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Rebellion, coolness, and Hipsters.

March 24, 2006

While discussing artistic movements, and manifestos, and pop culture in class a while back, we got onto the topic of Rebellion. As a device for standing out, and how most of pop culture is in a state of perpetual rebellion against itself.

See, people keep on coming up with ways to rebel against the perceived mainstream, like punk, or grunge, or whatever… By, for instance, dressing in spikes and tattered clothes, the members of that subculture visually state that they are in rebellion against the mainstream – they look different, stand out, and become nonconformist.

However, the very act of rebellion is inherently cool. As with nonconformity. So, as they get noticed, culture will gravitate towards the new cool – the current rebellion. The example I’m using here is punk, but any of them will do. As the movement attracts followers, mainstream culture will take notice – someone will begin marketing products aimed at the fasion of the new subculture (In this case, spikes and pre-tattered denim), someone else will begin making music to echo the values of that subculture (like, well, punk music, maybe?)… As the targeted marketing and musical progression grow, so do the number of followers – and pretty soon you have fashion punks – people doing it ’cause its cool, not because of any particular allegiance to the values it was based on. Punk is an unusually good example of this, because its entire purpose was to be un-cool, so a fashion-punk is especailly ironic.

It came into use after punk faded (’cause everyone was doing it), but the term most often applied to the rebellion chasers is “hipster” – trying to be cool and hip by chasing the current trend.

The two current hipster movements that come to mind are Indie and Emo. Both of which started off as subcultures of the “different”, decrying and revoking the mainstream, and either have become, or soon will be, a mainstream. While all movements of this type are susceptable to being absorbed (I need a better term… help?) or whatever into pop culture, Indie was especially vulnerable, being based around a genre of music – all it takes is someone to end up on the radio, and suddenly everone wants in. The values of Indie being about obscure music, the rapid influx of faux-indie kids means that the original indie people are being driven further and further into the depths of garage bands and unplayed music in order to maintain their identity. Sadly, I’ve recently noticed a trend starting wherein true-indie people are going so far for obscure music that they latch onto a band that was, well, obscure for a reason – like sucking.
Part of the problem is that while “retro” is in, sort of, new is what they’re really after, especially as related to music, meaning that in the race to be More Obscure with the music, some true talent is being left behind.

But that is a story for another time.

However, the race for the new cool is a one way path – retro may be in, but only because it was so far out that it had faded. The current retro is the fasion of the 50s-60s-70s (not quite sure), but it has to be from before or just barely at the start of the current In Generation. Anything too recent is just behind the times. However, as the various groups diverge and converge fasion and idealistically, everyone is looking for that unique touch, looking to stand out, so much so that everyone is essentially trying the same new touch at the same time – making it old before it was ever new. Lost you? Think about it this way – say everyone is trying to have something no one else has… they’re going to focus on what people, well, don’t have. Obvious? Yes. But, they can’t grab something everyone else doesn’t have because its unfashionable. That hugely cuts down the options available. Suddenly, there’s 3 or 4 things left that are old enough that they’re not unfasionable anymore, and all those people looking for the New Thing are going to end up getting one of the 4 options. In the span of a month, everyone who’s In is suddenly wearing one of the 4 options, ’cause it’s new – but is it? Everyone else got one for the same reason, and suddenly, almost as soon as it was New And Cool, it’s passé, because everyone got one. I’ve oversimplified, but I think you’ll get the idea.

Anyway, where this is all going is that the only true way to stand out & rebel is … to stop trying to rebel. Only by conforming to a median that doesn’t exist can we truely rebel against the hipster regime of adaptive rebellion against themselves. Any attempt to distance oneself from the hipster culture or rebel against it is either already being done or will be done – sure, you may start something, but your brief rebellion will soon be swept up by mainstream culture as soon as you gain support for your rebellion. Only by ceasing cultural rebellion and by accepting pop culture and hipster society and then deconstructing it from within can any true cultural progress occur.

Countercultural manifesto to follow. Eventually.

Though I did come up with this sweet graphic (…well, I like it, at least…) that I’m going to throw on a couple of tee-shirts for myself. And anyone else who wants to join me in the rebellion of conformity. – I may have to charge you money, though. The creative process isn’t cheap. And neither are shirts.

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