I’m going to start by saying that everything that follows is totally disputable, as in the words of Paul:
“Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.” – Romans 14:1
Mark Van Steenwyk has written a series on “hipster” culture and what he calls the “style of subversion”, over at Jesus Manifesto. It’s great and I highly recommend it, it has been helpful for me (thanks Mark).
Something that struck me was in Part I, when Mark notes:
You see, I came of age in the mid 90s. The commodification of the counter-culture was well under way, but it could hardly be called mainstream yet. Because of this, most of the “alternative” folks that I knew were social outcasts, or at least were socially akward. Like me. To put it indelicately, most of the counter cultural types I knew weren’t academic enough to be nerds, weren’t athletic enough to be jocks, and weren’t attractive enough to be popular. The counter cultural types tended to hang out together with all the other lower-order social groupings. And since I was unpopular (in fact, one poll that the girls did in junior high put me as the 3rd from the bottom in the social pecking order).
So, my brain was confounded by what I saw at PAPA Fest. Most of the 20 something crowd was attractive. There were young men aplenty with chiseled, shirtless, chest throwing footballs in a perfect spiral to other young men with similarly perfectly chiseled chests. In fact, if it weren’t for their dreads, I would swear that they were jocks.
Mark goes on to say:
Members of a majority or dominant group may (perhaps) achieve alterity by being ostracized as a subversive or deviant. However, we live in a culture where it is easy for mainstream twenty-somethings (and younger) to embrace the style of subversion. And because they speak a certain lingo, wear certain clothes, and use certain products, it is socially understood that these stylish subversives care about social outcasts, the poor, and the downtrodden, even if no tangible evidence exists of that care. In other words: it is great when people begin to challenge the status quo as they pursue justice and mercy, but how excited should we be when it is very easy in our society to look, sound, and act radical without it costing anything?
Even more, what happens when hipsterism gets so tied into consumer capitalism (you know: Messenger Bags, Hot Topic, Ipod, Apple, Moleskine, American Apparel…) that you become a radical in appearance, but a profound reinforcer of the status quo in your way of life?
I want to take this in an entirely different direction than Mark might have taken it but his thoughts got me thinking. Up until two years ago, I was a fat guy. I was 6’3 and 280 pounds. I was not healthy and it had a lot to do with a cycle of poor body image mixed with eating to feel better and drinking alcohol excessively to forget how hopelessly unattractive I felt.
But a couple of years ago, I was called by Christ, and have lost a lot of weight and stopped drinking heavily (no… this is not one of those “testimonies”, I’m just telling it like it happened). (more…)