Monday, January 10, 2005

Legends of the anti-hip

The new, the happenin', the blogospherically approved online magazine n+1 has a piece that demonstrates the Escher print problem of trying to prove your hip-ness by identifying the passing of someone else's hip-ness, an exercise that requires the writer to first prove that the person who is now un-hip was hip, which means describing the person in his hip stage, which makes him sound hip all over again, which he can't be, because the premise of the piece is that he isn't hip, so that either the premise is wrong, in which case the person is hip, or the premise is right and he's not hip so the writer's description of him as hip is wrong, which means that he's not hip, so the premise is wrong. Are you going up the staircase here or down it?

Anway the piece is by Christian Lorentzen and the formerly hip are Wes Anderson and his demographic cohort of young bohemians.

I don't agree with much of anything that Lorentzen says about the Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.

It's not a surprise that the director of Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, and The Life Aquatic might have some problems with adult life, although I'm more intrigued by a complementary problem that, based on Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic, he seems to have, the problem of feeling old before his time with all his best work behind him. But I didn't think that Bill Murray's line late in the movie when he says that 11 and a half was his favorite age expressed a wish that he had never grown up or an admission that life is all downhill after a person hits puberty.

Eleven and a half is the age Owen Wilson's character was when he wrote his fan letter to Steve Zissou and inadvertently called to Zissou's attention the fact that he was a father.

When Cate Blanchett lays her hand on her pregnant belly and tells Murray that in 12 years her baby will be 11 and a half, she's trying to reassure him that there will always be little boys who will hero worship Steve Zissou or at least that she will bring up her son to do so. And I thought when Zissou says that 11 and a half was his favorite age he was both thanking her and telling her that no other little boys will ever replace in his heart the one who wrote him that letter, the one who grew up to be the son he's just lost.

That's how I took it anyway.

But maybe it was just words Anderson was putting into Zissou's mouth to tell us he, Anderson himself, wishes he had never grown up.

What I found most interesting in Lorentzen's essay though was his description of the hipsters whose time is supposedly passing---they sound just like the artists, would-be artists, and bohemian hangers-on I knew when I was in my 20s. And I'll bet that a description of my crowd would sound to people who lived in Greenwich village in the 60s a lot like their crowd.

Lorentzen seems to think that the hipsters are dying out because they are a sort of Darwinian failure, a non-viable species that deserves to go extinct. But if the hipsters are fading, it's only because they are either succeeding as artists and moving up or they have failed and they are moving on to other things.

The fashions change but the circumstances don't, and it's the circumstances that create the types. The circumstance that shaped my friends' lives back then are the same ones that shaped the hipsters' lives in the 90s and will shape the lives of the twentysomethings moving into their rathole apartments and lofts and taking over their jobs at Starbucks---the problem of trying to get an artistic career started in the big city.

Thanks to Phoebe Maltz, who has her own problems with Lorentzen's article and with Wes Anderson.


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