An account of N+1’s symposium “What Was the Hipster?” conducted in early 2009 at the New School University
Sitting in the front row to the left of the panel was, if I am not mistaken, the lead singer of Vampire Weekend, Ezra Koenig. I remembered reading something by Elif Batuman, a frequent N + 1 contributor and author of “The Possessed,” about a correspondence between her and Koenig, how he had sent her some short stories and she had remarked about liking them and admiring his attitude (1).
I wore slim APC jeans, a buttoned down pin-stripe oxford shirt (untucked), Sperry topsiders and a wool duffle coat. I was accompanied by my girlfriend, an associate menswear designer at a luxury clothing brand. During the symposium, panelist Christian Lorentzen made a derisive comment about people working in the fashion industry and the entire audience laughed. My girlfriend was not particularly hurt by these remarks, but it must have been an interesting and unique experience for her. How many people have overheard their profession and livelihood ridiculed to the approval and laughter of 100 people in a small room?
The audience, save Koenig, was not dressed interestingly and did not strike me as anyone’s idea of hip or cool.
The most memorable panelists were Christian Lorentzen and DJ Rupture. The moderator was Lorentzen’s sister - her exchanges with her brother were familial and charming and a welcome reprieve from the seriousness of the setting. A lot of time was used in an effort to determine the exact characteristics of the hipster. DJ Rupture talked about cultural transfusion and the globalization of subculture [lingering on the phenomenon of peruvian hipsters he had recently come into contact with, who he characterized as “not as cool” as the audience (his flattery elicited titters)]. Lorentzen appeared surly and spoke frequently of financial difficulty and unemployment.
During the Q and A a mid twenties male shoehorned a question into praise of the magazine and its contributors and a plea for them to keep working at it. Another young man appeared agitated and said the discussion of characteristics of hipsters crucially missed that being hip is about being the coolest person in the room and that it is something intangible and perhaps an eternal feature of human sociality.
I tried to imagine what a person in Ezra Koenig’s situation would be getting from the conversation, whether or not he saw himself as a hipster, or an intellectual, or what. At the end of the symposium one of the panelists announced that it would later become a pamphlet and published by N + 1 (2).
Paddy Johnson, the blogger behind Art Fag City, nervously asked a question which seemed to confuse the entire panel, and then herself. When she blogged about the event I left an anonymous comment saying that she was cute (3).
3: http://www.artfagcity.com/2009/04/16/what-was-the-hipster/ *Brian*