In relation to the article ‘Hipster – the dead end of civilisation (Adbusters) – my similar feelings and thoughts from my own experience

If you look around and observe for a couple of minutes sobriety hits home fast, from which the only option is to quickly head for another pint of Strongbow and Black or head for a taxi homeward – a taxi driver who will most certainly have provided the same journey at the exact same time at some point in the near past.

Meanwhile a handful of ‘you-know-you-find-me-fit’ Indie girls are performing the same spellbounding rituals on some, new-to-the-room, indie-cool lad each week, going through the exact same motions on a dance floor consisting of roughly 4-5 people. And The DJ goes through the same motions, playing the exact same ‘UK indie’ tunes as have been played continuously since time seem to crystallise somewhere between 1998 and 2001 (and we still dress up as Mods/rockers, adoring our new/old retro outfit and can’t wait to look like a fallen rock star in it).

This is my home town, and it pains me to be one of the same old faces frequenting to these places. It feels a waste, a complete utter waste. I observe a life spent living in a dead aesthetic, and that includes me, although I take a cynical distance from it all as I drift more and more into scarcely populated corners as the night goes on. It is painful to watch and painful because I know that I am in the picture I observe.

I ponder the lives of those I once knew who have escaped this particular stagnated scenario – those of my age who actually had career plans safe within the capitalist framework, as year by year I seemingly (bar a few friends) congregate in a group who’s nucleus is younger and younger by the year. I have never had anything much to say to the larger part of this ever-changing nucleus, not much is meant to be said in these encounters of endless hedonistic nihilism, where the hedonism is already directed and driven by the conventions of the pub/club. (It was easier when I was younger because my naivety allowed me to dance and be stupid, as the daydreams were still large enough to stand up to the retribution felt in sobriety). Yet I do try to make conversation because, for me, the purpose of being in these places seems to be communication. Thus (Barr a few friends who I still head to these places with) I feel like I have made an error when I speak for more than 10 seconds: “what am I talking about such boring things to people for?”. So I just lapse into the queue for another drink whilst I let the extroverted revellers “whoop whoop” every night like it is THE NIGHT OF ALL NIGHTS.

So, again I ponder those who have – to use the title of a Facebook group page, created to intentionally mock those who haven’t done so – “managed to escape Barnsley” with a certain degree of envy and a massive amount of shame. Shame, even though I know with conviction that I simply don’t see the world like many of those who have left do (long-term positive thinking is something I find impossible under late capitalism, which doesn’t mean that I think all those who have left Barnsley for more glamorous places are pro-capitalist, just that they can work within in it maybe a little more easy without the questioning and doubt people such as me possess) and I haven’t had the chance to do so because the idea that ‘you make your own chances’ is completely alien to somebody who cannot see a future for himself within this system. Shame, because although I believe I can completely rationally justify my inability to leave this place I struggle to enjoy living in, I am subjected to a feeling of being left behind – from which the system based on the atomization of an individual blames me and me only: “you’re not adventurous enough/too stuck in your ways/too small-minded” a feeling of the world being one big Facebook wall, on which everyone has the right to tell you how you should be living.

It is a feeling of being a lesser person. This is the correct emotion! Indeed, without completely dismissing the discontent of living in a place which perhaps isn’t the best place to live for the sake of my health, what it is more prominent here is the blow to my sense of self I have been issued by the new form which capitalism has taken: it is called Cultural Capitalism, and it is helping me to dislike my home town more than it probably deserves because it informs me that it is a nowhere place and that if I stay here I am a nobody.

And this brings me closer to the real issue here. The observations made at the start of this page are not special to my home town, the cultural stagnation I am witnessing is a global issue; it has infected (maybe sterilised is a better word to use) all accessible areas on the planet. After all, the photo albums on Facebook profiles from those who have ‘escaped’ to some, perceived-as, cultural utopia are as clone-like and as repetitive as the albums of those who spend their nights out in the Weatherspoons pub and the Lucorum Bar in the town of Barnsley. And when I am looking at the ‘Indie kids’ dancing-like-they-mean-it to ‘Disorder’ by Joy Division (a band who, perhaps more than any other, have been incorporated into, and almost stand for the prevailing Nihilism, mainly due to the totality of the music finalising with the lead singer’s suicide), dressed in a style which once had purpose and progressive poise but is now merely a dead aesthetic – a selection of shedded snake skins taken from the museum of fashion – I don’t just see a stagnation unique to Barnsley. I see a stagnation of civilisation on a whole, and this is why, despite of cultural capitalism, I do not leave – “where do I go to improve my quality of life?”

This observation was even more striking last night. It was the celebrated British event of Bonfire night (November 5Th). This meant that most people were at bonfires and the pubs were emptier that usual for a Friday (But me, finding no escape through tradition, felt much more inclined to continue the usual Friday night process). When a pub/club is busy with revellers one has less ability to have such sobering thoughts regarding the a decay of a civilisation (the only historical similarities I can think of to our own decay are the last parties during the collapse of the Roman Empire, or even, the visuals from the film of Hitler’s last hours in his bunker -The Downfall – where the debauched parties are going on above ground whilst the city is smashed to pieces by invading armies). These bustling nights appear to becoming an increasing rarity in my home town, but when there is one the reverse actually happens and the feelings are atomized: a feeling that something is wrong becomes a feeling that something is wrong with only you, and the despair of the situation around you becomes despair at your own isolation. In the quiet pub/club however the bustling crowd shrinks into a small over-familiar crowd of revellers from where it becomes more evident of a culture with no vision to make any choice but to pursue hedonism every night, a culture which, come-what-may, will be looking for the thrill, the ‘good times’. And it is at these moments, when the situation reveals itself.

Hedonism, say in an era such as the 1960’s or the very early 1990’s had so much more of a cause/story and it had a future to look towards. What we are experiencing now is not the same. To borrow some ideas from Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism, what we are experiencing now feels like an exhaustion, but with no alternative but to further exhaust it – nothing left to do but to pursue hedonism but with no reasons left for actually pursuing it. I strongly suspect that this pursuit is (and has been so since 2001) an avoidance of reality. I believe that the severity if this situation’s exacerbation can be given a specific date: September 11 2001 – the day the world woke up from its naive 1990’s optimism, induced by a collective misunderstanding of the complete effects that the fall of the Berlin Wall had.

‘Woken up’ is the right term to use for the way the September 11 attacks instantly made the glazed-eye western world feel, but the following result has been the opposite: the decade that followed saw our immersion into materialist niches on an unprecedented scale – we closed our eyes and dived into a pool of consumerism, which was now much more equipped to sell to our needs to be intelligent, free-thinking, alternative individuals -different from the pack. This is evident in the way that guitar band fashions are now draped upon younger and younger school children, and the way that alternative music and fashions have now become the mainstream.

The generation of youths who saw the events of September 11Th on The TV (I was 17 at the time) could see no alternative but to become more immersed in their consumer-veneered dreamscapes. We didn’t even have a grasp of an alternative existence – I don’t think I’d ever even paid attention the word Capitalism and I dare say most others my age hadn’t either, we knew there was Communism, and used the word in childish jokes about High School regimes, but we never questioned what actually ruled over us. It was made obvious to us that people didn’t like the USA and likewise it was made obvious to us that the Taliban could be ruthless, but that’s about as far as we felt necessary to question the way of the world. I’d just play my 1990’s Indie music on my Walkman and drift off into a daydream of a future ‘where all is well’. This genre of music and the style which accompanies it made the backbone of what I saw as my desired aesthetic when I was still an impressionable teenager.

From being 19 onwards my endeavours took me further and further away from any aesthetic group, but not enough to wipe away the preference to dress slightly in this style than to dress in any other way. Thus, the nearest hedonistic environment for me was the indie bars/clubs. However, the friction with being associated with any niche has intensified. The comfort with living in a dead aesthetic, sewn-together with day dreams was torn by the events which occurred in the the first decade of the millennium, and the tear has been widening since. The portrayal of the world by all around me (televised, read and spoken suggestions) became ever-more unsatisfactory, the day dreams died out and the void left has been filled by left-wing ideals.
For the past 5 years I have known that I could never truly find any happiness inside this ‘design for life’ which is conveyed to us, but I still consumed a belief of finding a partner who could shelter my mind from the unfolding world outside (or as Alain Badiou puts to – to live without an idea). The environment of the hedonistic reveller is the only place Ive ever been able to believe this achievement is achievable in. This is probably due to a general mood conveyed by a society which knows not what to do accept to pursue hedonism – thus, it is apparent that everything that is in anyway good reveals itself within these confines. This means that my more philosophical side is constantly in conflict with the side which evades a philosophy of any sort by trying to find happiness within the suggested confines (that easy ride of life, with all the comfort of a loving partner and easy-going friends, which society conveys to me).

So I head out on many nights out, at the same time avoiding the sadness and solitude which encroaches upon the domestic me in the evening. It is probable that 9 out of 10 nights disappoint but I head out anyway because it is better than spending an evening in and letting my conflicting sides maul each other into an early submission. But the places we convene on for hedonistic pursuit are intentionally lacking in places for substantial conversation. So we drink, yell and dance. (well, the dancing died with the last few day dreams a long while ago, so I just drink, drink, drink, loose track of what I have said to people, which creates a massive self-doubt which lingers like fog until it is finally lifted by a mobile text or Facebook post inviting me to resume the search for a good night).
And it goes on and on and on…………

I felt an urge to write my own experiences of this kind after reading the article Hipsters: the dead end of civilisation in the Adbusters magazine. Apparently Hipster is an offensive word in North America, where the article was written about, but the indie/retro look, and the electro/funky house style (whatever its called..?..) certainly fit the same description over here in the UK (the former generally marks its territory by being ever-so-slightly less mainstream and the ever-so-slightly less narcissistic than the latter, and this separation is what makes the ‘indie-cool’ look). And although the incidences described in this article are quite different to my own Non-incidences described, the general message is the same: a cultural stagnation; a youth who can no longer surprise the establishment, who merely borrow aesthetics from a medley of past youth movements which now have no meaning and are merely dead artifacts from the museum of civilisation, a youth who can do nothing now but revel and look stylish, and this is a signifier of a civilisation with nowhere left to go.

The Hipster, then, lives for the nights out, and the feedback of the nights out (Facebook photo albums). They live for ‘the scene’, and probably don’t even realise that this is what they are doing. They can perceive no future and I don’t even think they realise that they can’t. And at this point (because there’s no way I could claim to take a moral high ground here) I should state that it would be more appropriate for me to use we instead of they, because even if I am reluctant I am still present within these scenes. One of the biggest criticisms of the article in Adbusters was that the article writer – Douglas Haddow – was probably an hipster also and Adbusters is generally bought and read by Hipsters. Although maybe this could have been taken into consideration, perhaps the criticisms were also missing a point, which is: is there anything left for any of us to be but Hispters? Has all counter-culture, no matter how anti-capitalist, already been incorporated into the capitalist museum of spectacle before it even begins? And, as anti-capitalist as I claim to be, I still wear one of the aesthetically pleasing dead skins from its museum and frequent to places where I can enjoy culture in retrospect, and during the daytimeI ritualistically go and sit in a culturally-fabricated cafe reading Adbusters.

However despite of these moments of utter self-doubt, one shouldn’t give up. And the sceptical eye I have for these places I am present in provides much of the fuel for the work I make, which is pretty much all that keeps me going. And at points it feels like I am one amongst many people now slowly starting to see through the cracks in the veil disguised as reality which capitalism has created. But these moments are only half of the story. The other half of the story informs me that the seemingly hopeless political situation will just further exacerbate an ever-elasticated youth cultures’ (by elasticated I am referring to the way that older and older people seem to cling onto the scene because they have nothing else awaiting them) lifestyle which knows of no other way forward but to be constantly pursuing pleasure. Thus, people know that the ‘shit is hitting the fan’ but have no thoughts about preventing it.

The most relevant of pressing issues worth mentioning at this point is the Environmental issue. I always presumed that few of us knew about issues such as the fact that if the oil reserves run out and we still haven’t a viable alternative that we are in big big trouble, but they do so, and I am doubly naive in expecting that when in the know they would, somehow, know how to react to these problems, unlike I. They do just the same as I. “When the oil runs out we’re gonner all be fucked! said a young man to me as he finished his cigarette and JD and Coke outside the Lucorum bar a few Fridays ago. But “I just try not to think about it” is the most common one, or “I’m worried, but what can I do about it?” You see, as much as I morbidly observe the situation within youth culture in particular, I resonate with them and I am like them: they, like me, can perceive no other way but to end up pissed in the same ‘indie’ bar each Friday. They, like me, expect somebody/something else to show us out of capitalist death-trap labyrinth.

Since the beginning of the recession in 2008 the whole situation and behaviour of people seems to have deteriorated further more (which is why rising alcohol prices in a time of increased unemployment will just make for equal amounts of heavy drinking but poorer people). My moneyless friends, apart from paying their rent, put nearly all other funds they can find towards the scene revolving going out, drinking, (alcohol, new clothes, new hairdo’s etc). This is a generation who sees no future to save money for past the next weekend. They aren’t isolated individuals to be told off and criticized (as the ruling ideology’s dictations would have us believe); they are a signifier of a MASSIVE problem.

The problem is the capitalist system, which has subsumed so many sub-cultures/counter-cultures, conquered so much of the planet, crushed so many other ‘ways of seeing’ the world, that nothing but a final push to topple it can relieve us from this mess (merely getting the economy back on track, encouraging growth, asks us to look at the completely wrong picture of the current world). The eternal pursuit of the good times, the avoidance of reality will only rise as inequalities rise and climate catastrophe’s increase in frequency, as the system which knows only expansion continues to not only dismantle the natural environment but also the thoughts and spaces from which another world is possible.

Yes, the piss-up in my home town really does bring me to such conclusions, and why shouldn’t it do so?

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About John Ledger

A visual Artist, eternal meanderer and obsessive self-reflector by nature, who can’t help but try to interpret everything from within the tide of society. His works predominantly take the form of large scale ballpoint pen landscape drawings and map-making as social/psychological note-making. They are slowly-accumulating responses to crises inflicted upon the self in the perplexing, fearful, empty, and often personality-erasing human world.

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