Hipster Masturbation

It is with the popularity of the “Beat” movement in literature of the late 1950s that one can first identify the hipster.  The hipsters were never all that similar to their “Beat” idols.  The “Beat” movement had been a sub cultural phenomenon since 1947, and had begun to evolve into the youth movements identified with the sixties by 1958.  With the publication of Kerouac’s On The Road, the hipster movement really began to blossom.  Hipsters, at that time, had adopted the fashion, philosophy, and posturing of Kerouac, but not his lifestyle.  This would be the major dividing factor.  It was clear even at that moment, and very clearly articulated by Norman Mailer’s essay The White Negro, that hipsters were imitators.

Hipsters never went away, and by the eighties had undergone a post-modern transformation.  Irony and retro styles became the new staples, maintaining of course, a reverence for Kerouac and the like.  These new hipsters, only truly manifesting themselves in the mid-1990s, were heavily indebted to Tweed Pop and the scene in Olympia Washington.  Today they are easily recognizable on the street and other public places, often in crowds.  Clearly, the contemporary hipsters make up a considerable portion of today’s youth demographic.  My concern is what the ramifications are for American Cinema.

With the purchase of nearly every independent art house film distributor by corporate studios in the mid-nineties, there is a clear shift toward catering films to the hipster demographic.  Figures such as Whit Stillman (Metropolitan, Barcelona, The Last Days Of Disco), David Gordon Green (George Washington, All The Real Girls), Noah Baumbach (Kicking & Screaming, Mr. Lonely) and Wes Anderson (Bottle Rocket, Rushmore) invented a cinematic vernacular that would later go on to be an inescapable trap for their films.  The wit and style of these filmmakers, once heralded as new and refreshing, would become the aesthetic studios would instill into every film they wished to market as “indie” hoping to reach the young hipster demographic.  Few popular films distributed by Fine Line, Miramax, etc. are independent in the classic sense like say Cassavetes’ or Morrissey’s films were.  Independent is a moniker implemented to enhance the appeal of films confined to this certain style whose target audience is the hipsters.

The application of style derived from Stillman, Baumbach and Anderson to these new films, and the way that studios mandate this style, often prevents these filmmakers from making greater stylistic shifts in their filmmaking.  After all, a studio or distributor’s primary concern is revenue.  Hits like Juno and 500 Days Of Summer are clearly retreads in style.  Both films are sold as indie to the hipster target audience and in turn embraced by this target audience.  Thus, it seems safe to assume that a stasis has been achieved in the American Cinema.

In the long run, one can assume that future generations of film critics and historians will look back on these “new indie” films and find that their only significance is a historical one.  They may equate Juno’s relevancy to that of Beach Blanket Bingo in the sixties.  A stylized portrait of a time in American history, but nothing more.  On an even darker note, perhaps the classic opening lines of Ginsberg’s Howl are applicable to Green, Stillman, Baumbach and Anderson in the wake of so many imitators-“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical and naked,”.

-Robert Curry

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Filed under Spring 2012

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