How Hipsters Are Keeping Music Alive

I live in New York City, and it is swarming with hipsters.  I write this from Fordham College at Lincoln Center, which may not mean much to many of you, but it’s where this chick comes from:

lana

She is not an anomaly around here, to say the least.  I used to have such an unnecessary hatred of the subculture of people who are called (but never call themselves) “hipsters,” until I realized what a truly vital role they play in the preservation of music as an industry.  Without hipsters, I honestly believe music as we know it would cease to exist and left in its absence would be a Top 40 nightmare of recycled commercial beats and lyrics void of feeling.  Instead, there is a rich diversity to many genres kept alive and hipsters deserve much of the credit.

What is a hipster?

If you have to ask you must be living under a rock, but for the purposes of this post I’ll give a brief overview as objectively as possible:  A hipster is a 20-30 something person characterized by a love of counter-culture, independent music and art, and an alternative lifestyle.  Most are progressive political thinkers and tend to live in urban areas. They are easily recognized by the clothes they wear, music they listen to, and foods they eat.

Robert Lanham, author of The Hipster Handbook describes them as follows: “mop-top haircuts, swinging retro pocketbooks, talking on cell phones, smoking European cigarettes … strutting in platform shoes with a biography of Che Guevara sticking out of their bags … You graduated from a liberal arts school whose football team hasn’t won a game since the Reagan administration…[and] you have one Republican friend who you always describe as being your ‘one Republican friend.'”

hipsters

Hipsterus maximi in their natural environment.

So, what is it about hipsters that makes them so important to the music industry?

They spend the money.

I don’t really know where hipsters get all of their inexplicable disposable income, but I’m not about to ask.  The hipsters I know that have it, spend it, and on all kinds of music-related products: record players, band tees, even CD’s.  (Who still listens to CD’s?!)  They are always willing to shell out a few bucks for a live performance.  In a world where file-sharing and illegal downloading runs rampant, this is huge.  Merchandizing and live performances are how a lot of smaller, independent bands are able to sustain themselves (or at least keep making music) and hipsters contribute to the cause.

They are an advertiser’s wet dream.

Marketing your band to a hipster crowd is easy and cheap because viral marketing campaigns and word of mouth are most effective when selling to this demographic.  If you slap a band sticker on the sidewalk, some hipster will see it.  If you have the talent to make an impression at a coffee house, in the park, or even on a subway platform, some hipster will talk about it.  The more obscure a name, the better — giving local bands and underrated talent a fighting chance in the music community.

They value culture and originality.

The music listened to by hipsters is generally labeled “indie,” which could refer to anything not currently signed to a major record label.  Their tastes can range from electronic remixes and dubstep to folksy punk with fiddles and banjo pickers to bluesy garage rock with psychedelic elements and anything in between.  The possibilities are endless, and provide a healthy balance to overly commercialized popular music.  Hipsters seek out all things original, often embracing a juxtaposition between retro and progressive styles with the most fervor.

They are trend-spotters and trend-setters.

So many things that hipsters touch turn to gold.  Not only do they revive classics like Buddy Holly glasses, bowler hats, bow ties, and mustaches; but they also discover amazing musicians:

  • Passion Pit
  • Vampire Weekend
  • GROUPLOVE
  • Arcade Fire
  • Death Cab for Cutie
  • fun.
  • Mumford and Sons
  • the Strokes
  • Foster the People
  • the Black Keys
  • the Shins
  • Adele
  • MGMT

These bands and so many more owe their success to hipsters, who found them hiding in the backs of smokey bars or behind page after page of Cheezeburger Cats on the internet.  Hipsters adopted them, labeled them cool, and everyone else (audiences and record companies) followed suit.

The Downside

Unfortunately, hipsters often equate financial success with “selling out,” focusing on the negative impact of commercialism on artistic integrity. (Or they’re just being selfish.  It’s way cheaper to go to a show at Arlene’s Grocery than Madison Square Garden, amiright?)  As soon as bands pronounced “cool” by hipsters turn a profit, they are abandoned.

toomainstreamThere are worse things.  Once a band has enough of a following to make it to the radio or tour the country and develop a broader, more eclectic fan-base, the battle is already won!  And thus music outside the Top 40 pop-genre is available to people like you and me, who will not judge the artists based on how much money they’re making or what movie trailer their latest hit was featured in.

If I offended any hipsters, I apologize.  Thank you for your contribution to the music world, as fans and creators.  I like you, un-ironically.  (I was in love with a hipster once, for five minutes.  You can read about it here.)

Veronica
Twenty-three year old NYC resident, undergraduate at Fordham University, journalist-in-training at WFUV, freelance writer, amateur philosopher, occasional photographer, music-enthusiast, Abe Lincoln fangirl.

Special thanks to Dr. Tom McCourt and my Popular Music as Communication class for inspiring this post with our discussion today.

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Wordplay

Note: This post is part linguistic exploration, part intellectual masturbation.  You’ve been warned.

Did you know that the Japanese have no word for the color green?  Instead, the sky and the sea and the grass are all called the same thing: ao (blue).

Blue.

Seems legit.

There’s no “G” in ROY G BIV.  Novices are blue. Recycling is going blue. Blue around the gills. Giving someone the blue light. Blue with envy.

This kind of blue blew my mind when I heard it from a professor of mine recalling the years he spent living and working in Japan. (Big ups, Prof. Plugh!)  How could a language that does not have a word for the color green have any hope of even beginning to describe this nuanced world in which we live?

Before I get on my English high horse and risk sounding ethnocentric, I want to acknowledge some awesome Japanese words.  For example, Koi No Yokan is the sense upon first meeting a person that a future love between you is inevitable.  Wabi-sabi is an abstract way of viewing the world which strives to find beauty and acceptance in imperfection. A Nito-onna is a woman who is so focused on her career that she has no time to iron blouses and thus only wears knitted tops. (I found all of these and a lot more on a great little blog called Better Than English.)

So, which is it? Is language competent in describing our perception of reality, in communicating our ideas and expressing our thoughts? Or does it fall short?

Inefficiency of Language

Not too long ago, I received a text message:

“We need a word for that feeling you get when you ask someone to do you a favor and they f*ck it up.”

We do, don’t we?  I did a little social experimenting and found that everyone I asked was well aware of this feeling.  When I asked a few to describe it, they said:

  • “It’s so frustrating and there’s nothing you can do. There’s no confrontation or resolution.”
  • “You’re disappointed but you’re not allowed to be.”
  • “It’s like a struggle in your brain between anger and awkwardness.”

So many long explanations for a seemingly universal emotion. I cannot help but think that this proves that language, at least the English language, is inefficient in this way.

But there is a reason I received this text in the first place.  Language is open to evolution, and everyone can contribute.  If my friends and I wanted to make up a word for this phenomenon, let’s call it “favrustration” [fay-VRUS-chray-shun], we could do it.  We could start using it aloud, write it into our lives via social media, and maybe it would get picked up by other people and enter into the vernacular – or at least make it’s way on to Urban Dictionary – which leads me to my next point.

Efficiency of Language

If I were to refer to a picture taken by someone on their smartphone as “instagold,” they might know that I mean, “That picture is really good, and if you were to post it on Instagram it would get a lot of likes.” (That’s a weird sentence that did not exist in 2009.)

This got 10700 likes. #instagold.

This one got 10700+ likes. #instagold

Rapid advancements in technology, obsession with pop culture, and my generation’s ceaseless ability to embrace and adapt to “newness” all account for an ever-increasing vocabulary of extremely specific terminology.  Catfishing (maintaining an online relationship with someone using an alter-ego), bromance (a loving relationship between two heterosexual males), and even synergasm (expressing oneself by speaking in a string of corporate buzzwords) are all words that I have heard, and understood without explanation, in the last twenty-four hours.  This is just the tip of the iceberg.

So?

I don’t know. I supposed I’m just a logophile.

Do you have any words or phrases of your own, used around friends or colleagues or on Twitter, that makes communication more efficient?

Veronica
Twenty-three year old NYC resident, undergraduate at Fordham University, journalist-in-training at WFUV, freelance writer, amateur philosopher, occasional photographer, music-enthusiast, Abe Lincoln fangirl.

*This post is dedicated to he who told me my writing is needlessly wordy.*

“Catfish” and Transgenderism

Note: This post contains spoilers about Catfish the Movie and Catfish the TV Show.  If you have yet to partake in these fantastic entertainment adventures, what are you waiting for?!

Meet Nev Shulman:

Nev ShulmanHe’s a good-looking, seemingly well put-together young guy who only recently gained wild popularity because of the overwhelming response to his movie and subsequent reality television show: Catfish.

Catfish the Movie is a documentary about Nev, filmed by his friends, and his experience in an online romance with a girl named Megan who refused to meet him in person.  Eventually it was revealed that Megan was actually Angela, a middle-aged woman with an entire network of fake Facebook profiles.  Catfish: the TV Show is incredibly similar, based on the experiences of people who e-mail Nev looking for help with their own online romances.

I love Catfish.  Ask my roommate.  It’s the kind of show that gets me out of my seat, screaming at the television (or, in my case, the computer screen) because 10 times out of 10, nobody on the Internet is who they say they are.

“It’s a dude, bro!”

The plots in two particular episodes of this small screen masterpiece – “Kya & Alyx” and “Rod & Ebony” – include twists involving transgender people and the confronting the issues that arise.

Extremely Brief Synopses:

In “Kya & Alyx,” a girl (Kya) falls in love with a man she met online (Alyx) who turns out to be transgender.  Alyx, although born female, identifies as a man.  That should have been the end of it.  But Nev, in so many cringingly awkward moments of naïveté and insensitivity, continues to call Alyx “she” and “her,” and goes so far as to confront Kya about her sexuality.  Kya, at least, knew how to handle the unexpected surprise with grace and acceptance and love, which made the episode bearable.

“Rod & Ebony” was different, and even more uncomfortable as Nev awkwardly navigated his way through the unfolding sexuality drama.  Rod met Ebony on a website for gay men, and she claimed that she was transgender but considered herself a woman.  It was later revealed that she was born a woman, but had identified as a lesbian for years prior (which, I guess, for some reason, makes the whole transgender lie thing make sense, maybe?).  In his first encounter with Rod, before any of this was revealed, Nev callously and casually remarks, “I can’t believe you’ve been talking to this guy/girl for four years now,” proving once again that he has no idea how to react in these situations.  Once Ebony confesses that she is not, in fact, transgender, Nev spends the rest of the episode convinced that Rod is a closeted gay man dealing with his sexual suppression.

How They Messed Up

These episodes indicate that Nev has no idea how to identify or characterize those who label themselves “transgender,” because they do not fit into his spectrum of perceived reality.  To Nev, and so many like him, if a person (X) is born male, that person is a man.  If another man (Y) falls in love with X, Y is gay.  However, since we (in America) live in a society where it is (mostly) accepted that biological make-up does not necessarily account for sexuality, why should it have to account for gender identification?

confused

Confused yet?

Me too.  But it’s ok!  Because the map of reality regarding sexuality is constantly changing and, at times, it is easy to get lost.

Redefining Reality

This show seems so indicative of where we stand culturally.  As a society, America has grown more tolerant of non-heterosexual people, but not completely understanding.  The lines between sexuality are thin, sometimes nonexistent and constantly changing.  That which is perceived to be different can have a hard time finding a place to fit into our definition of reality, unless we change that definition.  Transgender people are out there (by the time this post is published, 22% of the episodes of this show so far deal with such situations) but so many people have no idea how to react to them (as evidenced by the show’s own host and cameraman).

I’ve always found MTV to be ahead of the curve when it came to social subjects like drug use, single parenthood, and LGBTQ teens – sometimes to the point of exploitation – and I applaud them for including relationships involving transgender people.  I only ask that they and Nev and Max and the rest of the crew strive to be as sensitive and informed as possible about what can be considered “different,” in a sense: be willing to define reality.

I encourage anyone to share their thoughts and opinions, in a respectful way (if at all possible).  I want to know other people’s take on this show with these episodes in mind, and I want to know whether or not I have gone completely off the deep-end, floating in an abyss, reaching for unattainable political correctness.

Until next time,

Veronica
Twenty-three year old NYC resident, undergraduate at Fordham University, journalist-in-training at WFUV, freelance writer, amateur philosopher, occasional photographer, music-enthusiast, Abe Lincoln fangirl.

Communication and Media Studies Rules

In Defense of the Comm Major

“Why not spend more time on the computer contemplating the intricacies of my course of study?  It’s not like I have a social life to attend to.”

This is (kind of) what I thought in the process of creating this blog.  I’ve been down this road before, albeit unsuccessfully.  I hope this will be a turn around for me and my exploration into the wonderful world of Communications and Media Studies.

My name is Veronica (cue collective “Hi, Veronica”) and I hope you enjoy yourself on this side of the Internet.

So, Who Do I Think I Am?

  • I am 23 years young, and an undergraduate student of Communications at Fordham University in the Bronx.
  • I live with a graduate student of Communications, and we spend many an evening engaged in debates over McLuhan or Postman or whether Honey Boo Boo is an art work. (If only I were joking.)
  • I’ve done the blogging thing before with a nightlife-oriented start-up in Manhattan.  It was fun, and I like fun, but I’m narrowing my focus these days.
  • I did not become a Communications Major to drink my way through college (that’s what Art History is for).

Before I make this all about me (as I am wont to do) I compel you to ask yourself: What – if any – part of your life is not mediated?

Do you find that your day begins with a get-pumped theme song as your alarm?  Do you watch or listen to or read the news in the early hours of the day?  Do you read textbooks for class or journals and blogs in your professional line of work?  Do you eat lunch in a place with a television?  Do they play music at your local grocer?  Do you send texts and make calls?  Do you e-mail?  Do you use social networking or blog?  Do you read, go to films, or watch favorite television shows in your downtime?

Starting to see my point?

These guys know what I'm talking about.

These guys know what I’m talking about.

I was traveling the interwebs today and found a particularly lovely and simplified version of an argument I have heard over and over again regarding my choice of major:

ObsidianZ writes here:
“I still have no idea what ‘communications’ is supposed to be.
So yeah, I think it’s a bullshit degree.”

I’m not going to make any sweeping generalizations about the other people engaged in my course of study.  I cannot speak for all of us.  Let me, instead, tell you what I have found the butt-of-so-many-jokes “Comm Major” to include and why I do not find it, as *ObZ so eloquently phrases it, “bullshit:”

I became a Communications Major because I wanted a course of study that included provocative, critical analysis about myself and my society, psychology, sociology and philosophy, peppered with popular culture history and contemporary industry training.

I wanted to read and write and learn more about the theories regarding the technology and institutions around which my life revolves.  (What does this mean for me as an American?  A student?  A woman?)

All that, and I wanted a lucrative, fulfilling career at the end of this arduous process commonly known as “higher education.”  Maybe I will go into research and development, academia, television or radio, journalism, music marketing, photography, or public relations.  Maybe I will be able to attain that of which I have dreamed since I learned every letter’s shape – a writing career.

My point is, all this and more is possible with the degree I seek.  If you’re a Communications and Media Studies major like me, welcome friend! If you’re a non-believer, I implore you to read on and keep your mind open. (Or at least, stop calling me a drinking major.)

Until next time,

Veronica
Twenty-three year old NYC resident, undergraduate at Fordham University, journalist-in-training at WFUV, freelance writer, amateur philosopher, occasional photographer, music-enthusiast, Abe Lincoln fangirl.