Tuesday, August 17, 2010


If the success of Owl City isn't enough to convince you that hipster culture has gone off the rails (converging with the mainstream and losing touch with the artistic culture on which it is based) then watching Interior Semiotics will surely do the trick.

I intend to use the video, at the bottom of this post, as an example of the consequences that accompany an endemic flaw in the current hipster mentality. It is worth briefly mentioning however, that the video also gives weight to a more serious critique of Post Modernism. A critique first raised by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont in Fashionable Nonsense. From wikipedia:
"The criticism of elements of postmodernism as sophism or obscurantism was played out in the Sokal Affair, where Alan Sokal, a physicist, delivered for publication an article about interpreting physics and mathematics in terms of postmodern theory, which he had deliberately written to mock postmodernist views on objectivity, determinism and the social construction of scientific truth. It was published by Social Text, a cultural studies journal active in the field of postmodernism. Sokal arranged for the simultaneous publication of another article describing the former as a successful experiment to see whether a postmodernist journal would publish it, triggering an academic scandal. Sokal later published a book with Jean Bricmont called Intellectual Impostures, which expands upon his criticism of postmodernism."
Essentially, the postmodern rejection of objectivity creates absurdity. Beneath the academic patina, and esoteric language there is exactly nothing. It is the same gut feeling that one has on encountering certain examples of modern/abstract art. One is assured that the paint splattered canvas holds some deep important meaning, but what that meaning might be, no one can say. The suspicion develops that it is all a ruse, that it is just a way for 'artists' to make money, and bourgeoisie couples to have something on their wall to impress their friends at dinner parties. Anyway, not to be distracted: 

It might be an age-old cliché to lament that one's subculture is being overridden by 'mainstream' imposters. Everyone has had the experience of namedropping a band only to encounter the riposte: "Oh, yeah, Sonic Youth... They're OK, I guess...I listened to them ages ago... but have you heard of [insert obscure band here]?" Obnoxious sneer included. And yes, if something is good, then why shouldn't more people like it? Isn't it good that these people that provide us with such wonderful cultural contributions are getting due acknowledgement?

But something is seriously wrong. You see, the problem is derived from why subcultures exist in the first place. If you are an intelligent, erudite individual with good taste in art, music and literature, you are part of a minority. You are the avian equivalent of a peacock in a turkey farm. Now, you don't want to have to invest time and energy in getting to know every person you meet in the hopes that you stumble across someone like you. This situation gives rise to subcultures. The Indie/Hipster subculture is broadly based around the qualities I just identified, (intelligence, culture, etc) though of course there are other subcultures each based on unique criteria. Essentially people subconsciously adopt an implicit style, expressed primarily through fashion, in order to make the task of meeting like minded people easier. 

When a subculture becomes popular, this whole system gets turned upside down. Suddenly you have turkeys covering themselves in peacock feathers left, right and centre, until the poor peacocks don't know what's going on. The 'mainstream' never appropriates things for the right reasons. If they were even capable of identifying the right reasons they wouldn't be mainstream. Suddenly you have hoards of people running round in Ray Bans and tight jeans trying their very hardest to listen to obscure music and appear 'deep' and 'poetic.' Why? Not because they see any intrinsic worth in any of it. Not even because they like music or poetry. They do it merely because the fickle tide of fashion has shifted, and suddenly it is 'cool.' If tomorrow it suddenly became 'cool' to be a bogan, these same vapid idiots would all be running around with mullets and black singlets, and AC DC's album sales would go through the roof. 

At the same time as the subculture is appropriated it is corrupted. As Hipster culture becomes increasingly 'cool' it becomes commercially viable. Enter major record labels. New bands go to great heights offering watered down, accessible imitations (Think Owl City, Postal Service). Older bands sell out (Think Kings of Leon [apparently Liam Gallagher thinks so too link here]). In amongst this chaos, the bona fide Hipster struggles to find his/her peers. Suddenly name dropping Modest Mouse or Neutral Milk Hotel is no longer a secret handshake. Suddenly you don't feel quite so special walking down the street with your skinny jeans and satchel bag. 

The subculture's popularity leads to increased competition. Parties become increasingly unpleasant as people try and name drop increasingly obscure bands. You can no longer get away with referencing Bansky to show off your artistic awareness. And in amongst all this confusion, this striving for obscurity, a valuable truth is lost:

That's right. If only twenty people in the world have heard of something, there is a high chance that the reason why is because it sucks. That little band that plays in Tennessee skin bars that you heard on Myspace and decided to wank on about on Saturday night is probably not as good as The Clash. Shit, Lady GaGa is probably better. So stick that condescending smirk where the sun don't shine. 

Which brings me in a roundabout way to the video I wanted to comment on. Interior Semiotics. This is a clear example of how Hipsters these days are willing to eat up any bullshit that you feed them. And a pretty convincing argument towards not sending your kids to art school while we're at it. Watch the whole video, or skip to the last two minutes where the magic happens. Note how seriously the 'performance' is taken, and the applause received. I should mention that this video has mildly distasteful content. 

Seriously, it's like the Emperor with no clothes! If you are vaguely intrigued as to what this art school 'performance' is supposedly about, then go here


  1. why were they so polite throughout? how no one yelled "are you fucking kidding me" is strange to me

  2. That's exactly what I thought when I first saw it. I was thinking; If I was there I wouldn't be able to stop myself laughing. That's why I think it depicts a hipster culture that has lost its way. All of the hipsters watching it are scared to laugh at it for fear that they may be missing some 'deep' important meaning.

  3. Amazing how humans can always disappoint you

  4. Exactly! The point is that it is shit. She made it really awful ON PURPOSE to show that people will still watch it.

    The show here is not her performance. No the art is in the crowd, the art is all those people watching something really shitty. She's basically saying "This play is shit. Look at everyone watching this shitty play." The applause let's you know that it worked.

    That's what makes it a good art performance. That's the deep meaning. She's laughing at the audience.