Hipsters and Kid Art

The obituary for hipsters by Mark Greif in New York magazine (excerpted from this) is interesting enough that you should probably read the whole thing. But I want to highlight one paragraph. Here’s the lead-in:

Contemporary hipsterism has been defined by an obsessive interest in the conflict between knowingness and naïveté, guilty self-awareness and absolved self-absorption.

Greif’s main examples are Dave Eggers (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, McSweeney’s) and Wes Anderson (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums).

The tensions of this art revolved around the very old dyad of adulthood and a child-centered world, but landed heavily on the side of the child. Formally, there was an aestheticization of the mode of pastiche, which Fredric Jameson identified in the early eighties as a characteristic mode of postmodern narrative. Here, however, “blank parody” gave way to a reconstruction of past techniques more perfect than the originals, in an irony without sarcasm, bitterness, or critique. Reflexivity was used as a means to get back to sentimental emotion.

Keep in mind that, for an art critic, to call something “sentimental” is about the same as calling it “worthless.”

This observation – that much of what is “hip” in art today is overly concerned with the stuff of childhood – has been running through my posts on this blog for a while. There was the skepticism I showed for people like Neil Gaiman (Coraline) and Dave Eggers, again, with Spike Jonze (Where the While Things Are) who translate kids’ stories into big movies that are supposed to appeal to adults. There was a takedown of superhero comics (like Kick-Ass), which have become a huge industry, even though they almost never rise above their adolescent premise. And there was a whole post about the trend of adults reading YA books that was so inflammatory I had to remove it from the blog.

Lately it’s been hip for adults to make and consume art that’s essentially for children. I don’t know if the hipster is dead, as Greif says, but I hope this part of hipsterism is dead.



  1. “I hope this part of hipsterism is dead.”

    So do I, but I’m not holding my breath. I think it’s important to realize that it’s not just that hipsters are producing and consuming “art” that’s made for children, but they are fetishizing nostalgia for their own childhood pop art and culture. A lot of what we see is just a rehash of what kids liked in the ‘80s. Of course there’s a million examples of this, and we saw Hot Topic offering Duck Hunt T-shirts years ago. But look also at the insane popularity of Roller Derby among hip young crowds in New York (I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with it, but it’s certainly part of that vein of nostalgia that also explains the ugly ‘80s-style sweaters and high-top sneakers that are replacing the faux-nature fashion that Greif described. Oh and p.s. I’ve been bitching about those “Elk,” “Deer,” “Bear”-monikered bands for months. Though of course that style extends beyond band names to music with chirping birds in the background such as The Elected. Oops.)

    I think this cloying, slightly disturbing (but somehow inviting) trend is exemplified by an ongoing event I just found out about yesterday: The Knitting Factory hosts a Saturday afternoon “Spoons, Toons & Booze” event where they play Saturday morning cartoons (only those we remember from our own childhoods, of course) and serve sugar cereals … but you can buy drinks almost like you’re a real adult. What a confused generation we are.


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