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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

How exactly is Obama "hip"?

One of the things you constantly hear about Obama is that he is "hip." I've never been able to figure out exactly what that means.

Is it because he likes hip hop music? Because he can dance (as he showed on the Ellen Degeneres show)? Is it because he's young? Because he's black? Because he's a leftist? Is it because he's taken cocaine? Or because he likes basketball rather than, say, golf? (Oh, wait a sec, he likes golf a lot too.)

"Hip" is one of those hazily defined terms which everyone thinks he has a sense of. But the definition of that quality also seems to vary with each person.

In order to clear up the confusion I decided to look up what Wikipedia had to say on the matter:

Hipster refers to a subculture of young, recently settled urban middle class adults and older teenagers that appeared in the 1990s. The subculture is associated with independent music, a varied non-mainstream fashion sensibility, liberal or independent political views, alternative spirituality or atheism/agnosticism, and alternative lifestyles. Interests in media include independent film, magazines such as Clash, and websites like Pitchfork Media.

Well, for starters, Obama, a product of the Chicago political machine, is definitely urban. And until he was elected U.S. Senator -- and his wife got that big raise, and he wrote those best-selling books -- he was definitely middle class. 

His musical tastes when young ran to Grammy Award-winning artists from ten years before, which doesn't exactly sound "hip." On the other hand, it does connote a certain retro sensibility which is often associated with hipsters. And Obama has hosted Jay-Z and Beyonce and Herbie Hancock at the White House. So he passes on that score.

As far as his fashion sensibility, these days we mostly see him in a Presidential suit and tie. But when he was young and freer to just be himself, he did show "non-mainstream" taste in clothing, at least in hats:

As far as "liberal or independent political views," Obama, as a friend of Hugo and Fidel, gets an A+. 

When it comes to "alternative spirituality or atheism/ agnosticism," Obama also seems to qualify. As a youngster in Indonesia, he was listed on his school forms as a Muslim. While in Chicago, he attended the Trinity United Church, where the Reverend Jeremiah Wright preached black nationalism. These would both qualify as "alternative" to mainstream American religions. Since he has been in the White House, Obama has not attended regular services anywhere, which hints at a certain atheism/agnosticism as well. Another A+. 

When it comes to alternative lifestyles, well, being actively gay undoubtedly qualifies.

I have no idea what Obama's taste in movies, magazines, and websites runs to. But he's pretty much gotten straight A's on his Wikipedia-definition-report-card, so we must conclude that he is indeed hip. 

On the other hand, Wikipedia is obviously a mainstream website, so doesn't that fact -- by their own definition -- preclude them from being "hip?" And if you're not "hip" yourself, doesn't that at a certain level disqualify you from being qualified to define the term?

But let's ignore that for the moment. Wikipedia does mention that the term "hip" originated during the Jazz Age to connote aficionados of that scene. The term was later co-opted by beatniks during the 1950's. Later, in the 60's, the term morphed into "hippie."

The whole movement gives off the distinct air that white people who try to act black give off: the air of people trying desperately hard to be cool. You would think that as a black man, Obama would be exempt from that accusation. But even there, he sports unexpected credentials. Although he himself is half black, there was very little that was genuinely black in his upbringing. After his father deserted the family when Obama was two, Obama was brought up in Kansas, Hawaii, and Indonesia, with limited contact with black people. So when he got to college, and especially when he arrived in Chicago to organize the place, he had to make a conscious effort to become truly black.

Reading between the lines in the Wikipedia article, it seems that the entire history of hipness consists of various youth groups "inventing" a new culture in an attempt to appear different and modern and "with it" and, basically, better than everybody else. By doing this, of course, they prove only that they are the same as everyone else.

So, yes, Obama is definitely hip.

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