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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Are you hip?

This morning's NY Times had an article by David Brooks describing the participants at a meeting of the Social and Affective Neuroscience Society as surprisingly "young, hip, and attractive."

"Young" is a quality which is easily quantified, and "attractive," though a concept that varies slightly from beholder to beholder, is something we all know when we see it. But what exactly did Brooks mean by "hip?" defined it as:

1. a. sophisticated; knowing; aware
b. fashionable; stylish

2. of or associated with hipsters or hippies

"Hip" is a word which you'll hear invoked to describe the crowd at a gallery opening, or at a new and fashionable restaurant, or at an exclusive nightclub, or any other place where the young and vain congregate.

I've always found "hip" to be a word that just exudes self-satisfaction. I first heard it in high school, back in the Dark Ages when hippies were still in vogue. People would say, "I'm hip, man," to convey that they were in on the joke. (Though the people who said that almost invariably had no sense of humor.)

The term has always had a strongly leftist bent. (These days it is most often applied to our Hipster-in-Chief, in a transparent effort by the media to contrast him with old fogey Republicans.) It also has fashionista overtones, as well as slight intimations of superior intelligence.

The word is never used by anyone who doesn't consider himself "hip." But what exactly is it that they are hip to? It's not entirely clear. Mostly it bespeaks a certain this-is-not-your-father's-Buick sensibility, a desire to be new and different. This, of course, is one of the oldest desires in the world.

This is the urge which drives most modern artists. (Feel free to judge their work for yourself.)

People who strive to be "hip" are usually trying just a little too hard to be fashionable, in both their dress and in their thinking. When you try that hard to wear clothes that are up to date, you will almost inevitably look silly a couple of years from now. Or maybe even now. (Take a look at any fashion runway if you doubt this.) And when you're trying that hard to be au courant in your thinking, doesn't that mean that you're not really thinking for yourself?

Of course, the main purpose in being "hip" is to feel superior to those who are not.

So -- after that preamble, are you ready to answer the question posed by the headline of this post?


Anonymous said...

My answer: I hope not. Though given the cyclicality of fashions, maybe I'm hip once every couple of decades (like the broken watch that's got the right time twice a day.)

I hope Obama's not too "hip", for his sake and for ours.


John Craig said...

Guy -- You may not be hip (thank goodness) but you're smart and observant, which is infinitely better.

Anonymous said...

Just what do you think the people at the Social and Affective Neuroscience Society conversations are like ? I don't think they're the type of people that I can spend some time with... I'm not young, certainly not hip...and definitely not attractive !!!
Mad Dog
P.S. To find out the real meaning of the word, check out the song
" What is Hip " performed by the Tower Of Power.

John Craig said...

Tom -- You and me both -- and you're more attractive than me. BTW, I just listened to the song on youtube, but couldn't really understand the lyrics, so looked them up elsewhere. Clever, actually, captured the quicksilver nature of the concept pretty accurately.