Friday, 15 October 2004

On tragic hipness

Luc Sante (author of one of my favourite books, Low Life, about the seedy history of New York) writes in the Village Voice about John Leland's new book Hip: The History (excerpt) and the concept of hipness. Some flippin' great lines and thoughts:
And hip is occult, arcana without a heaven.

Cultural miscegenation is fundamental not just to hipness but to the United States in all its finest aspects.

Was there ever a more perfect hipster than Bugs Bunny, at least before he became a shill?

(Link)
I particularly like the idea - of both Leland and Sante - that interracial exchange is at the heart of hipness. There's something I hear in Sante's voice that recalls that ultimate hipster Lenny Bruce talking about Jewishness and goyishness ("I'm Jewish. Count Basie's Jewish. Ray Charles is Jewish. Eddie Cantor's goyish. The B'nai Brith is goyish. The Hadassah is Jewish. Marine Corps - heavy goyish, dangerous. Kool-Aid is goyish. All Drake's Cakes are goyish.").

The best part of the article is Sante's railing against Leland's claim that advertising is a common link in hipness ("The fact remains that, if you shill for enterprises that exist primarily to further enrich people who are already many times richer than you, you are a servant."). Compare Leland's take:
"Like the advertising world that grew up alongside it, hip creates value through image and style. In its emphasis on being watched, it anticipated the modern mediascape, which values people not for what they produce or possess but for their salience as images". (Link)
Dig, there's something fundamentally wrong in the appropriation of 'hip' as advertising and branding word - all too popular here in Singapore, and not uncommon elsewhere. For one, once you call yourself hip, you're not. Trying to pin down hipness is a devilishly Heisenbergian process: you want momentum, you can't state a position.

Excerpt from Thomas Frank's Conquest of Cool on the appropriation of hipness/coolness by consumerism.



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