Monday, 3 October 2011

Bridge Is Over


According to one's prejudices, current occupations in New York could be the inspiring harbinger of further insurrections, or little more than the last gasp of hipster indulgence; before further lockdowns are consolidated. Although some have pointed to the lack of a coherent agenda, a common consensus is now becoming apparent; with specific demands. One things for certain: It's not just those traditionally designated as 'the poor' being hit hard - and enraged - by the abuses and crimes perpetrated by Wall St. The current crisis - or perhaps the global swindle presenting itself as a crisis - is reaching a much wider range of victims than any other recession in living memory. The net is being cast ever wider, and it may not be so much a case of a 'squeezed' middle as an endangered middle. In western nations at least, more and more of the middle class are being proletarianised. Their presence as a stabilising force in society is diminishing rapidly, as the social ladder is kicked away from beneath their feet. Last year, student protests in the UK taught a similar lesson: privileges that many once took for granted are far from guaranteed. They may not be feeling the force of impoverishment, enclosure and crackdown as severely as the 'underclass' has; but the middle classes can easily be brutalised and criminalized if it suits the interests of the powers-that-be. Many a respectable, affluent parent is learning the hard way that police are willing to treat their children in a similar manner to the way they have kids from the 'wrong side of the tracks'. It remains to be seen how this rupture in the social contract plays out.

Watching footage of the above protests, it was (at least initially) striking how very white and middle class the protesters appeared; especially since they take place in one of the world's most cosmopolitan cities. One huge reason for this may be gentrification. A particularly notorious example of this is Brooklyn, site of the bridge face-off. Mayor Gulliani's 'clean-up' of New York was marketed as a brave new world of opportunity, order and cohesion, but for a silent (or rather, marginalised and ignored) majority it was a social nightmare. 'Zero tolerance' didn't just mean cleaner pavements and renovated crack houses. It was also a gloves-off clampdown, enacted by a militarised police force in the name of property and plunder. The cultural vibrancy that attracts the wealthy to once-affordable urban areas became a casualty of asymmetrical class/race warfare as much as civil liberties and public services. Many a major city in western Europe has experienced a similar process, with discord being sown long before the credit crunch. The issues raised by recent riots in London made this discord unavoidable. Despite the speeches of politicians, it will become harder to explain away social unrest with the usual cheap rhetoric of law'n'order and moral decline. Even for those supporting their solutions, at least some antagonisms at the heart of this unrest are apparent.


Until the 90s, Brooklyn was experiencing something of a renaissance, with many of the nation's leading black and hispanic intellectuals, film-makers, artists, musicians and novelists emerging from there. In 1991, Brooklyn's Bed Stuy was billed by Essence magazine as "the happenin' hood". This is no longer the case, as the affordability attracting creative people to an area can be easily transformed into cynical property opportunism, and what amounts to ethnic cleansing in all but name. Corporations and peddlers of luxuries  inevitably followed the money; bringing in plastic surgeons, expensive accountants, estate agents, exclusive restaurants and the familiar shop-front brands that have turned so many cities into shadows of their once-exciting selves. Homogeneity is rarely a fertile ground for innovation. The hated figure of the hipster - a paradoxically monocultural subculture, that convenient whipping post of cultural decline - may now be finding that life isn't all about the LULZ, and their days as apathetic servants of accumulation are numbered. Brooklyn's hipster set may not be inheriting the Earth after all. I expect the generation following them will be less defined (or stereotyped) by privilege, smugness and resignation, and rather more by anger and desperation. With neoliberalism's collapse, the social conflicts it (vainly) tried to brush under the carpet are returning with a vengeance.

So, this being an 80s blog, we'll return to the earlier days of the neoliberal 'experiment', to a time when Brooklyn was a site of cultural vibrancy; the kind of innovation that can emerge from social tension, community identity, and alienation from the mainstream. To a time when popular culture had a bit more moxie, and Reagan's victims found ways to express themselves on a popular platform; for all kinds of purposes. Like early rock'n'roll, country or soul, hiphop made its mark with the 'answer record': where a performer takes umbrage to the statements of another performer; then upping the ante in anticipation of another answer in return. It's a handy way to establish an emerging genre, as it creates a sense of immediacy and anticipation. Their public rows keep the music in the present tense, with listeners positioned as witnesses to a lively argument. It's an extension of the live sporting challenges that are still a key aspect of the genre. As with sport, it has its fair share of regional loyalty.

Of course, as in real life, if dragged on too long it can become tedious and overstated; if not downright unpleasant and violent, but at least in the initial stages it can be fun and entertaining. The below records represent a far less brutal kind of hiphop rivalry than the far more publicised/mythologised ones of the 90s. They were part of 'The Bridge Wars', a feud where two regions laid claim to the creation of hiphop itself. There was some class tension to this, as the Bronx experienced harsher social devastation than Brooklyn since the 'drop dead' 70s. This is reflected in the lyrics, where Brooklyn rappers are dissed as somewhat effete and pampered, in comparison with the more authentically 'hardcore' Bronx. On that count, the Bronx won the feud. However in light of the decades that followed, within the context of future struggles, these tracks gain an unexpectedly mournful tone. Their regional differences melt into air when we take the bigger picture into account. The gentrification that followed - and the Wall St. protests - are but different theatres of attack, enclosure and resistance. There's always the wider war, ready to incorporate and exploit our everyday battles.

15 comments:

Alex Niven said...

Choons! And intriguing parallels and predictions: "I expect the generation following them will be less defined (or stereotyped) by privilege, smugness and resignation, and rather more by anger and desperation. With neoliberalism's collapse, the social conflicts it (vainly) tried to brush under the carpet are returning with a vengeance."

I'd never actually thought about this but it makes a lot of sense. Hipsters are human too! I'd sort of just felt that the affluent would continue to get more and more disengaged, but actually, how could this happen? I guess it's a classic argument about "internal contradictions" but it certainly seems more than plausible and offers a modicum of hope at least.

Mr. W. Kasper said...

Yeah - it is very much a case a case of internal contradictions: Hipsters gentrify, but then they get brutally 'pwned' by the banks too. The decline of the western middle class could go in any direction, really.

I nearly posted something defending hipsters at PL, but its hard to do so I settled for this. Not cos they're ee-full, but because 'hipster' doesn't really mean anything, does it? It just means a trendy UK/US young person of 16 - 35, mainly (but not always) white, from an affluent background, with an ironic-but-still-very-engaged relationship to mainstream crap. I'm not even sure if it means apolitical or reactionary. I've heard terms like 'hipster socialist' or 'hipster environmentalist' quite a bit. It's become such a common term of derision, that its losing all meaning. And no one's as critical of 'hipsters' as hipsters themselves. I was accused by someone of finding 'Nathan Barley' funny, because it was show made for people like Nathan Barley (which was just their lazy way of saying they didn't get the jokes in the show, while trying to sound clever saying it).

'Hipster' was just a shorthand way of bemoaning the decline of oppositional subcultures. It's getting dated now, and the times they are a changin'...

carl said...

either of you guys seen "the Trotsky"? Saw it on the plane....interesting, def fits a left-hipster mould, very smart and wry, very smug and yet does have one or two moments of power and feels like its warping the form of the geeky rom-com in the right direction....

carl said...

you can tell i'm unemployed again can't you!what a flurry of 2am activity!

Mr. W. Kasper said...

No, I've not heard of it. Is it a film or TV show?

I've been detecting more sincerity and passion in recent 'hipster' product though. The 'ironic' bigotry and sneery nihilism is definitely on the way out. Even 'Vice' magazine has been getting all 'dissenting' compared to how it was.

Mr. W. Kasper said...

Heh - on the positive side, unemployment can be good for the mind. I was getting awfully 'slow' pissing around making a contribution to society...

carl said...

It's a film ...repulsive concept... kind of like Juno Or Igby Goes Down witha quirky Marxist spin and a really non-Soviet focus on the heroic individual, but...again, it would just be too easy to adopt a lefter than thou psoition and condemn it for not being Pudovkin...

same as for recent stuff on po-mo...it hit a brick wall, but that doesn't mean soem of what was liberatory or delightful about it cant be redoployed to other ends..

carl said...

yeah i'm trying to type quietly in the dark a foot away from the sleeping missus...scuse the typos

Mr. W. Kasper said...

Sounds interesting - might check it out (I haven't watched a film in ages!).

How's this for internal contradiction? According to the front of today's Telegraph, young people are being 'priced out' of working because of... the minimum wage!

Here's me thinking unemployment was supposed to be bad because it led to lots of people having no money. But silly me, we can easily solve the unemployment problem by not paying anyone for working. That should restore social harmony, eh?

carl said...

is Zizek basically a hipster?

carl said...

i actually wrote a long response about the telegraph thing then accidentally deleted it... disgruntled, went to watch a David Harvey thing in youtube and then the above question popped into my mind

Mr. W. Kasper said...

Zizek's a 'dirty old man' pseudo-hipster. Like those late 60s fiftysomethings who pretended to dig Timothy Leary, so they could grope teenage girls off their faces on drugs.

It's fun slagging him off - I get a rush of hits from Slovenia every time I mention the creep! especially in summer holidays. Hope it's him.

carl said...

aha!so just as that Friedmanite fun park Hong Kong scandalously introduces the minimum wage, we get rid of ours!

though this should mean, in strictly Austrian Economic terms we now shouldn't impose any limits on immigration...oh no hang on we'd have to get rid of the welfare state too...

lets see just how consistently Austrian the Gov is prepared to go...if the do abolish the min wage and destroy the wefare state i think we should INSIST on no immigrion restraints in the name of doctrinal consistency!


AHA....The little comments window was actually just hidden... more typingin the dark fun...

Mr. W. Kasper said...

I reckon the assault on the NHS and welfare state is a two-pronged strategy. Too many unemployed people in good health! If we get 'em back to Victorian levels of poor health (AND WORK FOR NOTHING), it'll be harder to make a stink.

Remember, part of the reason we have both was because the British working class turned out to be shockingly knackered and undernourished when they were getting conscripted for WW1. They got round it in the second one by upping the age limit.

Mr. W. Kasper said...

http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/6470