I know why the mustachioed youngster sings.
If that seems like I ripped off Maya Angelou for my own personal lede, you’re right. So congratulate yourself and get over it. Everything rips off everything, all music is old music, and no culture is real. I’m about to ruin everyone’s day, and in the process provide you with some comfort you may be too useless to understand.
Today I will tell you all about authenticity, and why it isn’t worth as much as the toilet that flushes it.
When we’re conceived we’re given the genetics of our parents, when we’re born we’re given an environment in which they will grow, and as we age we learn how to become ourselves.
There is no roadmap to identity. But that’s a singular problem for individualistic cultures like the U.S. The collectivist Japanese don’t give a fuck about your personal problems (admittedly, neither do the Americans).
This is called the Greater Hipster Theory, and it’s exactly as correct as it has any right to be. Follow along closely, for I will not use small words throughout.
To begin, we rewind 20 years.
When publishing houses began consolidating, news rooms began shrinking. When layoffs in the newspaper industry began rolling across the country, professional communicators who found themselves suddenly out of work had a few choices to make.
- Retool their skill sets
- Become spokesmen
- Work at the gas station
Nothing against the gas stations of the world, after all, there are still some states with so-called “Blue Laws” that would have gas stations as one of the only business that can operate all week long, even Sundays! Furthermore, and such as, I twice did a stint in gas stations throughout the Midwest. When they came to criticize gas stations, I didn’t speak up because I was at first a lowly swing shift worker. Then they came again to criticize gas stations, and I didn’t speak up because I was an assistant assistant manager and had no time, or self-respect. Then I came to do the criticizing, because the Internet lets everyone say whatever they want.
Now that my aside has concluded, we’ll move back to the communications professionals. When news rooms began declining in quantity, they also began declining in quality (this pre-dated the rise of online forums and John Gabriel’s Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory, seen below).
So the news rooms left the journalists and the journalists left the news rooms. Where did they go? Statistics say they went to Public Relations firms. As soon as news rooms – both print and broadcast – began to change format, the corporate world responded by poaching up the very reporters who had previously written or broadcast about them. Why not? It served as both a way to increase their own corporate credibility (not to mention man-on-the-street sensibility) while bringing new talent to old organizations.
Again, I’m not the only one to notice this. Aside from all the turncoat reporters now working for PR firms and governmental organizations, this one random dude at the Washington Post noticed the same thing.
And now, we backtrack, slightly.
My only complaint about missing living through the 60s as a grown-ass adult is that I missed out on the rock revolution. Today’s free sex is likely free-er (or even free-est) and today’s drugs are better. I’ve been told. But today’s music – while in many ways fantastic in its own rights – doesn’t bring the innovation or groundswell of support that newly-created mass mediums did back in the day.
You now know that I am either old enough to use the term “back in the day,” young enough to use it ironically, or that I know enough about communicating to think that you’ll fall for one of those two ideas. There’s always a fourth choice.
While Foo Fighters are an awesome band, they can’t hold it against Led Zeppelin. Not that both bands aren’t filled to the brim with musicians who are the best at what they do. But, Foo Fighters is now faced with a world who has seen Led Zeppelin, while Led Zeppelin got to be the band that introduced the world to Led Zeppelin.
You following? Only one person (or group, in this case) can do something first. Everything that comes after, however disparate, can be viewed as a copy if remotely connected. So find me a time machine, because even though I’ve seen the Foo Fighters kill it live, I want to see the first major outdoor arena show that Zep played when they were at the height of the game, because that right there would have encompassed what rock ‘n roll was. That’s the place where Tedward the young, stray hippy met the waifish Sarah and wished upon the moon that the Tolken-inspired lyrics would take them to their dreams.
Granted, what rock ‘n roll is, is being loud about ripping people off. Unfortunately there are only so many ways to do it. So each new generation of music – no matter the genre – has to either innovate, or to become esoteric, in order to reach an audience. Rock music becomes hard rock/punk/heavy metal becomes speed/hair/thrash becomes every goddamned last possible genre with ridiculous sounding names, all in the name to make a name for oneself.
Much in the same way that reporters would have to switch careers to become public relations hacks, folks who got their start playing Hank Williams would go on to become Bro Country Rockers. Men and women who came up under N.W.A. would turn out hip-pop. People who learned to flail to Aphex Twin would become Skillrex. The list goes on. Not to say that today’s music isn’t as good as yesterday’s music – it many ways it can be better. But, and here’s the rub – today’s music has to be radically different to make a name for itself because there’s so. fucking. much of it.
It was always hard to become famous doing anything. Even the odds of getting your own 15 minutes are so small that some lady with a Chewbacca mask has been imitated wholesale in an effort by the latecomers to cash in on her success.
Major rock revolutions of the 60s and 70s created more record labels and more independent producers. Once this began, like newspaper decline, there was no stopping it. And just like newspaper decline, it resulted in people questioning things.
So there we were, in the mid-Aughts. And a new quiet revolution began to the 1-5 backbeat of bluegrass and raw vocals of the folk rock resurgence. It was fostered in by indie rockers who were either ditching effects entirely or embracing them so wholeheartedly as to make a subtle mockery of the whole process (yes, that means Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros).
What happens in a heavily divided political country where newspapers are atrophying and corporations offer focused ads aimed directly at your buying habits? What happens if, in that environment, most of the popular music of the day is heavily produced? What happens is that the youth began rebelling against any and all attempts to appeal to them. They began looking for authenticity, and they have to begin looking everywhere they haven’t found it – which is to say, anywhere they can.
The Greater Hipster Theory begins and ends with authenticity. The individual’s embrace of it, at least on paper, and the culture’s derision of it, especially on paper.
Everything is a hipster now, which is why, since Elaine Benes first uttered the word on Seinfeld all those years ago, it’s stuck in our collective craw. Everyone else is a hipster, I’m not. That person is, but this person isn’t. It’s as arbitrary as your porn-watching habits.
The word “hipster” will evoke the image of an early-to-mid 20s urbanite. For you watching for code words, urbanite in this context means post-gentrification, not pre-. It means skinny jeans, fashion glasses, mustache wax, non-matching clothing. It’s all the things that can go into the creation of an external visage to create the last thing that you’d expect.
And goddamn it, whether or not you think it is, that’s authentic. The kids wearing this shit might not be, but the experience itself is. Because they’ve grown up after the rock revolution, they’ve grown up in a culture that spies on its own people and uses the data to shape the consumptive habits of them. It’s grown up with all the access to information throughout the globe and is exceedingly bored with it all, because it’s all so manicured by an army of former journalists.
I will make a side note at this time to say that while I do understand the kids are maybe trying to be ironic, they’ve become blissfully unaware how ironic it is to rebel against a highly-polished society by taking on such a carefully-crafted facade. It would be brilliant social commentary if it had any vision. Sadly, what it lacks in vision it makes up for in dad’s credit card. Facial hair wax is not cheap. I know because a friend told me, he knew because a friend of his told him. Otherwise neither of us would have ever heard of it.
That’s the rub, too. Back when I heard Green Day played on the radio I knew I’d have to listen to the snot-noses complain about the group selling out. Because that’s what happens to everyone (after Led Zeppelin) who gets exposure to a larger audience – they’ve only got there by selling out, using larger communications networks, losing their authenticity.
Incidentally, this is why there’s been so much progressive bluegrass and folk rock on the radio, and at the festivals, and in your friend’s car. No, that other friend. It’s because what it lacks in polished, pedal-effected, electric sound, it gains in authenticity. It’s real because it’s disconnected. Or so the guerrilla marketers really need you to believe.
Post-Recession, and it all comes together (not unlike the most authentic Voltron) to form something much greater than the sum of its parts: hence, why it’s the Greater Hipster Theory, not the lesser one. You can go to Brooklyn for that. Incidentally, you’ll meet a lot of white people named Brooklyn there. But I’m leaving any rant about stupid fucking names for another day.
See, it was never about your ability to define what a hipster was, or is, or should be. It was never about conforming to a certain mode of dress or speech. It was always about a rebellion from cultural norms (at least, in the really safe way that privileged white kids in post-gentrified neighborhoods are distinctively allowed to do).
It’s about the realization that in a highly-connected and fully digitized world, everything is susceptible to marketing schemes, because the people who know better (the former journalists, to start) are now in full control of the messaging that’s colored by your Amazon shopping habits. Much like how even Led Zeppelin can never again be Led Zeppelin because the moment has passed, so too has the idea passed that anything can be authentic, because the active question being posed by society is “Did it ever?”
Featured: A video that distinctly proves that we are not over Led Zeppelin, and that everyone still wants to be them because no one has reached that height again.
It’s part of the reason why you’re okay with me continually referencing Led Zeppelin. It’s more than a common access point to rock ‘n roll, it’s nostalgia. It was when things were real, man. And that – it comes down to nothing more than having some kind of definition of what common is, so that we all have some point of reference to find how we got to the point where we are, and just how bizarre we might seem when judged against the common access point. The difference between Foo Fighters and Led Zeppelin is more than just the differences between Dave Grohl and Robert Plant. It’s more than comparing a six-piece to a four-piece. Cultural associations exist that create large differences even as they play to the same sold-out arena crowds.
For the record (and to set it straight) Dave Grohl is better than Robert Plant. He might not have the vocal range or weave allegorical poetry regarding Mordor against a bluesy backdrop, but he doesn’t need to. He’s making rock ‘n roll accessible again by rebelling against the rockstar perspective.
He’s doing that regardless of our mass mediated messaging, which is currently controlled by old Tedward (the near-senile Boomer who began life as an authenticity-seeking rebel). That’s the same guy who saw Zeppelin live but was too stoned on 70s schwag to really understand it. He’s the same guy who knocked up Sarah and then in the scramble to support his wife and twins, had to get a real job and become a decent American. After that dream faded it was all downhill (much like all the music of the 80s). Basically, he was just rebelling until he got his cut. Then it was time to buy-in. He got to be where he is by being real, man, so your critique isn’t worth the toilet that flushes it. He did it the real way, the hard way, back in the day when hard work and a good attitude (and lower costs and more jobs) could get you something. But I have to digress now, otherwise I’ll be going down Occupy Avenue. Someday.
Tedward and Sarah doing it their way was the right way because they were the ones who did it. Kids these days don’t know how good they have it becomes a common refrain because Tedward and Sarah’s authenticity was so much more real than Tedward Jr’s, or Shara’s, is today. Reverse that for your preferred generational classism of choice. None of the generations want to take a look at their scrapbooks or Instagram albums in a wardrobe comparison that would only end in the realization that bell-bottoms, Zubas and skinny jeans are all equally moronic, if not equally authentic at the time.
So, to blow your mind, the authenticity itself is in how uncool you can be, because trying to be cool is inauthentic, but trying not to be cool is being real. The uncoolest looking of the hipsters is going to be their king and/or queen (because traditional gender identities are patriarchal). This is the really fun part – the only way to be cool (while trying not to be) is in being accepting of absolutely everything, except, of course, for the way Tedward did it.
We’re all finding out own authenticity until it’s beneficial for us not to. We’re all hipsters in that sense – looking for that which makes us “us” (or even “we”). See, everything’s been done before, but now we’re doing it this way, instead of that way. That upgrade, however subtle, discreet, or obnoxious, is where the value comes from.
We’re just doing it better than they are, and that’s why my sideburn wax is better than yours. I’m not surprised you haven’t heard of it.