Tag: n+1

The Hipsters, United

by on Feb.15, 2011, under New York, Politics

It may be too much to ask of n+1 that it maintain consistent positions with regard to hipsterdom, but it would be nice to see its investigations at least reference one another. Christopher Glazek’s Hasids versus Hipsters is an entertaining account of a struggle over urban space between “hipster” bicyclists and the Satmar Hasidim of South Williamsburg. The hipsters come off as politically engaged but not fluent; even at its most confrontational, such as when they guerilla-re-paint a bike lane that the city has removed, their activism has a twee, ingratiating quality. That may be enough to earn it the dreaded h-epithet, but it’s also a high-stakes, committed bid for control over public resources.

However, in Mark Greif’s sweeping, scourging survey/eulogy, What Was The Hipster?, hipsterism is resolutely anti-political. “[H]ipsters have mixed with particular elements of anarchist, free, vegan, environmentalist, punk, and even anti-capitalist communities,” bike messengers among them, but the hipster “aligns himself both with rebel subculture and with the dominant class, and thus opens up a poisonous conduit between the two.”

Greif’s essay could be simply discounted as an exercise in No True Scotsman-ing. No True Hipster practices politics; Glazek’s bicycle hipsters practice politics. Therefore, they are not real hipsters. Maybe they are the “particular elements” that help open the “poisonous conduit.” I happen to think Greif’s sour take is an excellent starting point, but it would benefit from a less pre-constrained investigation of how politics plays out among hipsters as examined. (Start by adding Shepard Fairey to Greif’s hipster canon of Dave Eggers and Wes Anderson.) In the meantime, Dorothy at Cat and Girl still has the stronger take.

Cross-posted at Alyssa Rosenberg

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Less Sweat

by on Jan.19, 2011, under Los Angeles, Politics

Celina Su’s anecdote in n+1 about visiting an aid worker in Cambodia, Holiday in Cambodia, includes this observation:

These women [in Phnom Penh] sewed clothes and reported to Chinese factory contractors, who reported to American managers, who reported to shareholders. Every once in a while, an exposé about the sweatshops reached American televised news. To Z, shareholders had an astoundingly predictable, biannual ritual of expressing shock about the sweatshop conditions in which these women earned less than $2 a day.

This is followed by an encounter with backpackers who disappointingly make excuses for the conditions, which allow workers to live at one-third the poverty level according to the United Nations. It’s only an aside, but it’s a misleading one. The rest of the piece describes a visit from a set of resolutely point-missing U.S. Congressional aides to the author’s friend Z’s aid projects. But the sweatshop aside shows a similar lack of attention.

I worked with anti-sweatshop advocates for two years putting together an anti-sweatshop purchasing policy, and they routinely held up Cambodia as an example of third world manufacturing done right. Garment export factories must submit to inspection by the International Labor Organization, described here at length. Violations still exist, but Cambodia’s monitoring regime is among the developing world’s most robust. Su’s observation isn’t wrong, but it feels much more like a pro-forma gesture at “conditions in the third world” than an informed account, even at the level of an aside.

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Voice of a Generation

by on Feb.20, 2010, under Books

The Millions proposes that Dave Eggers take over the editorship of the Paris Review from Phillip Gourevitch. My first thought was “what’s in it for Dave?” My guess, uninformed (McSweeney’s “doesn’t do numbers”) is that Eggers’s current gig has to have a wider circulation than the Review. The Millions has an answer, although it’s a kind a spinach prescription: they think that the editorship would force Eggers to finally get past his experiments in cute and forever side with the kinds of empathetic ventriloquism that runs through books like What is the What and Zeitoun.

This reportorial interest in the wider world is one that The Paris Review could nourish, even as it exposed Eggers to an even wider audience – one that might be less satisfied with his tics, and more demanding of writing in proportion with his enormous gifts.

I agree that this would be good spinach. A longer version of my abbreviated post Great Daves of the 90s would have had a similar hope for him.

Eggers’s innovation was a seemingly paradoxical blend of self-consciousness with generosity. At its best it uses a kind of non-corrosive irony to create a space for empathy. At its worst it becomes twee narcissism. N+1’s first Intellectual Situation called out the “Eggersards” for forming a “regressive avant-garde,” one which valued childhood above all other values. When Eggers’s valorization of children informs his literary good-citizen side, you get magic like 826 Valencia, a tutoring program that has spread from San Francisco across the country and trades on the cultish adoration for Eggers among the urban literate to produce an army of volunteers helping underprivileged youth with their writing homework and encouraging their creativity.

Helping actual children is a less exhaustible project than adopting childhood as an intellectual stance. An Eggers editorship of The Paris Review might reconcile the imagination and experimentation of the McSweeney’s empire with adulthood.

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