In economics, there’s a concept called “barriers to entry”. It describes the costs involved in getting into a particular market. For example, if I wanted to sell weed out the back of my car, I would need to buy the weed, but also an AK-47 and a bail bondsman. Also a car.
This also explains a lot about hipsters, when you stop to think about it.
You’d feel bad for the people trying to be cool if they weren’t such raging douchebags in the first place. Before the Internet, they had a little time to feel smug and superior with their knowledge of new trends in fashion, entertainment and so on, before it got to the rest of us via word of mouth, magazine, and cable channels. They had that time where they felt special and better than the rest of us, even though they were just as big a bunch of losers, arguably moreso since their self-esteem was predicated on what amounted to insider stock trading, and they had a few month’s lead time to keep that feeling up.
But with the Internet, it’s instantaneous: that band “you probably haven’t heard of” is “that band you’ve totally listened to their entire EP” in twenty minutes thanks to a smartphone with Google on it. That trend they mention in passing, waiting for you to ask about you just so they can lord over their knowledge of something nobody but them cares about, can be sabotaged simply by excusing yourself to the bathroom and looking it up on Wikipedia. The window for being smug and superior with your knowledge of coolness has shrunk from months to, at most, about twenty minutes. When it comes to being cool, the Internet has decimated the ivory towers of trendiness. It can no longer make something uncool because everyone’s doing it: everyone does it within minutes of its discovery, whether it’s mocking Rebecca Black or jerking off to the video featuring the porn starlet who looks kind of like Rebecca Black.
This is why hipsters have to get into bands with smaller and smaller fan bases: the instant a band becomes cool, everybody’s there, and they’re no longer special and unique. A friend of mine likes to relate a story about somebody he knew who, upon seeing that there was an actual line to see his favorite band, immediately walked away and destroyed his albums. He was furious that anybody else was into them, you know, because musicians should do it solely for one person’s entertainment, not to make a living. They need to create a special club that only you are a member of.
Asking these people to generate an actual personality is really too much: let’s not forget that today’s hipster artist is tomorrow’s corporate drone in a suit or soccer mom who looks wistfully on the days she thought she could write blank verse poetry that would move the world, or the city, or her parents. They’re struggling to do anything that makes them more than yet another skidmark in history’s underwear, and technology is screwing them at every turn.
They’ve tried being into things “ironically”, which mostly meant Pabst Blue Ribbon became the cheap beer of choice and your mom could finally break out her glasses from 1976 again. They’ve tried to limit things to geography, which is pointless in a world where you can have anything from a Thai hooker to a Swedish meatball shipped to you Federal Express. They’ve tried to limit things to fashion, only to discover that supply chain management and design teams can get anything they find hot into T.J. Maxx’s across the world in the space of a month.
In short, the only advantage they have is their trust funds checks. So that’s what they’ve been using.
This has always been a factor, of course: the reason we have a performance artist ramming Spaghetti-Os up her cooter (very NSFW) is because somebody else is keeping the lights on for her. The entire art form of poetry probably would have died off by now if it hadn’t been for trust-fund babies paying for Creative Writing degrees to keep poets worth reading employed at academic jobs. But it’s starting to combine with the hipster’s future of mindless consumerism in place of a personality in some pretty entertaining ways.
A hilarious example: the new trend of not being a ‘real writer’ unless you use a typewriter. This is, of course, ridiculous: your parents are laughing their asses off at hipsters right now, because typewriters, contrary to what the New York Times will tell you, are not magical. Computers wiped them from the face of the earth for a very, very good reason, which you will learn the first time you change a ribbon.
The article itself, however, is fascinating. An ongoing theme is a kind of hatred of computers, with people insisting that you have to type slower on a typewriter, that typewriters encourage you to think, and that computers are too distracting. I especially love the guy who says that he needs a typewriter to write because on the computer, he’ll be on Twitter and then get distracted. Jon Roth, if you’re reading: give up. Seriously. If you’re so disinterested in your own work that Twitter is more appealing, you’re never going to write anything worth reading.
The article also mentions the trend of “typecasting”, where you type something out, scan it, and then post it to a blog, which is cute precisely once and then automatically becomes fucktarded when you do it a second time. You know, you could just blog for free, offering your thoughts in a form that’s easily copied and spread around but that’s so, like, not unique. Also telling is the insistence that unlike computers, you’re actually making something tangible with a typewriter, even though, as David Sedaris observed, all that really means is when you suck, you take a few trees down with you.
This is pretty common. Music producers are starting to run into bands of eighteen year olds insisting their demos be recorded on reel-to-reel tape, like that will make their derivative music sound any better. In my alternate life as a guy who sneaks into colleges to mack on eighteen-year-olds, I was in a cinematography class where all the hipsters were whining about how much better film was and why did they have to shoot digital, because film is so much better and looks so much better. Then they had to shoot film, and the lab destroyed half their reels, which the professor found hilarious. It’s a celebration of old technology while conveniently forgetting we didn’t pioneer new technology to be mean, we did it because the old stuff sucked.
You might have noticed a few other underlying trends: that this tends to be centered around the arts, and that it tends to deny technologies that have democratized actually making your own movies, writing your own books, or composing your own music. One of the great things about technology is, yeah, any idiot can put up a music video on YouTube now, but occasionally somebody really talented short-circuits the whole system and rockets to the top. Like…Justin Bieber.
OK, bad example, but you see what I mean.
Maybe this is little more than a particularly nasty kind of nostalgia, a wistfulness for the days when other people weren’t allowed to speak and rich hipsters controlled the room: remember the days when only we were the ones allowed to make art? Because Daddy was rich and we were the only ones who could afford it? When people had to listen to us because we were the only ones making art? Stupid technology, making people think they’re special when only we are!
Sorry, hipsters, you’ll have to learn to compete with everyone else. It’s not their fault they’re better at it than you. That’s what happens when they actually have something to say.