Social change in the era of cool

By Jordyn Marcellus

Universities were the hotbed of political activism and social change. These institutions of higher learning were the places where counterculture brewed and young intellectuals fought against the norms of their more conservative elders. As time has gone on, the counterculture has been slowly and insidiously co-opted until it was nothing more than a fashionable choice and a shallow attitude about sticking it to some formless authority figure.

This shallow form of pop culture consumption has infected the attitude of youth. Now universities are full of so-called “hipsters,” more obsessed with buying the coolest new print of Converse hi-tops than trying to change the world. The latest Adbusters attempts to tackle the selling-out of the counterculture in their latest issue, the cover story titled, “The Hipster: the Dead End of Western Civilization.” It’s an overwrought and whining attempt at a polemic against the movement, but the backing idea is that capitalism has co-opted and pacified the counterculture since the end of the Cold War and has made rebellion against the status quo a trendy thing to do for the 18-29 set.

Ever since the Berlin Wall fell, the dominant ideology in the world has been capitalism-driven liberal democracy. Very few in university now have ever had to deal with a battle of clearly defined ideologies like those that erupted during the Cold War and have grown up under the notion that liberalized capitalist democracies are the end all, be all of political systems.

Capitalism has worked its way into every nook and cranny of our society. The market has become the panacea to our economic woes and any non-mainstream ideas have become a simple niche for teenage rebellion and an exploitative source for coolest new clothing trends. This is the first generation of youths who have grown up under the ideology of all-encompassing capitalism and now rebellion is a commodity that can be bought and sold.

Hipsterism is the perfect representation of this movement of capitalism-influenced, wannabe-cultural insurgency. As westernized free enterprise economics homogenizes and dulls the uniqueness of a particular subculture–Avril Lavigne-ing punk rock and Souljah Boy-ing hip-hop–advertisers have a thirst for more and more unique and alternative sub-cultures to co-opt.

But once something becomes too mainstream and is no longer cool, the corporations must find a new source of trendiness to suck on like a vampire. Hipsterism is the epitome of it.

While there are elements of fashion to hipsterism, more than anything it’s an entire social phenomenon. It’s pseudo-intellectualism at the cost of meaningful content and the desire to party for peace. It’s the condescending belief that there’s no way to better society, as it’s inherently corrupt and how the people in the mainstream are just pathetic “sheeple.”

This is where the effect on students comes in.

Much has been made about the lack of student involvement and the apathy that permeates the University of Calgary campus. People are more up in arms about prices of the pitchers of beer at the Den then they are about the Darfur conflict. The lack of credit card payment for tuition is more of an issue than the lack of affordable housing or treatment of women in the workplace. Students used to be pissed off about important things–then they’d at least try to show a little backbone. Now the only way the Students’ Union can get anyone involved is with the promise of free pancakes or some kind of party-atmosphere. Just look at Political Action Week. No one cares. Why should they? There’s a sale on at American Apparel.

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