What is to be made of the current collection of vernacular/folk “types” of people that frame the writing of the US cultural narrative? The “hipster”, the “troll”, the “social justice warrior”, the “alt-righter”, the “young professional”? Where do the archetypes come from? How do they drive the country’s current momentum toward postmodern authoritarianism?
Nearly all coverage of the hipster, despite never being able to confidently pin down just what the hipster is, has concurred that there is something sinister about the trend. What is the cultural undercurrent, the geist these critics were chasing?
A theory: What has made society so uncomfortable with the emergence of the so-called “hipster” is the predominant tone of irony; of insincerity; of a put on that is frequently described as “having nothing behind it”-but if the insincerity has nothing behind it, doesn’t it become its own truth? Isn’t a copy with no original simply a mislabeled original? And so shouldn’t the ironic eventually loop around into its own unironic self-appreciation? Or at least attempt to?
The “hipster” and the radicalization of conservatives developed along parallel tracks in response to the post-modern restructuring of society that followed the end of the post-war economic boom in the early-mid 1970s. When Robert Ashley dramatized the arrival of post-modernism in Perfect Lives as a story of people who rob a bank then bring the money back before anyone notices as various townies state their unease at a sinking feeling the money wasn’t there for some short time, was he consciously trying to invoke the collapse of the Bretton-Woods system? Was there a more post-modern event in the 20th century than the collapse of the Bretton-Woods system? Think about it-the signifier and signified, gold and cash, both functionally symbols despite the perceived “tangibility” of gold, legally divorced in a giant ceremony.
Despite the fact that gold is a placeholder for commodities and doesn’t offer much practical value besides as a conductor or tooth filling, the divorce troubled many. The money was there, but it wasn’t. Sort of. The success of Bitcoin among gold bugs despite its being even less traditionally tangible than cash speaks to the extent the appeal of gold was rooted in its being a symbol of limit and exclusivity. The symbol trauma of the end of the gold standard (one of many such traumas) has been one of the far right’s obsessions for decades now. Ayn Rand’s “A=A” satisfies both the conservative’s desire for a perception of solid reality and Baudrillard’s definition of hyperreality-the symbol (the written letter “A”) correlates to the symbol (the written letter “A”)-a closed loop of symbols.
If modernism was about insisting there’s an underlying particular meaning that can be codified, and post-modernism was about the dissolution/impossibility of meaning and the arbitrary quality of codes, then the thing after post-modernism is perhaps best dubbed Frankenstein Modernism-the attempt to reconstruct the comfort of fixed meaning from an environment that can’t allow for the comfort of a fixed meaning.
In an always-already doomed effort, the conservative ironically attempts to preserve the sanctity of “the real” by clutching desperately to the crudely symbolic-the flag, race, etc. Any conservative ideology must construct a sanctified past because its attempts to “conserve” the current status quo will always be undermined by the fact time goes forward and things change, up to and including the interpretation of the past-this dissonance has to be accounted for. Explanations and scapegoats are needed to maintain the conservative’s superficial sense of control over their surroundings.
In the conservative imagination this looks like the return to “sanity”, to the more comfortable prior status quo. To the non-conservative, it looks like a strange and garish pastiche; the Hollywood reboot except real-even the players themselves seem to be operating, consciously or otherwise, on this logic-what else is to be made of the endless attempts by Trump and May to portray themselves as the return of Reagan and Thatcher?
What does this mean? The age of the remake is total; the age of high fidelity recorded media which has barely gone on for more than 150 years has swallowed society whole-there is no hope for a new thing or else why would there be such bitter and violent squabbles over the aesthetics of remakes, all the way from the Twitter harassment of Leslie Jones up through the selling of Donald Trump as fat Reagan.