I've spent the past weekend wondering about the reader response to my post on the subway art party. Though I know the hipster issue is a controversial one, I was surprised by how many comments came with such a high intensity of violent rage--so much, I ended up declining quite a few.
I keep thinking: Why should hipster artists get more vitriol than the antics and behaviors of drunken frat boys, bachelorette partiers, Sex & the City clones, real-estate developers, etc., who have turned New York City into a gated suburban community?
As TIME recently wrote, "Hipsters manage to attract a loathing unique in its intensity. Critics have described the loosely defined group as smug, full of contradictions and, ultimately, the dead end of Western civilization."
I've always had mixed feelings about hipsters. Some of them seem like just an alternative brand of vapid, super-consumers, while others seem like kids trying to do something creative in a city that no longer supports creativity. I often cannot tell the difference.
But there has long been some version of the hipster in the city--Beatniks, Hippies, etc. What's different now? Why the intensity of loathing today?
I have to think it's the state of the city itself.
Warhol & Basquiat, by Michael Halsband
If the hipsters had arrived in 1989, they would have moved into the East Village, LES, and Soho, decorated their lofts and walkups with neon paint and street trash, thrown parties where people dressed up in goofy costumes, and spent their days making mediocre, but earnest art. You and I might have been among them.
If Warhol came to New York today, he'd live in Brooklyn and his silver wig, tinfoil walls, and oddball friends would inspire mockery and rageful derision.
Because today, the city has been torn to shreds by hyper-gentrification, split into an "us and them" border war as neighborhoods and homes are lost year after year. Every newcomer is already suspect, whatever their intentions. People are hurting, scared, and angry. We've watched buildings fall, glass towers rise, favorite shops and shopkeepers vanish, friends and family get evicted. We've watched the city lose its soul.
To the defense of young hipster artists in this divided city: They've stepped in an unavoidable hornet's nest. It's common knowledge that artists are often the first to gentrify outlying territories, laying the groundwork for the upscalers who will push them out, too. But are they aware of their role in the process?
Ultimately, the question is: How does a young artist come to this city, as it is today, to make and display art that disturbs, delights, and de-stabilizes its viewers--as art should strive to do?
If hipsters are the ones bringing new and/or upsetting ideas in art and alternative culture to a city suffocating in suburbanism, shouldn't we at least engage with them?