#21 Bad Movies

Alas, we won’t have the class-bonding experience of moaning and groaning and being embarrassed by proxy for Nomi Malone by watching Showgirls together for Thursday, but you should check out this trailer and clip of quips at the very least! Also remember to read the short pieces on “Bad Movies” and hate-watching (both on Moodle) as a complement to our continued discussion of hipsters and other millennial-cultural life forms. Remember to take the “Bad Bitch Quiz” before class (these proliferate, btw), and bring all your readings from Tuesday with you. We’ll be reconvening with our persona-centered groups, quickly recapping Tuesday’s tete-a-tetes, and sharing with the rest of the class an illustrative clip with your pair’s pithy critical captions.

Some things to consider for the full class discussion (note, links are embedded throughout the text):

How do we define hip v. cool, kitsch and camp? What’s at stake emotionally, politically (a la Hall), socially (in Bourdieuvian/Veblenian terms)? What’s not at stake in each of these figures and cultural forms? Can we diagnose today’s hipster syndrome based on the set of recurrent traits these patients present?

What motivates the hipster’s intentional infantilization? His reinvigoration of the Romantic cult of the child? The fetishization, innuendo intended, of precious, quirky, and childish objects? What does this say about heterosexual adult culture? Might the hipster figure and hipster sexism (which is arguably just plain sexism with an ironic qualifier or distancing gesture) mask over crises in masculinity, national heterosexuality, the failure of the nation to deliver on certain promises to its citizens that allow them to hit the hallmarks of adulthood according to a normative timeline (i.e. go to college, get a job, save up and get a house and a family, retire and live off social security, etc.)? At the same time, could we read the hipster as containing long-going and large cultural problems and paradoxes in its own ironically split subjectivity?

What happens when hipster man-children and nymphette/quirky “new girls” have children of their own? To wit, Away We Go and hipster (but not exactly hippie) parenting and naming practices.

Pay particular attention to how these questions work themselves out in the case of the “basic bitch,” who might as well be a coworker or cast member of The Office? (Sorry folks, I only know the UK version.) What picture does this crew give us of contemporary adult professionals, with respect to the basic bitch’s opposite, the boss bitch (AKA the bad bitch), not to mention the cultural cache of doing anything “like a boss”? It’s worth setting these questions down in the new cool workplace.

What larger (conservative) trends in the US after the end of the cold war and the advent of the New World Order–unchallenged capitalism, global digital culture , 9/11, the WTO protests, the sub-prime mortgage crisis, and the Occupy movement–make the hipster want to crawl collectively back to his crib in the parental home or the supervised playpen of a fantasy child-self? (Check out the Portlandia sketch “Adult Babysitter” and this SNL digital short.)

Or animate through throwback clothes and anachronistic lifestyle practices an earlier era of US history altogether, to link personal and collective nostalgia?

Or even to some enchanted, pre-industrial pastoral (like the Romantics; think Werther with WiFi), where everything is artisanal and man is no longer alienated from an ever-gendered notion of nature that exists only in distinction from Culture? What’s new about this recycling of a multiply remediated back-to-the-land movement?

In general, what makes the ‘millennarian’ nostalgic mode of the digital age different from previous nostalgias? And what collective histories of (overt) racism, sexism, colonialism, etc. do these nostalgic desires smuggle into the hipster’s closet in insidious/inconspicuous forms, or self-distancing ironic clothes? Is there something more behind the hipster beard and hipster Hitler’s mustache and sidepart? (We’ve alluded to how time-travel doesn’t benefit everybody; here’s Louie C.K. on the subject.)

How are hipsters cause as much as symptom/symbolic (fashion) victims of that cynical, conservative turn to a pre-Civil Rights US ideal in the pst-cold-war context of global capitalism, the incredibly shrinking public sphere, and the privatization of basically everything.

In short, what ideological labor does the hipster do? Why does the hipster appear in a given form at a given historical juncture? What cultural anxieties does it work out? And what does it repackage in the form of its formalism? Its consumption without creativity in an artisanal, quasi-anti-capitalist package?

Alternately, what real political work does it prevent or ridicule or purely perform? How do the latest generation of hipsters born after socialism and the end of the old, uncool (?) International Left actually collude with conservative or reactionary agendas (and here I’m not talking democrat v. republican), and even act as an eternally-youthful stopgap to earnest civil rights and social justice movements? How does appropriative style align with or undermine deep political substance? How have hipsters commodified sincere dissent?

Or, to give the hipster the benefit of the doubt, has its all-encompassing irony made possible a new form of non-party politics? (Here we might think the WTO protests and Occupy.)

And finally who has the time and energy to care this much about being cool after high school or college? How does the very posing of the question of “What is hip?” (or “What was the hipster?” after n+1) bespeak the social position of the one who asks? Can we really talk about accidental hipsters? (or accidental Chinese hipsters, as this blog does? Or accidental Hasidic hipsters, as in this Jimmy Kimmell quiz?) Or, like the football player in drag in our camp readings, is canniness an indispensable part of the hipster ontology? Does the hipster see him or herself as fully possessed of agency and self-knowledge, while regarding the rest of us as unknowingly unhip, like a hungover Louie C.K. in the hipster coffee shop?

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5 thoughts on “#21 Bad Movies

  1. I will attempt connecting the kitsch, cool, and hip. Kitsch with time becomes cool. Coolness, in some regards, is an attitude that emanates “one’s impregnability to assault” (Harris 39). Aesthetically, the cool “takes the traditional consumer cycle–the rapid decline of a recently purchased article of clothing or appliance from ultra-modern newness to decrepit obsolescence–and reverses it, making the waste product itself, not the brand-new acquisition, the valuable commodity” (Harris 41). Multiple aspects of material culture are encoded in coolness from varying cultural contexts. From a white, western epistemology, coolness is informed by colonial desire (ex: orientalist tokenization–think Tibetan Prayer Flag dorm dec), and other complexes of oppressive consumption. The hipster, with Internet access, can construct their self materially through the buffet of hodge-podge style. With the transitional failure of the WTO protests, rise of trade neoliberalization, fall of the Soviet Union (Leftism dominant, sovereign political marker), progressivism debased from grandiose, all-encompassing goals to specific concerns for individual issues, increasing specificity. Specific, individualized concerns, compared to community concern, increases. This can be viewed in contemporary communication mediums, individualized entertainment (ex: Netflix v. theater), and participation in large, community organizations. With increasing concern and interest in individualism, many try to invent and express themselves, by themselves. Those with class and time privilege can pick from the countless options on the internet and in thrift stores to recycle past styles of coolness. A similar sentimentality runs through the pastiche of Quentin Tarantino films. Such is the vanguard of cool; the aesthetic of the hipster. Coolness is now derived from the ability to hodge-podge aesthetic juxtapositions in an appealing manner. Hipsters are not merely wearing and taking up kitsch ideas that have now expiring into coolness, but rather intentionally looking to past kitsch normatively considered obsolete, to raise it from the fashion gave to refasten with ironic relevance. Not reappropriating carefully, though, can undermine the progressive sentiments infused in hipsterdom.

    Hipster shape-shifting can undermine the revolutionary possibility of aesthetics. To shape-shift is to have privilege, such flexibility assumes leisure. Leisure and playful experimentation with aesthetics debases revolutionary aesthetic from the revolutionary base (one day adorning a flak jacket and t-shirt with a communist star, the next day mimicking Audre Hepburn). Not that each specific is bad, but the ease of radical shifts so quickly is what’s troubling. Such ease guts revolutionary symbols of their referents, making the signs mere artifacts of material culture. The gutting process is fuelled by capitalism to commodify and market all. The desire and ability to consume any symbol or idea for mere consumption is the threat. Mass consumption of varying symbols stimulates debasement, creating more difficulty in expressing revolutionary ideals symbolically, especially if the sincerity of the expression must always be questioned.

    • Holy moly, Dan–this is masterful and moving, too! I feel radicalized by reading it, especially as you bypass the disembodied brain of aesthetic judgment and go for the guts of irrational feeling and undeniable corporeality, which is where aesthetic objects in the world smash into the ethical subject anyway. Bravo! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EEedFHxSVSI

  2. I’m happy Miss Shields can look passed Ralphie’s errors from frivolous writing, and appreciate his journaling in his little red book, both literally and ideologically.

    • I was thinking more impassioned on Ralphie’s part, and hoping to evoke the instructor’s response of mutual enthusiasm. No notion of error here, but quite the contrary–a truly sublime summation of the huge terms hanging over our course this semester. (Of course, I appreciate the analysis of this scene, too.) Well done, Dan!

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