PART 2: AUTHENTICITY IS BULLSHIT, or: POP IS THE NEW PUNK
(Part 1, titled “What Is A Hipster, And Why Does Everyone Hate Them? or: You’re So Fake (And So Am I)“, can be found here.)
As noted in Part 1, the main thrust of the criticisms against hipsters have roots in a notion of authenticity. Lorentz mentions the words “authentic” and “inauthentic” a dozen times in his article, and the Adbusters piece is just as bad. It’s a fair charge to say that hipsters fetishize the authentic, as Lorentz does. This is hardly unique to hipsters, though; one can find it in practically any sub-culture. It’s so common that I find it disingenuous to use it as a criticism of hipsters and Hipsterism. The problem, as I see it, is that notion of authenticity being used is utter bullshit.
Some years ago, before I became a hipster or had even heard of hipsters, I was confirmed as “real” at a party by a group of counter-culture kids. There were several reasons given. First, I was living in a “real” neighborhood. At that time my rundown flop of a house was located in a neighborhood of Detroit, a mostly working-class ethnic neighborhood that was deemed hip by the minority of caucasian youths living there. It was popular for a number of reasons: it was much safer than the surrounding areas, close to a University and had been, even back when it was predominantly white, an ethnic neighborhood (Polish). Second, I was working two jobs to pay my way through school. I was living month-to-month, sometimes bills didn’t get paid and I lived for months on brown rice and Siracha stolen from the Chinese restaurant at which I was employed. Third, I had a pretty good drug habit going, the likes of which would eventually take the life of a couple friends later on down the road.
I contemplated this. Apparently, making several terrible choices in the suburbs that resulted in losing my funding for school and having to move to the significantly cheaper housing in the city had made me “real”. And to think I didn’t even know I was “fake” when I was out in the suburbs! Apparently, my gritty, dirty, dangerous life meant I was “real” and not some automaton or something.
This notion of realness, of authenticity, is very popular today. Grit and dirt = real. Danger = real. This is despite the fact that all of the above can be acquired without much effort: you can move to a shitty-but-hip neighborhood, you can give up your scholarship and work all the time, and believe you me you can pick up a substance-abuse problem with startling ease.
The absurdity soon makes itself apparent. If it can be faked with ease, where is the value of its authenticity? Someone doing the three steps listed above can have just as “real” a life as I was leading. It would be indistinguishable from the life of someone who ended up there by accident or, like in my case, as the result of poor decision-making skills. The real life can be acquired, and when it is, does that person miraculously go from “fake” to “real”? How does that work? If all the ways one uses to define oneself as authentic are, in a way, “for sale”, how authentic can one’s identity really be?
The primary problem with the counterculture is its rebellion against perceived inauthenticity, against the manufactured lifestyle represented by prime-time television and pop culture. The problem lies in where we are running to, in what we are clinging to instead of the manufactured lifestyle. We think we are leaving image-without-substance behind and embracing realness, embracing something with meaning and substance. We are doing no such thing. We’re just falling for a different kind of deception.
They say that if you’re going to steal, then steal from the best. With that in mind, I offer you an excerpt by Warren Ellis from his discontinued series Doktor Sleepless:
Now, after seeing hordes of people rebelling against Pop and seeking refuge in authenticity, I see his point. Punk, now, is as baldly selling an image, a brand, as any bit of pop culture. It’s about as authentic as Bob Dylan, and the same goes for pretty much every counter-culture.
How do you rebel, then, when all the culture rebels are buying into bullshit notions of authenticity? What do you do when the people rebelling against the image and the spectacle of pop culture are indulging in an image and a spectacle of their own? The answer is obvious: go the other direction. Embrace the shallowness, embrace the trends that have a half-life of half a season, embrace the superficial fashion and culture that Hipsterism provides. If its authenticity you’re after, be like me. Be a Real Fake. Be sincere in your devotion to affectations, in the shallow trends…