Daily Archives: October 7, 2008

Hipsters Getting Married

I saw Rachel Getting Married over the weekend, and really enjoyed it. It features a performance by Anne Hathaway that more than meets its billing, as well as some remarkable supporting performances from Debra Winger and Rosemarie DeWitt (in the title role). The movie is artfully made and certainly Jonathan Demme’s best directorial effort since Silence of the Lambs.

But the thing I like most about this movie is its commitment to hipster realism. It has an almost ethnographic-like attention to the details and culture of hipster, which I—as a person who is currently writing a book about hipsters—readily appreciated.

The movie is about a wedding—the marriage between Rachel (a pasty white woman in her early thirties) and Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe), who is black and an uber-hip musician. As the film’s wedding weekend unfolds, the two families mix and mingle like one big happy hipster reunion, with no racial unease to be found. Race is never acknowledged in the film, nor is it ever hinted at that this wedding is in any way stylistically unorthodox.

The wedding is India-themed, in part and parcel. The bride and bridesmaids wear saris and the groom and groomsmen wear kurtas, and there is a sitar player. Oh, and the cake is in the shape of an Indian elephant. The rest of the wedding is a diverse hodge-podge of other cultures and traditions, with eclectic backyard decorations, red meat on the Barbie for food, and a wild assortment of music/dancing all through the night.

The music is really where the film hits the nail on the hipster head. It is eclectic with a capital E. Dozens of Sidney’s bohemian musician friends are bumming around the house during the entire wedding weekend, jamming to jazz and folk and whatever they feel like. A drums-and-guitar emo punk plays a Hendrix-style wedding processional. Sidney sings Neil Young’s “Unknown Legend” for his wedding vow. There is hip hop, an African drum collective, a jazz trumpeter, and an androgynous DJ for everything in between. And that’s only what I can remember.

In the N.Y. Times, A.O. Scott lauded the way that Rachel “gathers races, traditions and generations in a pleasing display of genteel multiculturalism,” all the while painting a “faithful and affectionate” picture of blue-state America. It’s an apt description, certainly, but I would substitute “blue-state America” with “hipster-state America.”

The people partying with gleeful, postmodern abandon (when they are not embroiled in family drama and emotional catharsis) are the very essence of hipsterdom today. It’s about pastiche, de-contextualized pop commodities, “subversive” stylistic fusion, and non-committal, consumer-oriented multiculturalism.

The whole thing reminded me of this article I read recently on PopMatters.com, in which Erik Hinton writes this:

The rise of the hipster signals our waning ability to experience the other. The world at large is quickly losing touch with alterity. As a result, we are losing the capacity to create meaning. The shallow virtual reality of hipsterdom—the world remade as simply an empty aggregate of trendy bands and silly clothing—is merely the first indication of this.

Hinton goes on to point out, quite correctly, that the hipster’s tendency to collapse and collect bits and pieces of all culture and boil it up in one “totally unique” persona stew, ultimately creates a void of meaning wherein cultural distinction and difference is lost. For example, as hipsters become more and more identified by the styles and tastes they accumulate, they lose their own sense of identity. “Who am I?” gets lost in the more pressing hipster question: “what bands, brands, and quirky styles do I like?”

As Hinton continues:

…our lists of particulars become the whole of our personalities. This is why we see that kid at parties dressed like Hunter S. Thompson and break-dancing with gold chains around his neck, the girl reading Byron, wearing a Siouxsie T-shirt and hanging out at the bike shop… The hipster is no more than a conscious manipulation of the freedom to live these piecemeal identities, comfortable in the awareness that identity can be constructed out of any bands, clothing, cheap, regionally esoteric beer, and inane micro-fiction that pleases. The hipster is a pastiche of old and new culture, free from the limits of meaning or the constraints of authentic identity.

Given this, it is appropriate, I think, that the characters in Rachel (with the exception of the three aforementioned female leads) seemed rather hard to pin down. They were gloriously complicated in a hipster/stylized/quirky-is-good sort of way, but I didn’t get a real definite sense of who they really were.

Which is the problem of hipsterdom in general: there is an ironic loss of unique identity (alterity, difference, etc) in the all-consuming desire to fashion a “unique,” rebellious identity. It’s about getting lost in style and subversion, and forgetting that skinny jeans and Parliament cigarettes can only go so far in setting us apart.