between punk and indie and hipsters, so whatcha gonna do? It's old culture being old. They are kids listening to the most popular music out there that is still called respectable, even though the record sales rival hip-hop and whatever cheerleaders listen to now.

The ironic thing is that, even in the age of the internet, actual indie music is still being played by people with day jobs and no money. And style is irrelevant these days.

I go for the William Burroughs style: attempt to so totally blend in that no one even remembers you later on. It's like a personal competition.


Destroy All Planets

The best thing by blixco (2.00 / 0) #10 Wed Aug 06, 2008 at 08:19:25 AM EST
about those sorts of articles and observations is how they work. Like the better trolls out there, they're mocking what they are as much as what they observe. This allows for a lot of righteous response, which is always fun.

Blending in does have a certain Ninja appeal.....
"You bring the weasel, I'll bring the whiskey." - kellnerin

[ Parent ]
I don't think you really could write an article by Clipper Ship (4.00 / 1) #13 Wed Aug 06, 2008 at 08:38:08 AM EST
like that without being a part of it. How else could you tell the actual differences from the superficial ones?


Destroy All Planets

[ Parent ]
Very true. by blixco (4.00 / 2) #15 Wed Aug 06, 2008 at 08:57:06 AM EST
Well, unless it was being really well faked. And with most surface cultures (websites, for instance), it is pretty easy to fake the bright points of the given set of standards.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.
"You bring the weasel, I'll bring the whiskey." - kellnerin

[ Parent ]
best thing from the mefi link by garlic (4.00 / 1) #12 Wed Aug 06, 2008 at 08:26:58 AM EST
is the link to this.

No one is as cool as they think they are. by wiredog (4.00 / 1) #16 Wed Aug 06, 2008 at 10:13:41 AM EST
Not you, not me, not Hulver. None of us.

Earth First!
(We can strip mine the rest later.)

I dunno, by blixco (2.00 / 0) #18 Wed Aug 06, 2008 at 11:37:44 AM EST
hulver is pretty cool.
"You bring the weasel, I'll bring the whiskey." - kellnerin
[ Parent ]
The way I see it... by dark nowhere (4.00 / 1) #17 Wed Aug 06, 2008 at 10:48:32 AM EST
it's some kind of self-devouring phenomenon. At the core, someone decides to perform and display a triumph of individuality: to do something stylisticly new (or simply out-of-mode) with themselves.

That drive is old and justifiable, but unfortunately we no longer live in days when two people checking each other causally results in sex: right here, right now. The new metric is acceptance measured by imitation. At some point, it achieves critical mass (otherwise you haven't heard of it, and it's still cool) and the uniqueness has washed away leaving more sameness -- the opposite of the original intention.

Hilariously, this is about when people start getting laid.

See you, space cowboy.

adbusters by MillMan (4.00 / 1) #20 Wed Aug 06, 2008 at 07:06:42 PM EST
was always about fighting fire with fire. They were selling shoes a few years ago for christ sake.

Our best hope is that someday humanity competes for non-material ends, but that will require undoing culturally embedded behaviors that date back to the origins of agriculture, currently enforced by the awesome PR industry built up over the first half of the 20th century. The competitive drive is not going away. The conscious self decides what turns to take on occasion, but we're mostly just along for the ride, peering out the windows.

In my early 20's I was a smug little fuck who was certain he didn't care about his income or his possessions. Then I lost my first post-college job, and the myths were instantly laid bare. I'll spend the rest of my life chipping away at just a small piece of what that is.

When I'm imprisoned as an enemy combatant, will you blog about it?

True. by blixco (4.00 / 1) #23 Thu Aug 07, 2008 at 04:20:38 AM EST
AdBusters was initially interested in fighting market forces with their own tools. The unbranded "black spot" shoes were an interesting way to go about it: remove some market share from Nike and the like, go after their cash. The criticism was: you guys shouldn't make a profit, because you're anti-profit.

But they're not anti-profit, they're pro-worker. Or used to be. That and they used design as a tool of subversion, or tried to. It all comes off now as high minded nonsense, but I've always felt that someone, somewhere is probably being influenced in a positive fashion by it, and it is a message I do not disagree with. Every little bit helps, etc.

I don't know as I've ever been smug in my social standing. I started out shaky, money-wise. But I've never put any importance in things beyond their ability to shelter me. It's nice to have food, and a roof. I'd not trade that. But I don't know that I need a 42" HDTV for instance; I have one, and it's nice and all, but if it were stolen or destroyed I'd be, meh.
"You bring the weasel, I'll bring the whiskey." - kellnerin

[ Parent ]
Nothing like the pros | 25 comments (25 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback