Tuesday, 3 January 2012

McCracken, B., "Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide"

As I've stated at various points along the way, this book has largely been about identity. Who are we? How do we get noticed? What can we do to stand out in this crushing mass of anonymous hubbub we call life? Hipsterdom thrives on this scrambling and competing. Any cultural phenomenon begins with an aim to stand out, to be different. It's about distinguishing ourselves through expression and figuring out our place and our purpose in a world that is unlivable if we have nothing to strive for and no legacy to leave.

To be hip is to be empowered. Hip exercises agency in a world that is otherwise completely uncontrollable. It positions our self as superior to others, in an activity of the part of the soul Plato called thymos- the aspect of our self that produces the insatiable desire for recognition. We want esteem, prestige, and affirmation of our worth. Hegel posited that this is ultimately the desire that drives history forward. Not food, not survival, but recognition.

No one is immune from this. I'm certainly not. So much of my life has been about wanting to make myself acceptable and desirable, to fit in and stand out and look good. Most of my shortcomings have been by-products of this never-ending pursuit. ...
Our demand for recognition and individuality will not be met on our own terms, because as long as we are on this planet, who we are will always be an open question.

"For now we see in a mirror dimly," wrote Paul to the church at Corinth, "but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known" (1 Cor. 13:12).

McCracken, B., "Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide"

[Chapter] Eleven: What's so wrong with cool?

A Focus on the Now
By definition, hip is temporary and transitory. To be cool is to be cool now, not forever. Nothing cool lasts very long, let alone forever. Hip is a fast-moving train. The minute something cool becomes recognized as such, it is likely on its way out of fashion. Thus, cool almost always and exclusively functions as a present-tense word. Cool lives for the moment and has no use for the past, apart from appropriating it in an ironic way (e.g., sixties sunglasses and vintage furniture). In this sense, we might call cool a chronological snob, as it values the past only insofar as it can serve some quirky aesthetic purpose in the present. Otherwise, it's all about the current- what's hot now. Cool bucks convention and past standards, and doesn't even think about the future, particularly in terms of consequences. It thinks only of living in the moment and seizing the day.

... We still have to live in the present- day by day- but our minds must be driven by eternal things, not just the fads and fashions of the moment. ...

The central logic of hip is rebellion. In striving to be cool, we assert our own personal agency against the forces that be and all institutions of control that might otherwise dare to suppress our voice. Every incarnation of hip rebels against something. Trendy fashion rebels against convention. Jazz rebels against strict meter. Riding a fixed-gear bike rebels against gasoline. The point is, to be a hipster is to be a rebel. If you want to keep the rules and abide by established conventions, you can only be so cool.

I should say, however, that rebellion itself is not a bad thing. Rebellion is sometimes necessary and frequently productive. ... Hip culture today elevates rebellion as an end unto itself, and this is problematic. A lot of rules exist for a reason, and authority has its purpose. But being cool requires that we bend or break the rules, because rules are oppressive and systems of control are highly dubious. ...

[Chapter] Twelve: Authentic Christian Cool

When It's a Sincere Celebration of Art and Culture and Good Things
I recently had this epiphany sitting in a cafe in the Shoreditch neighbourhood of London, in the heart of one of the trendiest boroughs of the British capital: Hipsters have good taste. They like good things. On first glimpse, they appear to shun quality (what with their affinity for thrift-store, secondhand clothes) ... but by and large they are passionately appreciative of the finer things in life. I'm talking about material things here (clothing, jewelry, sunglasses, cameras, antiques, food, wine, etc.), but also the experience of life in general. With childlike awe and wonder that betrays their otherwise cynical demeanour, hipsters glory in the little pleasures of life like riding bikes along rivers, eating homemade macaroons on a blanket in a friend's front yard, or playing Frisbee in the park.

This realization is not necessarily something I didn't recognize before, but that evening in Shoreditch reminded me: Of all the dumb reasons to be annoyed by hipsters, perhaps the dumbest one is to be annoyed by the fact that hipsters have really good taste, that they know how to let loose and have a good time, and that they seem adept at smelling the roses of life. As I sat there at Macando Cafe on the edge of Hoxton Square Park, sipping an amaretto sour, eating a piece of lime cake, and listening to Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man" playing in the background, I wondered, Isn't this actually a good thing? Isn't it a good thing to take joy in good food, drink, music, and an outdoor cafe on a beautiful Sunday night?

A lot of hipsters certainly engage in things (music, fashion, even food) because it ups their fashion quotient or makes them look like an arbiter of all thing chic. But some hipsters, as my friend Olivia maintains, "embrace indie rock because they love the sound of musical innovation, not just the image and the idea of indie rock; who love the raw food movement because they find the lifestyle sensible; who love Sauconys and Chucks and big glasses and skinny jeans because they honestly love the aesthetic."

We must allow that this type of hipster exists- the type that actually values the fashion and aesthetic and quirky accoutrements apart from whatever trendy cachet they might carry. And in terms of Christian hipsters, perhaps this attitude is something the rest of Christendom might do well to model. ...