authenticity

Criterion Files

Tune into VH1 Classics on any given day, and this is something you’re likely to see: a rock video of a mid-80s hair band playing on a giant stage, complete with sleek cinematography, wide camera angles, and a stadium-sized audience packed to the brim. At first you might be confused, thinking that this is possibly some Whitesnake or Guns N’ Roses song that somehow escaped your memory. But then the music video ends and in the bottom left corner the band’s name comes up. You’ve never heard of them before, and you’ve definitely never heard this song before. Yet this video depicts monstrous popularity that suggests nothing less than massive cultural phenomenon. While it’s possible for a one-hit wonder to develop this degree of renown for a certain frame of time, it becomes something of a schizophrenic moment when you consider that this hit single both inaugurated the now-forgotten band’s moment of popularity and depicted it simultaneously. With so many hair bands, how is it possible that every single one of them sells out stadium-size crowds? The answer, of course, can only be one thing: an association with mass popularity is, for hair bands, only a reality for the privileged few, but for the rest it’s a fabrication that’s all part of the musical aesthetic – it’s what makes this subgenre of rock that’s reliant on spectacle so spectacular. It’s fitting, then, that one of the landmark mockumentaries of American filmmaking chose as its subject a genre that itself relies […]

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Culture Warrior

Hipster is a term that is difficult to define, mainly because its definition has changed so much over time. The term (arguably) first entered mass culture with the publication of Norman Mailer’s 1957 essay, “The White Negro: Superficial Reflections on the Hipster,” which recounts the rise of the jazz-age hipster from the 1920s-40s and its later manifestation in Beat culture. In this controversial piece, Mailer states, “You can’t interview a hipster because his main goal is to get out of a society which, he thinks, is trying to make everyone over in its own image.” Thus from the very outset early in the twentieth century, the hipster remains elusive in terms of providing a self-definition. The hipster thus became defined instead by those observing from the outside. To self-identify as a hipster in early-mid twentieth century subcultures was to, in effect, not be a hipster at all. Thus, the very definition of a hipster, if we can even call it that, becomes a self-contradicting Catch-22. In the age of jazz and the Beats, hipsterism was a means of deliberately constructed self-identification within an authentic counterculture (though such identification remained purposefully vague to those outside that culture). 20th century subcultures and countercultures have continually defined themselves through association with a certain brand of decidedly non-mainstream music. While the term “hipster” has moved in and out of use, the notion behind it has remained through each decade with each major shift in countercultural expression, from psychadelia to punk to goth to grunge […]

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