Posts Tagged hipsters

Keith Richards meets a hipster

Since I first saw one smugly slurping a Pabst Blue Ribbon, I have sworn eternal vengeance against hipsters. Why concentrate so much negative emotion on such a silly segment of the population? Hipsters are like the gray blob of nanomachines that some theorists say will eat all matter if unleashed: they take everything people find enjoyable and reduce it to a basis for irony and petty judgment.

Hipsters choose their favorite music based on the number of people that haven’t listened to it. If you genuinely like anything, even the air you breath, don’t ever tell a hipster. They’ll tell you that a 78.04-20.95% nitrogen-oxygen ratio is too mainstream.

I’m given to bouts of cynicism and irony, but I still think basing one’s entire existence on negativity makes for a pretty horrible person. Hipsters think they’re just too cool to be human.

Recently, I found some solace in the fact that this isn’t an entirely new phenomenon. I’ve been reading Keith Richards’ autobiography, Life, and in it he describes what could be proto-hipsters.

As a teenager, Richards hung out with other young blues enthusiasts, some of whom were such purists that even actual blues artists couldn’t meet their standards:

“None of these blues purists could play anything. But their Negroes had to be dressed in overalls and say, “Yes’m boss.” And in actual fact they’re city blokes who are so hip it’s not even true.”

Like today’s hipsters, the blues purists sought an art that was so authentic it didn’t actually exist. In this case, because it was more than a little racist. Hipsters don’t subscribe to an antiquated racist view of culture (at least, I hop they don’t), but it still seems like reality isn’t good enough for them.

When an artist creates a piece of music it is what it is, regardless of how many people like it or whether it meets some critic’s standard of authenticity.

What kind of a world would we live in if people were too afraid of appearing unsophisticated to like anything? That is why hipsters, past and present, are such an irritant. At least they’re nothing the world hasn’t dealt with before.

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In Skyfall, James Bond fights for Queen, Country, and Aesthetics

Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t seen Skyfall, or you did see it, but only in an alternate quantum universe, this post may ruin your day.

Skyfall posterSkyfall was a great way to mark 50 years of 007, and not just because it was a great movie. In this author’s opinion, Skyfall ranks among the best Bond films ever made, but it also shows why this franchise has persisted for 50 years, and why it deserves to keep going. The world of espionage is becoming more efficient, but also less interesting, and that’s why we need Bond.

In Skyfall, all 007 wants to do is shoot his enemy in the face, but said enemy, a rogue former MI6 agent named Raoul Silva, prefers hacking over high explosives. The new hipster Q is also convinced that digital espionage is the wave of the future.

Silva points to a room full of servers and says they are all he needs to commit acts of terror, while Q brags that he can do more at home in his pajamas than Bond can do in the field.

This new attitude isn’t just a writer’s way of triggering sentimentality, either. Cyber warfare is a developing tactic in the espionage world. The Stuxnet worm, for example, has done a better job of slowing down Iran’s nuclear weapons program than any human spy.

That all may be true, but that doesn’t make it interesting to watch. Anyone who has seen previous Bond films will sigh along with 007 when Q hands him nothing but a gun and a radio. An Aston Martin with machine guns might be less realistic, but it’s also much cooler.

No one wants to spend two hours watching someone furiously type on a keyboard, either. Q could probably do 007‘s job remotely using a drone, but he would lose the interest of movie audiences along the way. Bond remarks that, eventually, someone has to pull the trigger. He’s right, if for no other reason than that it creates more drama.

Since Skyfall is, after all, a movie about James Bond, Q and Silva are forced to relent. Q lets Bond take M to Bond’s ancestral home in Scotland for protection, and Silva surrounds and destroys it in spectacular fashion.

That ending has little in common with the real world of espionage. In fact, almost nothing in Bond’s 50-year career of boozing, womanizing, and killing has. Nonetheless, Bond’s defense of good old fashioned bullets highlights an important  issue in the way the world is depicted in the arts.

The digitalization of life is making it harder to depict the real world in an interesting way in fiction. While its true that many aspects of life are mundane, depicting life lived through the filter of digital technology compounds that mundanity with artificiality.

The science-fiction subgenre Cyberpunk has grappled with this problem, and the response is often to dial up the fiction. The business of hacking is jazzed up with augmented reality interfaces, like the dream world of William Gibson’s Neuromancer, or the uber-Internet “Metaverse” of Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. The protagonist of Snow Crash, appropriately named Hiro Protagonist, is also a swordsman. That helps.

Like the Bond films, no one ever accused Cyberpunk of being a totally realistic depiction of hacking and computer programming. Both use a real-life activity as the basis for good fiction, but the more time people spend sitting in front of computers, the less likely it will resemble the reader’s world in any way.

It’s important for fictional stories to give their readers something to relate to, but we may be pushing the boundaries of what we can do with the reality we have. Pulling a trigger will always be more interesting than clicking a mouse.

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