Mac political hipsters: neocon cool

By Matt Won

Hipster’s a term with a lot of baggage.

Most of the real estate of hipster’s popular definition is tied up in coffee shops, skinny jeans, and trend-hopping politics (the Hipster Olympics video on Youtube, right?). But I want to liberate the word because these superficial semiotics obscure the more universal mechanisms of hipsterness, the ones at work right here in our college.A curious dialectic is at work at Macalester. There are undeniably many of us who lead lives of commitment, working tirelessly to make the world a better place. But the imminent shadow of this proud tradition is a noxious cultural disease.

This shadow is ex-leftist malaise. Its most telling symptom is the eye roll.

Much of this malaise stems from our ambiguous relationship to the language of our performances of academia in our papers, and the dissonance between these relatively arcane discourses and our everyday interactions.

The inability to reconcile this jargon with its instant self-evident pretentiousness in conversational settings leads us to disparage it, to preempt accusations of douchebaggery.

But this reflexive disparagement too often short circuits our ability to create dialogue, and stunts the development of necessary skills: the ability to practically utilize our theoretical work, and to bridge the enormous gap between our privilege and our academic knowledge with the different knowledge and the disparate needs of the extramural world.

An essential element of hipsterness is turning feigning disinterest into an art form. Feigning disinterest is an important skill. To wit: being dismissive.

This dismissiveness, oft en coming as the eye roll, greets a variety of critiques or other efforts to improve our own attitudes and conduct or the world.

The eye roll isn’t a calculated theoretical or philosophical disagreement: it’s the normative arm of the status quo reaching out to contain any threats to itself.

Dismissal is the essence of conservatism: the claims of groups that argue against the status quo are shrugged off as out of the norm. And those attempting to change the norm are just trying too hard: the epitome of unhipness.

Thus we see the emergence of a strain of Macalester hipster: those above the rat race of trying to change the world. The hallmark of this genus is an attitude and practice of ambiguously ironic conservatism.

As with all irony, its philosophy and practice, its surface and dissemblance, are incestuously intertwined. This backdoor stealth campaign of conservatism is dangerous and seductive. It is a critique of critiques that is all style and no substance, making combating it often as effective as punching water.

This revolutionary conservatism, this ex-left malaise, was on disgusting display at the nexus of the Politically Incorrect party last January. The party was the logical conclusion of Macalester’s precipitous longitudinal drop off in the recruitment of minority and lower-income students, the inability of us students to reconcile our underdeveloped ability to empathize, and the blinders that our privilege keeps on us.

This hipsterness rationalizes our limited experience and allows us to valorize it, ending the quest for interactions and experiences to begin removing those blinders. I don’t know exactly what African-Americans felt after that party, but I can try to understand why: not simply to “feel their pain” but to shake my frame of reference to better see the workings of the structure of privilege built around me to be invisible and buy me into it.

The dismissal is a learned behavior: it excuses our failings of vision and understanding, and mediates our relationship with the status quo. We’re seeing it this year in the demise of co-ed bathrooms in Kirk. How are we to bring about a future where gender has lost all of its crushing and weaponized power when the smallest steps toward that world are shot down at the slightest feeling of uneasiness?

We find ways to rationalize our succumbing to that easiness, and the dismissal mechanism is what we end up with.

The status quo is always recruiting for partisans, and we publish them in our opinion pages almost every week.

The status quo will always reward women down with misogyny, racial minorities who are OK with racist behavior. A friend of a friend at a similar school is a homosexual who uses the new conservative hipsterdom to gain favor. Instead of speaking out when he’s put in a situation: he always simply calls out “heteronormativity” and then laughs. This is the malaise of the ex-left, those who have given up on the enormous task of trying to make things better.

Those of us in similar situations, for example minorities, know the feeling: we all shuck and jive, at least some of the time, because it’s what people want to see or hear.

I’ve spent a lot of time being Saul, within and away from these pages. It’s a day-to-day struggle, but I’m trying to turn it around. And I’m doing my best to be Paul.