Tuesday, October 10, 2006

No need for ethnography

About a month ago I received the following comment on my post about hipsters and keffiyeh. It was just way too good to leave in the comments, and I'd love to incorporate it into my upcoming CSAA conference paper. But even as I considered that possibility, I couldn't help smiling at my autodidactic research methodologies – blog comments are the new ethnography, doncha know...
Who named them "hipsters" they certainly don't refer to one another as "hipsters' it's a name given to them by the media or overlookers. These people dress differently and look for the next trend to push the boundries of fashion. It's like a celebration of design. Deeper thought goes into their clothing then slammin on a pair of clarks finest lace ups, BHS trousers and berghaus pull-overs (I'm guessing you people roll along these lines as you strongly frown upon others with a side of creativeness). Maybe some people do find Keffiyeh's strange to wear if you don't live in the middle east, but it's not always about politics and religoun as people adamently associate with it and fashion in general. If your so interested in why people wear such things just think why you don't. Obviously you don't know or care about sub-culture or fashion. So leave it that way. Also I think boring un-original people like your negative selves, are part of the reason "hipsters" dress differently. If it offends you so badly and deeply confuse's you as to why these kids are doing this......it means FUCK YOU
There are so many wonderful things written here that deserve further examination. First, let's look at the first question - and it's a very good one: "who named them 'hipsters'?" It's a question of self-identification versus external identification, and it's one that subcultural theory has been grappling with since the Birmingham School days. In my extremely anecdotal travels, I've heard people that I would call hipsters use the word to deride others, or to refer to themselves self-deprecatingly. So, then, 'hipster' becomes a way of othering the self - of quarantining ourselves from aspects of our tastes and habits with which we're uncomfortable.

You could call this the 'hipster discourse'. And while we often 'identify' hipsters in an informal, everyday (Foucault would say "capillary") way, it's the media that really drives the creation of a discursive figure which we could call the 'hipster'. My MA thesis, while flawed in many ways, at least makes me familiar with the idea that a figure like the hipster (or in my example, the bogan) can appear 'real' and objectively observable, but yet nevertheless this figure is the product of a very specific ideology.

Another possibility of "who calls them hipsters" is more commercial. On my recent trip to Newcastle for This Is Not Art, where I was on panels, or in the audience for panels, with a number of people from media outlets often identified with hipsterism), there was a real reluctance to use the term, or to be associated with the term. Instead there was lots of marketingspeak of "tastemakers" and "innovators" and "peer leaders" and "early adopters", used both ironically and unconsciously. And Barrie Barton from Right Angle Publishing made the obvious but genius point that his advertisers target the 10% of his readership who are hipsters in order to appeal to the other 90% who actually buy the advertisers' products.

But anyway. The second thing I see about this comment is its affirmation of a particular philosophy of stylistic individualism that I have always associated with hipsterism. It is absurd to claim that this blog isn't interested in individuality, fashion, subculture or design, so I'll just ignore that criticism. But it does seem as though the key aspect of hipsterism that I'd like to investigate is its tension between individualism and conformity, between 'subculture' and 'mainstream'. It does seem very important to people who invest in this individualism that they be recognised as innovators, and it also suits marketers who look to them for ideas, but I don't think that's the whole picture. I think the processes of appropriation and originality are far more even-handed, given that fashion always raids the popular cultural archive. More on this in an upcoming post.

Finally, and most intriguingly, the arguments here are framed affectively, from the aggressive and dismissive second-person address to the triumphant "FUCK YOU" at the end, and especially the commenter's imagining me as a resentful dork who criticises because I am jealous of the hipster creativity I don't possess myself. The key sentence is: "If your [sic] so interested in why people wear such things just think why you don't." This seems like a non-sequitur (whether or not I wear a keffiyeh has nothing to do with the reasons other people do), but it does suggest that the strong affective states attached to the clothes people wear are largely dependent on interpersonal relationships. One wears certain clothes because there are certain emotional states linked with the observation of other people wearing and not wearing the same things. Again, I want to look at this some more, because it seems to be important.

Let's also consider the comment as an event. This person finds the post - I'd love to know precisely how, although someone from London recently Googled "keffiyah craze" to get here, and the language in the comment suggests it's written by someone from the UK ("pullovers", anyone?). Then he or she writes the comment, filled with righteous anger at the stupidity and lack of fashion sense of the blogger and previous comments. And strangely, I don't feel angry or crushed myself. Instead I am filled with delight imagining the anonymous author typing the immensely satisfying FUCK YOU. Who hasn't smacked down someone on the internet? Doesn't it make you feel awesome?

Again, this makes me wonder about the role of media in facilitating this event and creating the dissonance that foments it. So often I read over my own posts, imagining how specific people might interpret them, or research a product I've just bought to find out if it was a good buy (in cultural as well as economic terms). But at the same time, I don't agree that the internet, or magazines, or TV, or whatever else, is the major facilitator of hipsterism. Sure, someone from the UK can flame me semi-literately on my own blog, but it hasn't made the same impact as if they had done it to my face. I think that corporeal, real-time encounters are much more interesting and reveal much more about the way we use clothes to define ourselves.


glen said...

ha! fuckin use it! sweet!!

the rhetorics of valorisation that condition the commenter's own interest are also very interesting. like there is no explanation of why a certain style should be valorised, only that you are 'stupid' for not getting the obviousness of the valorisation which functions to valorise the interest in the style.

Zoe said...

Do blogger comments give you an IP, because then you could confirm whether the comment was made in the UK.

And one from the vault - the first time I saw a keffiyah worn as a scarf was 18 years ago (gasp!), but that time on a Young Labor member who was wearing surplus army pants and an cream aran jumper. So, yeah, not a hipster ; )

(And if you're wondering about my superb recall, I had a big crush on him and pashed him off that night!)

scally said...

There was a long post on the sartoralist's blog about the use of the keffiyah and there was a link to your article ... I'm guessing that may be how you got such an international audience!