by carl wilson

Notes on Hip (II)


Some points that didn't get made in the mad whirl of this weekend's column: As I said, in John Leland's Hip: The History, a sound analysis of the wend and way of "hip" through the past few centuries comes to a fishtailing anticlimax when he hits the slippery turf of the present day. Seems as though Leland is at his best filtering through the received wisdom, and has trouble with material that's not old enough to come predigested.

So he lopes through obvious observations of the ubiquity of the signifiers of the old hip - delayed marriage, loosened social ties, sexual openness, etc etc. - especially in "rebel sell" advertising. Yet of course what was hip in the past nearly always becomes the appropriated common coin in the marketplace of the next generation - that cycle has been fairly consistent for a century. He also notes that the "white nigger" status past white hipsters vied for is now a suburban trope, the "wigger," equal parts minstrelsy and actual racial realignment.

But he snoozes on the globalization of hip that's being brought about by a couple of forces - first the huge access to cultural information that the Internet allows, and second actual economic globalization, which is accelerating change, creating a global elite and a global ghetto, those populations repeating the urbanization patterns that western people went through in the 20th century but at hyperspeed and a previously unimagined scale, which is hot with its own cultural piracies and fusions. (See previous posts on "shanty house" and like noize.) I think "hip" is going to have more and more to do with being jacked into that stream of invention and evasion - and to the extent that "hip" is an interesting category at all (and I agree with Leland that, considered as the channel between mainstream and margin, the productive mistranslation of symbol and sound between the two, it's really interesting), what's hip in the next half-century will pose a real challenge to the smug alterna-whateverism of the North American indie-activist-small-press-etc-etc hipster that's thrived the past quarter-century. (Edited to add: Aaron's observation that crunk and the Nashville Muzik Mafia both hail from "red states" touches the same moving target.)

So here's the hip replacement: Leland shoulda called his last chapter "When Hips Collide," (referring both to the aforementioned clash and to doin' the bump, which is eternally hip), rather than dwelling on trucker caps and other stupid ephemera. In fact, speaking of trucker-hat planet, Leland might even have mentioned Vice magazine's ongoing, infuriating campaign to make open racism and sexism "hip" again - from a global ghetto perspective, perhaps that will prove sadly prescient.

Given Leland was a hip-hop journalist for years, you'd expect him to do better on these subjects. Then again, he's also a former editor of Details; from that p.o.v., the book's a helluva lot sharper than you'd expect.

Further listening: The new Afrika Bambaataa disc shows him still rockin' the world party with sounds from all over you cannot help but bump to. He's a million in hip-hop years but he sounds younger than all the bucks. And Peter Margasak (veteran crit from the Chicago Reader) has a new all-terrain-vehicle, a blog called Worldly Disorientation that's proving to be a good road guide to the whomp of the global ghetto, as well as the world's politer and less perilous precincts.

The Writ | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, November 30 at 1:24 AM | Linking Posts




Zoilus by Carl Wilson