Americans learn that “real things” and “real selves” only exist as potentialities, though we are obligated to always pursue them. We are obligated to be discontented with what we are — to become someone else — and search for our true selves at the same time. Is this in effect any different from the communists’ insistence that the collective took precedence over the self, that the private self didn’t exist? We are never who we are in a consumer society; instead we have an identity defined negatively, by what we lack and what we yearn for and what we fear is being said about what we have and what we display to the world.
Fashion tells you that you are a fool to prefer the experiences to the range, and it applies “social pressure” to make you change your view. By following fashion and disseminating its dictates and by innovating on its terms, we create additional value for the retailers of fashion-oriented products — a description that is coming to embrace virtually everything that can be bought and sold.
A symptomatic reading of Objectified reveals an urge for impeccable order, an incurable desire to purge from public view the irregular, the odd, the heteroclite, and even the excessively ornate or strictly utilitarian, in order to place in their stead a whole array of everyday things boasting clean lines and soothing orbicularities — a regime of Platonic functionality, in other words, vouchsafed to an auxiliary of designers equipped with the latest drafting software and laser-guided precision instruments. Objectified comes across as a fever dream of the sort which brings the sufferer visions of the world to come: namely, the dictatorship of the creative class.
The Austin I visited bore little resemblance to the Austin I saw in Slacker. Vestiges of the old Austin (Austin 1.0?) remain, but they’ve been more or less hemmed in by legions of cookie-cutter off-campus student apartment buildings. The total effect has certainly altered the city’s character. If the slogan before was “Keep Austin Weird,” a more fitting slogan now would be “Keep Austin Wired.” It’s a city that is certainly attempting to peer further over the temporal horizon than many others. In a very real way, Austin reflects the larger cultural trend which developed as the 90s gave way to the 00s: tragically hip Gen-Xers surrendered the spotlight to merely tragic Gen-Y hipsters, who attenuated the formers’ ethic of refusal into a look and a lifestyle.
The biking dandies and quaintrelles invoke a narrow spectrum for their rainbow coalition. Hip-hoppers and heshers, one gathers, need not apply. How this wished-for amalgam of social cliques is supposed to happen within the dissolving medium of dandyism is not entirely certain. One imagines that all this supposed de-cliquing can only lead to dislocation and anomie, as hipsters parasitize preppiedom and preppies extract some of the value hipsters have added to the preppie look. A climate of antagonism, recrimination and refusal would likely follow, proving ruinous to the urbane charms of a Saturday’s cycling.
As Ulrich sees it, the creative class is marginalized because it has voluntarily given up the very things that give comfort to traditional marginalized groups. Creatives are alienated not at the level of the political, the economic or the social, but at the most basic human level. If the life of the poor is not the life we imagine for ourselves, it plays out as a parody of that life, following the same rituals of family, church, marketplace, and the political. At the center of all these rituals are the comforts of home, place, and humanity. Where the old alienation could be said to take place in a geographic location, the new alienation of the creative class is played out in lonely hotel rooms across the globe. And why is the creative class so alienated? Because it has chosen to be alienated in order to keep up with the dictates of money and success.
In reifying and quantifying our identity in ways that both flatter us and stoke our positional anxieties, social networks encourage us to shed the last vestiges of market anonymity for full-blown self-revelation. We give the details of our lives freely and in great detail, because they return back to us in the form of affirmation and affect, confirming our capability to produce cool within the networks we ourselves build. Their ease of use takes immaterial labor out of the exclusive hands of hipsters and cultural entrepreneurs and enable all of us to engage in it. Everyone can express themselves — even if it’s just clicking a thumb’s-up next to a status update. Everyone can “share” their off-the-cuff thoughts and moods and secretly dream of their universal relevance, their impact. No need to live in a creative-class ghetto, pursue a graduate degree, or try to master the intricacies of various totemic subcultures anymore — we are all hipsters now.
The hipster, then, as the not me, the objet petit a, is a sort of double who “enters through the out door” and allows the hipster to maintain the image of his own individuality, but only as the dislocated site of imagined and imaginary resistance. The taint of hipster is the vehicle of this resistance that, through the magic of surplus value, contains within itself the voiceless ejecta of the Lumpenproletariat, as seen through the gaze of the bourgeoisie. Insofar as this gaze is capable of forgetting history, it transmutes antagonism into agonism. That is, liberation is presented, or rather presents itself, as both the head and the tail (but not the body!) of ouroboros, who must now be shackled, but not “to” itself or its own body.
Private equity’s resounding triumph echoes in the ears of countless strivers eager to sample la dolce vita, inspiring in them the belief that they can asset-strip their way to prosperity. So keen, in fact, are people on getting into the game commenced during the Reagan years that they’re finding strippable assets in some rather unlikely places — like their own faces.
Overextended and underemployed in creative-class Xanadu is probably not how many hipsters envisioned their post-collegiate years, but such is the sobering reality for many of them. Which can come as nothing but good news for local employers, who stand to acquire specialized labor at bargain-basement wages, as well as for landlords, the ultimate winners in all such demographic trends.