Skip

Mob Deep
February 22, 2006 7:37 AM   Subscribe

Remember flash mobs? Two and a half years later, the inventor, the mysterious "Bill," reveals himself as.... an editor at Harper's, aka the Metafilter of the print world. He unmasks himself in a mammoth rumination on hipster culture, an attack on flash-mob cooptation, and a paean to Stanley Milgram. Harper's is serializing the essay on its website; the first part is up here.
posted by oldleada (42 comments total)

 
How could he have thought it wouldn't get coopted?
posted by delmoi at 7:43 AM on February 22, 2006


Also saw a Verizon commercial that was basically flashmob based. People get directions via text messages on their cellphone, and finally arrive at an old barn with some bland generic pop-punk concert going on (I think Good Charlotte).

Then all the kids hold up their cell phones as if they were lighters. All smiles on these pop-punkers.
posted by delmoi at 7:45 AM on February 22, 2006


This is fascinating. I'm not sure I "buy" that it was all a sociological experiment on hipsterism and deindividuation, but it makes for a compelling mode of analysis.

I participated in the second Montreal flashmob, and what most struck me then was the bright side of "deinviduation" (possibly because the task wasn't "pointless" as in the OED flashmob definition). Here was a spontaneous community of people, doing something absolutely extraordinary. It felt so great to suddenly be shoulder to shoulder with people, doing something whimsical, fun, unexpected and, yeah, beautiful.

I don't know NYC hipsters, really, but the Montreal crowd was students, twentysomethings, artists, - all the groups Bill cites, - and yet there wasn't anything vacuous, "MySpace" or hipper-than-thou about it. Just young people with easy smiles, doing something special on a sunny afternoon.
posted by Marquis at 7:50 AM on February 22, 2006


The timing's about right: the world has had just about all it can stand of hipster culture.
posted by slatternus at 7:50 AM on February 22, 2006


I've been reading through the essay at home, it's a bit much, but I like the tone. It's ironic without being too snarky (although there is plenty of snark), and has some insightful things to say about the relationship between the internet and the propagation of popular culture. The graphs are frequently hilarious.
posted by OmieWise at 7:52 AM on February 22, 2006


Stupid dirty hippies! I mean hipsters!
posted by Robot Johnny at 7:52 AM on February 22, 2006


So, what, now The Hipsters(tm) are going to disband? I didn't even have time to grow a moustache!
posted by everichon at 7:53 AM on February 22, 2006


It's all about ME!
posted by HTuttle at 8:01 AM on February 22, 2006


Hipsters dislike hipsters, which is why hipsters never admit that they are indeed hipsters. This guy fits the profile pretty well.
posted by MillMan at 8:07 AM on February 22, 2006


The "hipster" culture is simply a byproduct of the real dynamic culture of non-comformity, which has always existed, and always gives birth to counterculture movements. But I think it's fair to say that "hipster" in it's most accepted definition, died with Urban Outfitters "vintage" t-shirts.
posted by iamck at 8:13 AM on February 22, 2006


Cooptation? What the fuck is that? Co-opting perhaps?

Interesting stuff though.
posted by bouncebounce at 8:23 AM on February 22, 2006


He's got a point, but to look at it from a situationist perspective, wouldn't the spectacle that a flashmob creates produce individuation amongst the spectators?
posted by The White Hat at 8:30 AM on February 22, 2006


According to every demographic measurement, I'm the quintessential hipster, but dead is dead. Somehow, all the old hipster schticks and fascinations seem glaringly anachronistic in an Iraq/Afghanistan/soon-to-be Syria and Iran world. In a world of Chinese censorship and honor gang rapes, hipsterism stands exposed as having nothing meaningful to say. Increasingly, I find myself repelled almost to the point of nausea by a trivial, attention-deficit culture that finds "Brokeback Mountain Re-enacted in LEGO! and "Anti DRM protests" to be equally fascinating.
posted by slatternus at 8:38 AM on February 22, 2006


Feh.

Here's a much earlier flash mob.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 8:43 AM on February 22, 2006


Increasingly, I find myself repelled almost to the point of nausea by a trivial, attention-deficit culture that finds "Brokeback Mountain Re-enacted in LEGO! and "Anti DRM protests" to be equally fascinating.

I never thought of Cory Doctorow and Xeni Jardin as being even remotely hip. Guess I'm out of tune with the times.
posted by spiderwire at 8:54 AM on February 22, 2006


Slatternus, boing-boing sometimes makes me want to puke too, but it is that simultaneous awareness and cynicism of the inane that ensures that we'll still be sneaker wearing hipsters when the barbarians are at the gates.
posted by dobie at 8:55 AM on February 22, 2006


Please, the word is cooptationousness.
posted by the jam at 9:03 AM on February 22, 2006


I never thought of Cory Doctorow and Xeni Jardin as being even remotely hip. Guess I'm out of tune with the times.

Not out of tune, just a little ahead of the curve, I think. Boing!Boing!s 15 minutes seem to be just about over. Four egos doth not a community make, or something like that.
posted by doctor_negative at 9:03 AM on February 22, 2006


Graydon Carter predicted that irony is dead right after 9-11. Had that been true, hipster culture would have ended that day, but Williamsburg and the many wanna-be-Williamsburgs in every metro area continue to teem with young, moderne ironists...
posted by twsf at 9:07 AM on February 22, 2006


Um, forgive my ignorance of modern parlance, but wasn't the inventor of flash mobs more rightly Larry Niven? Or is "flash crowd" too inexact a phrase?
posted by kalessin at 9:16 AM on February 22, 2006


It's interesting that he regards scensterism as some unique invention of post-millenial NYC hipsters and something that hasn't been going on since, say, Paris in the 19th century (and earlier, but that's just the first place that came to mind). I also find it a bit lame that he has to actually explain his brilliant social commentary performance art project to us. If the artist has to explain it, doesn't that just mean that it was a pretty crappy idea in the first place?
posted by Kronoss at 9:19 AM on February 22, 2006


I think hipsterism in its current form is a result of the push to "be cool" spread by things like television since we were young. People who weren't "the cool kids" in their teens seem to focus heavily on being cool in their twenties.

A friend recently was asked why he wanted everyone to like him, he said that it was the result of being made fun of so much in grade school. Sometimes, I feel the same way.
posted by drezdn at 9:20 AM on February 22, 2006


It's not that things like Boing Boing and Flash Mobs are bad, just that it's hard for me to take the preoccupations of hipster culture that seriously anymore. Like it or not, we've all been drafted into a global war against converging forces of totalitarianism and superstition. I guess I'm just waiting for hipsterism to coalesce into something that's going to participate in that fight, instead of flitting endlessly from one sensation du jour to the next.
posted by slatternus at 9:25 AM on February 22, 2006


Although Boing Boing is actually a leader in the DRM/Copyright battle, so ... bad example.
posted by slatternus at 9:27 AM on February 22, 2006


Kalessin, the article mentions "Flash Crowd". The name 'flash mob' is actually derived from that story.

Good article, but it seems that Wasik set out with the premise that hipster culture was shallow and more engaged with style than substance, and then devised a situation that would show it. The flash mob doesn't really do much of anything beyond confirm the author's opinion of NY hipsters. Mind you, I've only read the first section. Now I'm going to go grab the print version. So at 2pm today, let's have all Mefites converge on the same bookstore...
posted by palinode at 9:32 AM on February 22, 2006


I'm too old to be a hipster, I guess. I was a high school hippie and took up music and performance art in my twenties...as posters have said above, there will always be Bohemians. So, I read the Harper's article over the weekend and I was a little perplexed about the author's point. The strange graphs didn't help any.

Anyway, the flash mob my ten-year old daughter and I went to in Denver was like a happy all ages what-the-hell kind of thing. I had no idea I was part of a somber sociopolitcal experiment, thank God.
posted by kozad at 9:49 AM on February 22, 2006


Geez, if Harper's is MeFi, then MeFi has jumped the shark, to mix metaphors.

Also, where are our great original works by Mark Twain?
posted by mwhybark at 10:15 AM on February 22, 2006


John Brunner used 'flash mob' in one of his books.... which I think predates Larry Niven by at least a decade.


then again, I may be full of shit about the timeline.
posted by merelyglib at 10:17 AM on February 22, 2006


I'm so hip, I don't even know what a flash mob is. Oh, and you're not hip.
posted by MarshallPoe at 10:55 AM on February 22, 2006


mwhybark - here

I'm too poor to be a hipster =(
posted by PurplePorpoise at 11:08 AM on February 22, 2006


Flash mobs are more fun than hating hipsters.
posted by unknowncommand at 11:19 AM on February 22, 2006


But has anyone explored flash lynching hipsters? Now that's ironic.
posted by iamck at 11:34 AM on February 22, 2006


"Flash Lynching Hipsters"--that's gonna be the name of my next band!!! Iamck, can you play bass? We're gonna be big in Japan.
posted by MarshallPoe at 12:05 PM on February 22, 2006


"Flash Lynching Hipsters"--that's gonna be the name of my next band!!! Iamck, can you play bass? We're gonna be big in Japan.

This automatically makes you a hipster.
posted by NoMich at 12:14 PM on February 22, 2006


I just love that harpers is linking to Satan's Laundromat (photo courtesy of...).
posted by shoepal at 1:13 PM on February 22, 2006


Ok first off, I don't get why Bill Wasik is being vilified for a novel idea. Easily defined a hipster is someone who dress like they are somebody, but in truth they don't do shit. They're tourists, and no one likes a tourist, so they hide it with some fashion sense.

Bill creates something, McSweeny's creates something, I don't know about Pitchfork, and I don't really care.

I created Urban Golf in SF 5 years ago, and now they use it for McDonald's commercials. Am I retroactively deemed a hipster because I created something that's trendy and passe?

Do I care my idea has been co-opted? No, the point of being an innovator is getting bored with your toys when they lose luster, throwing them away and create something new. Getting your ideas commercialized is a fantastic excuse to set them on fire and do something new.

You know what makes a 'hipster' someone who is intimately aware and disgusted with pop culture, yet does not thing to change it, unless you count spitballs metafilter comments. I'm sure a lot of you have your side projects that a rewarding and creative. However I think a lot of you are mistaking someone's approach to a defect in popular culture as being the problem.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 1:52 PM on February 22, 2006


You know that game where there's something in a paper bag, and you have to figure it out by touching it without looking at it? That's the game of "hipster" posts on Mefi for me. I've never been to New York, and I don't live in the US. I have no idea what a hipster is. But it's fun to gradually build up this image from all the MeFi posts about hipsters.

The one sticking point I've got is that everyone talks about how hipsters don't take anything seriously, but then talks about Pitchfork being all full of hipsters, and Pitchfork always struck me as being pretty damn serious.
posted by Bugbread at 8:59 PM on February 22, 2006


The meta-hipster has 20/20 hindsight.
posted by user92371 at 11:48 PM on February 22, 2006


everyone talks about how hipsters don't take anything seriously

I think the criticism I see here is more that hipsters fail to take serious things more seriously than the cultural ephemera that seems to fill and define their lives. Thus, Pitchfork can still count (pop music is not the most important thing in the world). Although who knows, maybe their staff is full of anti-war/EFF/human rights activists, and Pitchfork is just their day job?
posted by skoosh at 5:21 AM on February 23, 2006


There's something that bothered me about the tone of the Harper's article, and I think MillMan put his finger on it:

Hipsters dislike hipsters, which is why hipsters never admit that they are indeed hipsters. This guy fits the profile pretty well.

I suspect that the same thing may be true of some of the mefites who complain about hipsters the most...
posted by klausness at 10:40 AM on February 23, 2006


suspect that the same thing may be true of some of the mefites who complain about hipsters the most...

I think complaining about hipsters makes you "authentic" (as if that word means anything either).

Ok first off, I don't get why Bill Wasik is being vilified for a novel idea.

I don't think he's being vilified. I also don't think it was his idea, but maybe I'm wrong.
posted by mrgrimm at 3:37 PM on March 13, 2006


oh, and fuck Harper's. I won their puzzle back in March 2005, and I never got a free subscription. SHENANIGANS!
posted by mrgrimm at 3:38 PM on March 13, 2006


« Older Thou Knowest O' Lord!   |   But don't hate her when she gets up to leave Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post