“I am not now, nor have I ever been, a hipster,” vowed Harper’s senior editor Christian Lorentzen at a panel discussion provocatively titled “What Was the Hipster?,” organized by n+1, and held at the New School on Saturday afternoon.
Despite L-train maintenance and the kind of steady rain that can wreck perfectly asymmetrical bangs (not to mention a recent attempted occupation by students), about 100 attendees packed the Eugene Lang Center for a ridiculously wide-ranging discussion of hipster culture, which included heady thoughts on post-colonialism, deregulation, easy credit, Chinese ownership of U.S. debt, Leon Trotsky, Slavoj Žižek, Pavement, Nirvana, Debbie Gibson, and Scott Baio.
It was one of those kinds of events.
Mr. Lorentzen, who penned a polemic called “Why The Hipster Must Die” for Time Out New York in 2007, declared the idea of the hipster a great fraud, and said he had come to apologize for his part in it. “No member of my family, no close friend, no enemy, no rival, no dance partner, no party guest, no barkeep, no doctor, no lawyer, no banker, no artist, no guitar player, no deejay, no model, no photographer, no author, no pilot, no stewardess, no actor, no actress, no television personality, no robber, no cop, no priest, no nun, no hooker, no pimp, no acquaintance known to me, has ever been a hipster,” Mr. Lorentzen said.
“The fraud held that there are people called hipsters who follow a creed called hipsterism and exist in a realm called hipsterdom,” he continued. “The truth is that there was no such culture worth speaking of, and the people called hipsters just happened to be young, and, more often than not, funny-looking.”
Mr. Lorentzen, dressed in a black suit, seemed to be the only one poking fun at the topic. N+1 editor and Eugene Lang assistant professor Mark Greif (grayish suit) offered a more academic talk, positing three definitions of the hipster, post-1999—which the panel seemed to agree was the year the neo-hipster was born. (No matter that by 2004, New York magazine was already declaring the end of them all in a satire by Zev Borow.)
There were some uncomfortable moments: the one guy sporting a trucker hat stared straight ahead as Mr. Greif talked about how guys in trucker hats were striving for some sort of faux-authenticity. And when Mr. Greif hit upon the prevalence of pornographic and pedophilic moustaches among hipsters, one heavily moustachioed man seemed to listen more intently, while his thinly ’stached friend mustered an awkward laugh.
Jace Clayton (black jacket, black t-shirt, and faded black pants), aka dj/rupture, wrapped up the panel portion by saying that artists, not hipsters, are “gentrification’s shock troops,” and that the hipster was just a “straw man in tight jeans.”
“I imagine that folks moving to Bushwick open their closet and find no tube socks and think, ‘I’m not a hipster, my parents don’t pay my rent, I listen to classic country music, without a trace of irony,’ and then go on being the same arrogant, over-privileged people with the smug satisfaction that it’s only hipsters who destroy neighborhoods, not them or their friends.”
During the question and answer portion, several people wondered whether hipsters were intellectuals beneath their fashionable get-ups. “I would dispute that at the core of hipsterism is intellectualism,” Mr. Lorentzen said.
“I say this based on my living in Williamsburg for two years. In Williamsburg, where everyone looked like that, a lot people didn’t know a damn thing.”
The moderator, who happened to be Mr. Lorentzen’s sister, Allison, challenged him on that: “Can you name the other places where you lived where people were well-read?”
“Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Cambridge, Somerville,” he replied. “Not necessarily Hoppington, Massachusetts.” (Mr. Lorentzen has written about at least one of these neighborhoods before.)
Later, there was a discussion about Mr. Žižek, who apparently stands as the Father of Modern Hipster Thought. “I used to work at American Apparel, and he was the only intellectual anyone had heard of,” a woman chimed in from the crowd. (Maybe it’s Professor Žižek’s shared affinities with American Apparel founder Dov Charney?)
Another woman asked about nostalgia (which felt, indeed, like a nostalgic question). “Do you guys think nostalgia is the right term for it? To me that sort of implies that we would have stopped talking about Charles In Charge, but I’m not sure that that conversation ever stopped,” she said.
“Why would nostalgia make you stop talking about Charles In Charge?” Mr. Greif wondered, which seemed to flummox the questioner.
One young man in wire-frame glasses and a green flannel over a button-up shirt bravely admitted to liking the idea of hipsterism when he read about it on Pitchfork in 2002 or 2003.
“The moment we’re pronouncing the death of the hipster is, in itself, something of a hipster moment,” he said.
“I think we in New York have just reached a point of fatigue in talking about it,” proclaimed Mr. Lorentzen.
“People have stopped calling me up and asking me to write articles with the h-word on it.”