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Cynical culture


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Posted

This morning Hugo sent me a link to an article on Adbusters regarding the Hipster as a symbol of exhaustion since it represents our current generation. Perhaps the Hipster is the final realization of modern cynicism, in which I replied with another Adbuster article, where Bruce Benderson analyzed a certain short film, Lonely Man Beer.

Some of the salient points in that article:

It’s not an exaggeration to say that my generation, from the sixties, was the first to become disenfranchised from historical context. Or, to put it more simply, we lost the support of our forbears. When knowledge of Latin stopped being an earmark of the educated American, when Greek myths no longer provided a foundation for the artistic or philosophical articulation of modern life, our generation resorted to pop culture. That’s all that was left. But was there any way to descend even further down than that?

Perhaps it was the moment when global capitalism climbed upon its throne and we realized belatedly that we were living in a postmodern age that the legacy of the next generation became clear: irony would be the sole tool of the new artist. But as irony lost its satirical power, its power to critique, it became a tool of entertainment for profit and the advancement of social status. In the art world, this change was illustrated by the career of Andy Warhol. Pop began as an acidic criticism of middle class capitalism—until the rich embraced the experience and filled the pockets of those artists who obliged them by doing it. Andy became what he’d made fun of: a wealthy living joke. Perhaps we baby boomers shocked our parents by relying on rock music and movies as inspiration. The next generation shocked us by looking at our pop culture ironically, and then using that vision as an amoral networking tool. What better symbol of this activity than the TV commercial as art?

....hat interests me is the dilemma of cultural disenfranchisement encountered by today’s certainly post-classical yet even post-pop generation. Pop artists studied the cheapening of the image by market forces and discovered a new source of abject aesthetics. Postmodernists merely recycled the Modernist palette. But the post-Pop, post-post-Modernists of today have had to deal with the obvious poverty of all imagery and the shoddiness of all aesthetic devices available to them, as well as the blunting of all irony. They have seen all of these elements presented with a cynical kind of humor that laughs all the way to the bank. It’s inevitable that they grow bored with the celebration of vacuity and the sensationalism of the grotesque for its own sake, no matter how much money they make from it. Even the cleverest tricksters of the new art world, such as Banksy, come close to being opportunistic court jesters. At best, they have made their own cynicism the subject of their art, and sometimes quite successfully.

I posted this in the comment section:

However, it sounds more like a complaint by an Empire writer, much like how they disparage retro-modernism as a negative trend because it seemed that we no longer could create original work.

That only confesses the dominant paradigm could no longer serve as a monolithic frame of values, that diversity and tolerance no longer marginalized anything, particularly a fetishtic nostalgia that recycled the dominant trends of pop culture in the past.

Moreover, the native post-modernist shtick of this article has slowly crumbled and given way to an emerging narrative: pseudo-modernism, where the text is no longer god, and the reader (audience) seizes control back via participatory techniques (texting to vote the celebrity off the island, retweeting purple revolutions).

Then again, perhaps this pseudo-modernism is less an abortion of postmodernism, and more of a competing post-Empire strain that moved past the narcissism of postmodernists, and towards a “nowhere of silent autism.”

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Posted

I was interested in this critique because it reminded me - perhaps unfairly - of Rorty. Although his conception of irony is supposed to be empowering for individuals and not enabling a public conception of the good, I wonder if the hipster as final realisation of cynicism is the unintended but anticipated consequence of such an attitude to narratives. This isn't to say that the problem of such cynicism (if indeed it is one) thus implies that there are final narratives, but aren't ironists and their ideas entirely susceptible to commodification? Rorty might say that this doesn't matter because irony is supposed to be private and was never intended to have a public impact, but I suggest that the contingency of narratives - when commodified - can result in undermining all of them, encouraging cynicism.

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Posted

That is a very salient point - whether the commodification of irony (public or not) moots the public good/private irony division.

Rorty's response to commodification is a well-known tactic: the hand-wave along the lines of "we should give up the leftist vs. liberal distinction" and "dump all leftover Marxist jargon like commodification and ideology."

However, this hand-wave seems less an dissolution via Wittgenstein and more of a rehash of a typical American narrative where the average writer already refrains from mentioning commodification as if they were fish that refuses to speak of water. The rejection of such Marxist terms also by default includes imperialism, capitalism, exploitation, etc., etc.

Rorty's disgust with Marxism stems from the claim that we should not allow Marxism too much authority to tell our leftist stories. But it seems to me that it is a case of closing the barn doors after the horse is long gone, several states away, because Marxism is already entrenched in the discourses of social sciences. Embarrassingly enough, Rorty said that we should kick Marx to the curb because it's corrupted by governments that dressed up as Karl Marx on holidays.

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