Like any time in history, there are always a handful of hot topics that consume our conversations for months at a time, until replaced by the new fear, loathe, love or debate.
With the American election next week, this is the obvious first subject up for discussion. However, if we aren’t madly trying to figure out how the hell someone like Sarah Palin is even allowed to address an entire country with her Alaskan gibble gabble about nothing, or panicking about the economy and demise of the world as we know it, then we could be raising questions about the ever so sexy and topical theme of ‘hipsters’. Ahhh, yes, that tired old subject. Hmm. Whenever prompted to discuss
this pop culture phenomenon I find myself instantly gravitated and similarly nauseated. Why the dichotomy? On the one hand, there is something fascinating about watching a handful of cool kids grow into a worldwide cultural force of kooky looking apathetic youth; a marketing VP’s dream, an awkward teen’s salvation and an artist’s muse to interpret. On the other hand, is it simply a jerk-off
stimulated by how effing cool we all are?
A couple weeks back, I received an e-mail notifying me of an art show happening at Labspace Studio in the East End titled, "Deconstructing Hip." I felt an almost irrational surge of excitement – having for so long yearned to sit around and decode, deconstruct and clarify what the hell is going on. The Sunday following my intro to this art party happening thing, I invited the gallery founder, Laura Mendes, and two of the participating artists, Rea McNamara and Jennifer Robichaud over to mull over this subject at length.
Before I dive into that conversation, perhaps it is important to clarify the two most common uses of the word ‘hipster’.
1. HIPSTER: an influencer, a person on the cutting edge of cool, a societal rebel of sorts, a catalyst for change e.g. Bob Dylan, Josephine Baker, Oscar Wilde, Joni Mitchell, Anais Nin
2. HIPSTER: a drunk twenty-something clad in an American Apparel/Value Village get-up, accesorized with giant thick rimmed glasses, and practically strangled in an enormous colourful scarf. This hipster divides their time between attending as many parties, openings and shows as possible while dancing under the influence, to thrashing electro while combing the net for photos that piece together the night prior’s timeline of excess. Upon spotting that they’ve been tagged, the hipster will then disseminate comments to a pool of approximately six hundred like minded youth with blurbs like, "OMG – I don’t even remember this!"; or "WHy is his hand down my pants lol?" "Is this before you spilled beer down my bra or after – you bitch!! HA HA HA."
Although I suppose I fit into the later description, I do find myself A: humiliated that I’m twenty-nine and still throwing my drunk face in front of cameras for some imagined fame. B: Irritated that such a vast body of people essentially stands for nothing except self-indulgent behaviour that leads to health problems and an eventual painful prick: that is there is more to life than partying. C: Sympathetic and understanding that a movement does not necessarily have to stand for something other than, "I’m twenty two and figuring life out;" Fuck it, who cares – go party, screw and attempt to make sense of your life.
Why are we so freakin’ fascinated? Is it the fact that the word has completely taken on new meaning? Or are those of us a few years beyond the time in life where anything seems possible, jealous at the vacuous lifestyle? Do we enjoy watching the watchdogs feed the youth? Is our enthrallment a complete waste of time or are we going to extract deep sociological meaning?
"I thought it was a really rich topic to get artists together and start looking at the idea, because especially in Toronto it is so huge, and I don’t even know how it all happened," begins Mendes.
Robichaud explains that her dance performance within the show seeks to examine, "the origination of hipster culture from Jazz musicians, an African American vocabulary…while also looking at women lying on their side smoking opium, hand on hip." McNamara describes her contribution to the show as a "Bob Dylan polka-dot countdown and release into the air." Inspired by Dylan’s controversial polka-dot shirt and accomplished through a tossing of circles cut out from the collective’s Dylan books.
It sounded fun, and was fun, but what exactly is accomplished here and why?
"The point is to get artists together to create some kind of dialogue and to provoke questions. I don’t think we will get any answers but think we are going to get a lot of perspectives." Mendes continues to disclose her inital attraction to the subject: "Being 26, I’m no longer 22 and I’m not partying every weekend but still very much immersed in the Toronto art scene. I’m not young anymore and have all these adult responsibilities, but all I want to do is make art and party. There’s part of me that yearns to be a part of that culture. Back when I was twenty two I didn’t really care about anything…and now I feel like I’m caught."
Ah yes, poor us. If only we could drink from the fountain of youth and be forever carefree. A moment of reminiscing about a time not long ago and we are back to deconstructing: "Being someone who is very interested in style, I’m interested in the flaunting of this group that has influence and supposedly knows what is ‘in’ and what is ‘out’," says McNamara. She continues to label these supposed trendsetters as "mainstream," and argues that what is ‘cool’ is not necessarily found within this hardcore beer-guzzling iPod grazing bunch, but can be anyone from a seventy five year old who wears a different combination to a child. Further to the outlandish clothing and narcissistic photo addiction, it is the speed at which this species moves which is mind boggling. McNamara recounts memories of non-stop cool hunting "You know, we’d go to an art show, then a concert then that party – all in one night! I think about that now and it exhausts me. When I go to shows now, I’m not going to be seen to be there, to make an appearance – I’m going because I want to hear the music and enjoy myself. Same as an opening, I’m going to be invested in the work. With a hipster, it’s that constant hoping, that occupation with having a filled blackberry calendar. I dunno, I think it’s moving too fast and quickly."
I agree with McNamara, and know the feeling of the out of control rollercoaster ride to nowhere. – Hide quoted text –
It’s hard to keep up with this pack and when asked sometimes why I didn’t make it to the afterparty my response of "I was too tired", receives looks of "WHAT?" If the hardcore hipster youth can be likened to a pack of cheetahs, I’m the three legged gazelle, hobbling behind.
So where does one find these wild cats that move so fast? Robichaud quickly responds, "In fashion." Nodding in approval, Mendes continues: "Yes, they are tied to the music and fashion scene, which is why I feel off the radar because frankly I’m working all the time, don’t have the time to invest in caring so much with being seen." Weary to pinpoint an intersection or isolate a particular pocket, McNamara explains that, "With our piece, we aren’t pointing the finger or pointing down at hipsters. It’s not a critique. Even trying to locate hipsters you will find that in every sort of community – there is a hipster sack. the visual, literary community – there is always a group that determines – four or five people – they are well connected, they exploit their connections and see themselves as an influential group – and those are hipsters!"
"What is interesting to explore is the historical context," says Robichaud. McNamara clarifies that this is not some new revelation, nor was it born in the sixties, "It goes back to the romantics, interested in emotion and image. Back to the Dandies, to Oscar Wilde, the Victorian era." Okay yes, but what I really want to know is what is this group all about, the definition that I presented. Who the fuck is Cory Kennedy and how the hell does American Apparel fit into the equation? " Cory Kennedy, just this girl with stringy hair deemed a goddess at fourteen. Her parents let her go to parties at fourteen and suddenly she’s this major hipster." McNamara scoffs.
"Someone like this is the icon of this pack, but what is she? She’s just a flippant girl who parties way too young to be drinking / smoking – posing 9000 times in front of camera. Is she a role model?" "She’s like Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan," decrees Robichaud, who has interacted with a sickening amount of Hilton idols with Feist hair cuts that simply love to say "That’s Hot!"
We can’t truly make sense of why little Miss Kennedy is the contemporary version of Edie Sedgewick and ‘it’ girl of today, nor do we really understand why wearing an oversized hoodie and basic undies while posing like a heroin addict on dirty sheets is ‘cool’ – but a strong debate does emerge over whether these ‘influencers’ should be more accurately deemed as ‘the easily influenced.’ In any case, the Deconstructing Hip turned out to be a good variety of, well, deconstructing. Through art, text, music and dance there was a conscientious effort to break the barriers of ‘hip’ but in the final analysis, like Mendes warned, no answers were found. Like any typical ‘hipster’ art party, we gawked at each other’s clothes, whipped out the digital camera, threw our hands in the air in unison accompanied by the quick lyrics blurted out by hip hop artist AROWBE. Drank beer and decoded art in the name of ‘hip’. Perhaps in a few years, we will have a better understanding and see more clearly what this blip in time is all about, but until then we can break the boredom by combing through Last Nights Party and chalking it up to a wicked weekend full of decadence and temporary distraction.
W Network – a good alternative to Halloween insanity If the chill in the air is making you think twice about heading to a cryptic Halloween party clad in a barely there vampire nurse costume, or perhaps the idea of getting hit on by drunken cowboys and blood soaked mummies is less than appealing, opt for cozy plan B. Do it old school and put on some flannel jammy jams, whip out that Jiffy Pop and nestle into the couch to laugh, holler and scoff at the romantic comedy, The Break Up. (Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston)
Saturday Night – 9PM on W Network