Imagined communities

January 22, 2011 § 1 Comment

So after working my pop-music-blog hustle for the last few posts, I’m worn out, and ready for another refreshing dip in the comparatively placid waters of reconstructive academic history.  Before I completely abandon this newly-claimed ground, though, a couple of links and a small handful of thoughts:

1. Anna Leach’s article on the hipster as ‘agent of social change’ touches on some of the same fashion/masculinity/sexuality issues I’ve been writing about lately, with an added infusion of pro-hipster polemic that is sure to tweak some noses among the easily-tweaked.  I’m more or less on board, although she does manage to get an eyebrow raise from me, of the ‘We-may-need-to-qualify-those-statements-a-bit-before-we-go-on’ variety, when she compares the last decade’s fashion trends with “The adoption of black culture in the 60s [that] paved the way for the more racially equal society that America has today.” Still, it’s an interesting argument, worth considering.

2. Nick Southall recently posted on the “return of the record club” micro-trend (cf. this Guardian blog post, a handful of personal anecdotes, and the admittedly-cool-new-thing ListeningRoom) and its relation to perennial “death of the album” speculation.  I suppose it’s too early to tell if we really will start to see a rise in ‘social listening’ [ready to hate this phrase already] and a backlash against the “decade of white earbuds”; but because I’m a contrarian and a dialectician, my first instinct is to respond to that question with another one: How do you suppose people got through those long, lonely years of antisocial listening?

I remember thinking, around the release of Arcade Fire’s Funeral — surely among the capital-A Albums in recent history — how strange it was that this particular album had become a sort of rallying-point for the indie-music world, given how strongly marked it was by the very idea of ‘community’ or ‘togetherness’ or whatever.  Musically, they took the “btw all our friends play in our band” overstuffed orchestral setup that post-rock bands like GY!BE (and weirdos like the Polyphonic Spree) had piloted to minor success, stripped away a lot of the intentionally-alienating weirdness, and arrived at some kind of million-man-march/celebrity-benefit-concert good vibes; lyrically, they sang about families and houses and sleeping in backs of cars, and had four songs with the title “Neighborhood”.  The hamfistedness of it annoyed me a bit because as a young “indie music” dude I already felt an unspoken sense of community with the couple-three other people in my high school who were listening to the same things as me, which calling attention to could only have made less cool.  But whatever, the album was great, and it seems to have worked out well enough for them.  It leads me to wonder whether this might have become one of the secret criteria for a great album in the iPod era: something you can listen to by yourself, but without feeling alone.

Hipster nationalism?  Just a thought.  The metaphor breaks down a bit when you realize that hipsters are more like emigres (not to say refugees) than a nation proper; and I suspect the ultimate lesson to be drawn might simply be that everyone and everything you run away from eventually follows you to the places you made cool.


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