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Hipsters, Suburbs, and the Demise of the Modern Family

Yesterday a friend posted this article on Facebook about Hipsters. It's a pretty interesting read so if you have the time I'd recommend it. Reading the article got me thinking about the entire phenomena of "counter culture" in general which prompted me to share some thoughts on the blog.

It seems to me that our current culture is looking for the newest form of "intellectually informed" subversion. Over the centuries "intellectuals" (usually from France) have scorned the "mainstream" in favor of a subversive lifestyle that runs against the grain of the mainstream culture. These intellectuals are jaded by the perceived shallowness of the culture around them and attempt to find depth and meaning through defying the norms. In our day and age the most recent expression of this has arrived in the form of the "hipster". The hipster, in the truest and most admirable form, seeks authenticity and uniqueness in consumption, work, & leisure; in the least admirable forms hipsterdom is merely a mimetic cult in which each members copy and try to outdo the other.

My theory is that the current hipster craze is a result of the detachment caused by the suburbs and the modern family.

The modern culture is highly individualized. The modern family is no different. Each member of the family is its own unique unit that must have its felt needs met. The suburbs have arisen to meet the needs of the individualized family. In the suburbs each member of the family is presented with a spacious suite or wing of the home all to themselves. Moreover, life in the suburbs revolves around a highly individualized culture.

Most days each member of the family awakes, prepares for the day, and eats breakfast apart from every other member. Then each member of the family sets out to differing areas of education or occupation. For the ensuing 10 hours the bread winner sits alone in a cubicle, the children sit in a classroom and learn about the importance of "being true to yourself", and the other parent either stays at home or also works (in either case isolation is the norm). Beginning in the mid afternoon the children are "released" from school while one parent usually is present to help meet the other felt needs of the children by serving as a shuttle service to any number of after school activities. These activities take little or no concern to the family dinner time (along with the work hours of the main bread winner) and thus most nights of the week the family eats dinner separately as well. At the conclusion of the day most members of the family are so worn down by the constant grind of individualism the family can do little more than watch television or surf the internet.

The extreme detachment that this lifestyle creates over time usually finds some form of release or another when the children are removed from the environment as they leave for college. During their college years they are introduced to a true sense of community. They live with people their age and most of them are relieved to be out of the grind of individualistic suburbia. Moreover, considering the liberal nature of most universities, the students are indoctrinated (quite easily) to forget the shallow morality taught to them in their disjointed and compromised suburban church. This often leads to indulgence and experimentation in both sexuality and substance use.

From this point the individual usually goes in one of two directions:

In one instance the cycle of individualism (headed straight for suburban lifestyle) starts over. This happens when the freedom found in licentious behavior is enough of a distraction from the doldrums of individualism. This individual finds themselves in what Walker Percy called "The Malaise". They hide the depression and smallness of their naturally occurring individualism in the distractions of entertainment and consumption; both of which are perfected in the suburban lifestyle.

The second direction is that of the counter culture. This happens when the licentious behavior experienced in escaping the suburbs to the university is not enough of an escape. This does not mean that sexual promiscuity and substance experimentation are shunned, but it normally means that a broader lifestyle shift is in the near future. This individual at least perceives that the distraction of consumption and distraction are not enough to absolve the detachment of suburban individualism. This leads to a scorn of the mainstream (and all that it stands for: usually some sort of angst over a caricature of "capitalism") and an embrace of the counter culture. As stated earlier, the most recent form of this is the hipster movement.

The first instance stated above is obviously tragic because the individual experiencing it rarely has the courage to confront the emptiness and loneliness they are experiencing. That is the power of the individualized culture. The only direction to turn is inward.

The second instance is not so obviously tragic. Instead it is a case of tragic irony. The hipster (in the most recent case) is attempting to outrun the inward implosion of individualism. Yet hipsterdom, along with the entire history of the counter culture, is innately individualistic. Instead of truly escaping individualism it has simply transferred one (shallow) form of entertainment and consumption for another (more "authentic") form of it. Instead of college football and The Pottery Barn it's photo-blogging & China town flea markets. In the search for authenticity is merely a glaze and more convoluted form of distraction (the true beacon of individualism).

Both culture's simply seek distraction from their depressed individualism. The good and the bad of the hipster culture is found in the fact that it perceives the shallow distractions of suburbia (Entertainment Tonight, Sports Center, etc) yet have simply been seduced into another form of distraction (Coffee tasting, Jack Kerouac, etc).

The only true remedy to the errors of both suburban and hipster individualism is Christianity. The essence of the Christian faith is the life, death, resurrection, ascension, and reign of Jesus Christ. Teased out to all its myriad of implications, these events create a community of people that is most closely related to a family. Yet it is not the individualized family that is so clearly seen in the modern suburbs. The liturgy of a richly historical church can teach us so much about how humanity is supposed to operate. A church with a good liturgy teaches its people that their lives are supposed to be centered around communion with God and with one another. In the same way that the church gathers week in and week out to come into the presence of God, commune together with him through his word and at his table, so too are families suppose to operate in the same way day in and day out. The family that is molded by the Christian faith should be operating liturgically (i.e. - communally). Instead of waking up at different times and eating at different times and only coming together to watch T.V. or scroll through social media in the same room, instead the family should be eating together, reading together, and talking together.

In this way that family avoids both the shallow family that modern individualism has created in most suburbs and embraces the authenticity and community that the hipster desires while still avoiding the subjective individualism of hipster culture. Moreover, the true communal nature of this type of living can truly enjoy (not just as distractions) the entertainment of both suburban and hipster culture. If you like college football then that is fine. If you like all sorts of interesting types of coffee, that too, is fine. These sorts of entertainment and consumption no longer serve as forms of distraction but as ways to enjoy life together with the people of God.

Food for thought.


Book Review: A People's History of Christianity Vol 2 (editor Denis Janz)

Book Review: Grassroots Asian Theology by Simon Chan

Book Review: Grassroots Asian Theology by Simon Chan