But why bash hipsters?
January 13, 2014
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I’ve gotten around to reading the first chapters of Bobos in Paradise – I am shocked that no one suggested to me before I came across it a couple months ago. David Brooks, who really manages to toe the line between being insightful and being asinine, basically figured out the whole Stuff White People Like thing eight years before Christian Lander started his blog. At least from the pages I’ve read, it’s really all in there. The strange constellation of interests that young “hip” people share is all about status-signalling, even though ostensibly those interests seem to be all about being somehow beyond status-signalling.
Back, in say, 2008, the reaction from “the” hipsters seemed to be, “f***, I really do like all those things” upon reading Stuff White People Like. Then there was a period of self-awareness, because if hipsters are good at anything it’s meta, and some of the… excesses were reigned in. Or, at least, if there was an Ironic 80s Party, it would be an Ironic Ironic 80s Party. You get the idea. More recently, there’s been a backlash against criticizing hipsters, which has taken many forms but best exemplified by this xkcd comic.
But while I haven’t done it so much on this blog recently (I haven’t done much of anything on this blog recently), I still think bashing hipsters is relevant. The reason is that cultural criticisms about status signalling are typically done in lags of decades.
The Theory of the Leisure Class was a little dated by the time it appeared. So was The Affluent Society. The modern bearer of this tradition is Robert Frank, who seems to be completely oblivious to the forms of conspicuous consumption that actually take place in the modern world. His criticisms of capitalism weren’t dated in 2011. They were dated in 1975.
I respect Brooks for figuring out this transformation in conspicuous consumption years before it even really unveiled itself. But the points are still relevant in 2014. So bashing hipsters is a cliche. It’s not nearly the boring cliche the way that Robert Frank’s ideas are a boring cliche. And it is sure as hell more relevant to how we should conceptualize “wasteful” consumption than the ideas of Veblen and Frank, even while Veblen and Frank are more famous. How often do we hear that Frank’s ideas are a cliche (outside of EconLog), while bashing hipsters is itself a cliche?