City Lights bookstore in San Francisco - birthplace of Hip?
What are the five most hipster things that have ever happened?
As we enter the third part of my efforts at cataloguing the five hipsterest things of all time, I’ll briefly pause to recount weeks one and two. First, we established the hipsterness of an obscure musical collaboration between Warren Zevon and 75 percent of R.E.M. Second was the entire life, from birth to death, of sportswriting hipster extraordinaire George Plimpton. Third, I draw your collective attention to October 7, 1955 — the date upon which Allen Ginsberg read “Howl” to a crowd of enthusiastic proto-hipsters at the City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco.
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness,
starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking
for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly
connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night...
In many ways, it was the modern hipster’s birthday, although the culture, such as it is, has grown and changed so much since then. Even so, I suspect the fundamental anger at how industrial society devalues and dehumanizes those who could — perhaps even should — be life’s brightest stars remains unchanged today.
But birthdays also start the inexorable ticking of the clock, and the birth of the modern hipster was also the first step towards blending seamlessly into mainstream society. “Howl” shocked the country as an affront to the unity of the mainstream, and in doing so it set the stage for the eventual acceptance and absorption of all that made its culture counter, so to speak. The world at large can only tolerate a rebellious subculture for so long before it must assimilate, by force if necessary.
Today, rejecting mainstream culture in favor of something weird, new, anachronistic, or obscure is recognizably hipster behavior. Sometimes, it is even celebrated. Ever since October 7, 1955, it has had, if not a manifesto, at least an undeniable statement of its existence. Thus, this event warrants designation as the third most hipster thing that has ever happened.
When I was a kid, I loved fantastic stories that inspired my overactive imagination. My favorite Disney movies were the ones about people having supernatural adventures, as opposed to the talking animal stories. As a teen, I devoured comics, what I’ll call “speculative” fiction, Star Wars, and any movies with an extraordinary bent. Then I got a little bit older, and I noticed how the people around me wanted more “realistic” entertainment. Sometimes, I felt the same way, but I also harbored a soft spot for the stuff that really fired up my imagination. Now, although I am not particularly good at being an adult, as at least a kind of adult, I am in the distinct minority, which I don’t get. Even when my peers do get into something fantastical, like Westworld or whatever, they have to qualify it by saying how the story would be just as good in any setting because it’s all about the deeper themes. Why do people turn steadily towards more boring, realistic entertainment as they age?
I can’t speak for people generally, and thus I probably can’t give you a fully satisfactory answer, but we hipsters prefer our entertainment in the gravest form possible because one cannot be both ironically jaded over contemporary social institutions (see above) and simultaneously revel in the endless playground of the human imagination. Maybe we take ourselves a little too seriously, but the point of books, movies, plays or any other form of entertainment is to reflect badly on life itself, not to fire up the imagination.