Hipster article

November 19, 2009

Hipster Age

By Sarah Allen


A lanky, twenty-something kid wearing skinny jeans, retro Adidas and a tasseled scarf walks down U Street towards the Black Cat, an indie music venue in Washington D.C., on a Monday night.  He’s wearing thick-rimmed sunglasses; it’s 11 p.m.

Known as hipsters, these types inhabit urban areas and college campuses nationwide—particularly American University.

But the term hipster had a different connotation in the early twentieth century.  “The hipster as a genus has its roots in the 1930s and ’40s,” said Dan Fletcher, in last July’s issue of Time Magazine.  “Hipsters were usually middle-class white youths seeking to emulate the lifestyle of the largely-black jazz musicians they followed.”  Hipsters then became the beatniks of the fifties and the hippies of the sixties, he said.

 Thirty years later, the movement took a different direction.  “The hipsters of the ‘90s were mostly associated with grunge and indie rock whose messages/lyrics were often about social alienation, apathy and social prejudices,” said AU Sociology Professor Michelle Newton-Francis in an e-mail interview.  

But the hipster image now appears to have a more commercial image.  Seen on college campuses, in cafes, or hanging around in late-night clubs, hipsters typically dress in tight-fitting pants, tasseled scarves, and v-neck t-shirts, but they also have “pretentious musical taste and attitude,” said Amy Goldman, an AU sophomore with indie music taste.  An ongoing debate about modern hipster culture is whether the hipster should be more associated with physical appearance or the stereotypically apathetic, anti-establishment attitude behind it.

“I would characterize their subcultural style as an attitude of detachment to the idea of things in order to diffuse the power of the dominant culture,” Newton-Francis said.  “Hence, they are not apathetic to things going on in our world—they are just using detachment as a way to deconstruct the power that “things” have as dictated by the dominant culture.” 

Some see image as the more predominating factor.  “The image is the largest part of this identity, but that’s intrinsically tied to the sense of irony that accompanies hipsterdom,” said Rachel Carter, a writer and Columbia graduate living in Brooklyn N.Y., a city overrun with hipsters.  

The hipster culture thrives on irony, but simultaneously destroys the formal definition that irony used to have, former Huffington Post editor Verena von Pfetten wrote in a 2008 article about hipster fashion.  Hipsters can often be found sporting ironic tees with logos such as

Mainstream society often doesn’t see hipsters as original in style or thought because they utilize cultural elements consumed by the masses, Newton-Francis said.  “The reality is that it is not the thing in and of itself (the sunglasses, the t-shirts, etc) that is original; it is the intentions of the hipsters and the meanings that they give to these items that is original and expresses individuality.”   

Not everyone agrees, noting the mass marketing of all things hipster.

“As stores like Urban Outfitters have mass-produced hipster chic, hipsterdom has become a part of mainstream culture, overshadowing its originators’ still-strong alternative art and music scene,” said Fletcher.  

Some students on campus have a problem with this too, viewing hipsters as culture copy-cats.

“They take stereotypes of different cultures and ruin these cultures they try and be a part of,” said David Lewis, a junior at AU.  “They take away the authenticity.”  

He used the Middle Eastern scarf commonly worn by hipsters as an example. “The keffiyeh- it’s originally part of Arabic culture… Hipsters use it to show how different they are, but there is a loss of substance in the culture when it becomes mainstream,” he said.

Negative opinions of hipsters abound in the media, including newspapers, blog posts and even Facebook pages.  Living in an urban area, hipsters infest the region like “cockroaches”, said columnist Kerry Da Silva in the online counter-culture magazine, hybridmagazine.com.  A recent Time Out New York article by Christian Lorentzen entitled ‘Why the Hipster Must Die’ identified hipsters as zombies, out to destroy  modern-day culture.

The vibe on campus towards hipsters is not so positive either. “They’re a bunch of annoying prats who contribute nothing to society,” said Elee Wakin, a sophomore on campus.  Goldman agreed on the stereotype, describing a typical hipster as a “pretentious pricks whose pants are too tight.”

“Why don’t you just look at the Dav?” Lewis said loudly, identifying a prime hipster-spotting location.

Newton-Francis had an explanation for the intense hipster-loathing.  “First, hipsters appropriate many cultural elements that are associated with conspicuous consumption (clothing, etc that often convey status and wealth),” she said.  “This may be confused with elitism since outsiders are not often aware of the norms, values and symbols of the hipster subculture.” 

She also said that because their problems with society aren’t tangible, hipsters are often misunderstood as “consumerist, apathetic and vapid.”

Not only do some students dislike hipsters, but hipsters themselves stereotypically refuse to identify as such.  “To be labeled a hipster goes against their subcultural style,” Newton-Francis said.  “If we work from the premise that they are redefining dominant cultural meanings of things like what it means to be cool and deconstructing the power that those meanings have—-they most certainly would not accept a label that someone else tries to apply to them.”

Goldman admitted that some of her indie music tastes may qualify as “hipster music,” but she does not consider herself a hipster.  “I can’t be a hipster because I wear boot-cut jeans and J. Crew—no.”

At American University, hipsters are thought by many students to be more prevalent than on many other college campuses.  The reason: “Hipsters seems really dominant here because we’re not a large population but we have a strong liberal arts curriculum.  Artsier kids really stand out.  Hipsters happen in a small liberal arts campus in the city,” Goldman said.

There is also a connection between the hipster culture and the queer community.  “In my experience, people tend to throw the labels “gay” and “hipster” around pretty liberally on this campus without any consideration to how that person may actually identify,” said a queer student on campus, who asked to remain unnamed.  

“Before I came to college I didn’t even know what a hipster was but what I came to learn was that they seemed to emulate queer style,” she said.  “If I go to a party wearing a button down and a tie, it’s because I want to reflect my sexual identity, not because I think it will make me look cool. Here lies the difference between hipsters and queers.”

At a politically active school like AU, activism influences different groups like hipsters.  “Politics is wrapped up in irony, but I wouldn’t say it’s a driving force (influencing hipsters),” Carter said.  She also said that she believes hipsters aren’t that affected by politics and have a more apathetic lifestyle.  Goldman disagrees. “I know hipsters who don’t just want to have the appearance of being politically active but are actually committed to what they do and just happen to be hipsters,” she said.

Some students see hipsters from a more positive perspective because they tend to be very supportive of the LGBT culture and some of them are fantastic allies, said a queer student on campus.  “You will find many hipsters who are advocates of social change.  It is just that their mediums for voicing the need for change transcend fashion and music.  They are often found debating, discussing, and philosophizing about it in online mediums,” Newton-Francis said.  “It’s not to say that today’s hipsters do not care about these issues, but they have a different way of expressing it,” she said. 




10/26- Blogging the class

October 28, 2009

In Monday’s class we had the pleasure of having “Washington’s power couple,” Michelle Levi and Fernando Suarez, who spoke to our class about what it’s like to have a career in the broadcasting news business after starting at the bottom and working their way up.

Suarez spoke about how he started out as an intern for CBS news during the 2000 election, and said that this is a great way to make connections.  He has worked for several major networks including FOX, CNN, and CBS.  When he wanted to quit his job at CNN and move back to CBS where he now works, the network was happy to take him back because of the connections that he made earlier during his time there.  He also showed us news footage he shot himself stressing the importance of learning to use camera equipment, because hiring a camera crew to travel around the country (or world) is expensive.

Levi is already a producer for CBS News after being out of college for only a few years.  In the past year she started a new program on CBS that while, only having about 8,000 viewers per episode (which is not where the network wants to be with its ratings still), covers news that is less “breaking news” and rather focuses on more interesting human-interest pieces that CBS can’t fit into its half hour of nightly news.  Regardless of the low number of viewers, she is proud of the progress that the show has made. 

Being in this business takes a lot of time and effort, and a lot of good connections to get into it, the couple said.  It’s certainly no 9-5 job, but Suarez and Levi said it’s worth it.

At the end of class, after a few questions were asked to the couple, Professor Walker handed back the midterms and our revised Amerian Forum articles and told us to look at them to see if we had questions after class.

The American Forum

October 15, 2009

American Forum


By Sarah Allen

The panelists at the American Forum in Katzen Arts Center Tuesday night discussed the youth response to President Obama’s policies since the election last November. 

During the forum, moderated by the School of Communication’s associate professor Jane Hall, the panel analyzed issues such as transparency, the war in Afghanistan, and the influence of social networking on the presidency, as well as the issue most focused on in the past couple of months: healthcare.

“What you have is faith in a leader, and less faith in his policies,” said David Gregory, one of the panelists and host of Meet the Press.

Gregory said that the people have more stock in their leader, Obama, rather than the government he is running.  While campaigns are effective, especially the Obama campaign, government is not effective, he said.  A president never wants to be involved in the lawmaking process; he only wants to achieve things, he added.  “Presidents aren’t popular unless they achieve things,” he said. 

What was not mentioned at the forum was Obama’s winning of the Nobel Peace Prize last week and that his approval rating is currently at 52 percent, according to Gallup polls. 

The youth seem to be concerned about the solution and results, rather than the process of getting there, said David Winston, a Republican strategist.  “If there’s no sense towards outcome, frustration happens,” he said, referring to the reaction of the youth to issues like healthcare since Obama’s election.  People want the change they were promised.

Now that Democrats control both the Congress and the White House, Republicans are attempting to connect more with youth, who comprise a much larger percent of the vote than ever before, according to the panelists.  Republicans have a lot of trouble appealing to the youth, but the challenge of Republicanism now isn’t how to use technology but is “how to have a conversation with 18-29 year-olds,” Winston said.

Democrats have done a much better job appealing to youth than Republicans, the panel agreed.

The last president didn’t view press secretary as important a job as this one does, Gregory said.  “This administration, more than the past, wants to engage.”

The panelists disagreed only on the amount that people, especially youth, engage with the White House and politics. 

History dictates that young people don’t vote, until last year, Gregory said.  People care about what issues affect them, and over time people’s relationship with government changes, he said.

David Corn, the Washington bureau chief of Mother Jones magazine, agreed that young people don’t seem to care about certain issues as much as others. “Young people haven’t begun domestic lives.  When you’re at a certain age you worry about different issues,” he said.

However, Erin McPike, political reporter for CongressDaily believes that the government is somewhat at fault for the lack of engagement.  She said that youth care about issues to some extent.  “They [the government] don’t think they [youth] care about some of these issues,” she said.  “Now it’s time for them to do something about it.”

The panelists also discussed the impact of technology on Obama’s presidency, and its use by both Republicans and Democrats.

“The key word I think is transparency,” said Jose Antonio Vargas, Technology and Innovations editor of Huffington Post. Vargas said that he doesn’t want to give the Obama presidency credit for improving transparency in government because technology has done that for him.  However, he does give the Obama administration credit for using technology to reach out to people.  “This campaign wrote the playbook for social networking,” he said.

Vargas also mentioned earlier in the forum that campaigns should not just be about who’s using technology better, but about the message that the candidates are sending.

People said Obama needed to “retune his message” in the healthcare debate, but “It’s not about the message, it’s about the content,” said Winston.    

Not only are Democrats connecting with citizens through social networking, but citizens are talking back to their government, and people should continue to be more involved, said Gregory, now that they have the opportunity. “Whether it’s Facebook, twitter, or blogs, there’s a way to be heard,” he said.

Nevertheless, the media needs to cover the young people better and what issues concern them, focusing less on the politics, Vargas said. There’s so much competition, that we forget we’re talking about issues in young peoples’ lives, he said. “We want issues, we want substance, and we want information.”  


Reaction to “The Seven Laws of Journalism”

September 28, 2009

What we consider journalism today is not what we considered it to be before the dawn of the internet.  Journalism is not so clear cut anymore, with the addition of blogs and social networking sites.  What is news really?

Professor Walker has a point when she mentions how both students and academics view each others’ perspectives of a “news” definition.  She believes that academics think that students perceive news as any form of media they can get there hands on, while students actually often believe news to be something more rigid than should be.  She writes that students often view news as “dry and objective”, and would never consider anything outside of the CNN/FOX relm to be considered credible news in the classroom.

This view of news is perpetuated in media classes, that a journalistic style is very distinct- no opinion- and objective at all times.  Professor Walker writes, “teachers teach students about what it was like in the past when newspapers defined news, instruct students on how to write like it was back then, and then try to bring students up to speed on the complexities of the current situation.”  She’s write to say that students often emerge from the class confused and daunted by creating a definition for journalism.  It’s like telling a child, “This is the way Mommy and Daddy used to do it but you should do it differently because that’s not how it is anymore.”  Just outright perplexing. 

I don’t know if I really could define journalism myself these days.

However, after reading Professor Walker’s blog, I think I have a greater understanding of the “street smarts” of journalism.  The seven laws focused far more on logic than the traditional principles of journalism.

I like these rules because they do not narrow down journalism into such a specific style of writing, rather, the focus should be more on modernizing and coping in today’s world of journalism.  “No mention of democracy, objectivity, or principles (at least not much),” she wrote.

Lastly, I’m going to briefly analyze what Harrower wrote about covering meetings, politics, and sports in chapter five.  For meetings, the important things to remember are to be prepared and get your reader invested in something potentially less than newsworthy.  People are generally skeptical of politics so finding reliable sources (like meetings and speeches) is key.  In terms of sports, be as knowledgable and unbiased as possible.  Harrower lays out good general points for each of these, acknowlegding who will be the audience and why it’s important to follow certain rules in each category.

Engulfed by the Internet

September 17, 2009

The location doesn’t matter.  Nor does the time.  As far as I can tell for trends among the young- the college age certainly, Facebook takes the prize.  Social media network sites abound, especially in the past four or five years, and young people everywhere are connected, anywhere and everywhere.

Not even Myspace can compete these days.  According to Nielsen-Online, in the past year time spent on the site decreased 31%, and facebook increased exponentially by almost 700%.  Three years earlier, however, if asked to decide between Facebook and Myspace- usage statistics prove the latter to be far more popular as well as accessible.

Last Friday I sat in my art history class as usual, in the back just observing the classroom itself (the slides only stay interesting for so long).  Not surprisingly, most faces possessed the same dull stare- at their computer screen.  The professor lectured on, pointed at the screen, described the brush strokes, and occasionally scratched the back of her hand each time she paused between slides.  In a class of about 35 students, at least 15-20 students bring their computers to class regularly.  In the course of 75 minutes, from what I can see in the back of the class, at least half of the students checked their facebook once in the middle of class.  In this classroom, the computer rarely serves as a notetaking device, but rather as an escape from the lecture and quick access to the World Wide Web.

I don’t bring my computer to class, but if I did, I’d probably be on Facebook at some point in that 75 mintues.

I don’t place blame on the level of interest people have in the class, I only note that there appears to be an addiction of some kind to this thing we call Facebook.  A trend might be an understatement.

No matter where I look on campus (except perhaps the library), students more than often venture to their Facebook page to stay updated.  Mary Graydon, the Quad, even my own dorm room.  I sit in the quietness of my own dorm room early in the morning only to find myself curious if someone  posted something on my wall since the last time I checked it- some eight hours ago.

Lindsay Lawless, a sophomore at AU, responded in just a few words when asked about a life without Facebook:  “I wouldn’t know what to do with myself or my time”.  When asked about what purpose Facebook served her, she quickly responded, “To creep and be creeped”.  The idea of “creeping” on others Facebooks seems to promote an idea of “accetable stalking”, and now in my news feed daily pops up the words “fan check”, or people who have the most interaction with your facebook.

Just like any other college student, I love my Facebook.  Nevertheless, usage of Facebook for 10 hours a day with hourly status updates and reports of peoples’ quizzes such as “which Nintendo character are you” really takes boredom to a whole new level.  Maybe our generation just needs to get outside more- without our laptops.

Opinion vs. Objectivity

September 3, 2009

What we see as journalism is not what our parents saw in the news 30 years ago, and certainly not what our grandparents saw just 60 years ago.

With the dawn of the internet, “citizen journalism” has created a new breed of journalists- namely, the average American citizen.  How reliable can this really be? Anyone with access to the internet these days can take journalism into their own hands, and report events as they feel them necessary.  With the advent of blogs, Twitter, and an extensive number of social networking sites, there certainly isn’t a lack of news floating around in cyberspace.  The quality of news is in deep question- online and in print, but whether objectivity should determine quality is not so clear anymore.

Our book for class- Harrower’s Inside Reporting, claims that each type of journalism has  a certain level of opinion that can acceptably be inserted into a story.  Objectivity should be the goal of any quality reporter.  A typical news story should consist of as little opinion as possible, while a sports story or political piece will have a slightly elevated level of opinion.  But although this concept makes sense, it seems slightly limiting.

In The American Prospect online, a news magazine committed to the spread of “progressive politics”, Courtney Martin argues the importance of a journalist’s perspective in writing a story.  “Journalists have to create bonds, and then break them, in honor of the larger goal: Truth (with a capital “T”)… but it denies the dynamic of human perception” she writes.  Martin claims that journalism today should be about connecting with your subject, and telling their story exactly as you see it- opinions and all.

The claim is that modern journalism has evolved into something slightly more biased, that the actual “truth” can be found in what the reporter interprets from the subject they are interviewing.

In his blog, Dan Gillmor suggests the goal of journalists is not one of objectivity but can be split into four parts: thoroughness, accuracy, fairness and transparency. Gillmor also believes that our biases are innate, that where you were born, what you grew up with, and cultural influences are all factors in how a reporter will write a story, but even with these biases, we must learn to present them in as appropriate a manner as possible.

The articles I read online all seem to say the same thing- journalism is simply transformative and adapts with the times.  Look at print journalism- some people think newspapers are on their way out with the number of job cuts in the past few years.  In order to survive, it is my opinion that reporters simply need to adapt to what’s current, not focus on “the truth” but what makes the story newsworthy.

Thoughts about chapters 1-2

August 27, 2009

The reading for the first 2 chapters provided a few interesting and noteworthy points about the basics in journalism and journalistic history.  First, I wasn’t aware that the first newspaper cartoon was a broken-looking snake, used to embody the American colonies. While I understand the metaphor of uniting in order to self-defend, the usage of a snake is still strange to me.  The snake has always represented a form of evil in Puritanical culture, so the colonists representing the snake that must defend itself appears odd because of the connection with a sense of deceit and malice (at least in my opinion). 

The other interesting aspect from chapter 1 was the conversion of the newspaper into mass media with the introduction of the “penny press”.   This idea of mass production in the mid-19th century was well ahead of its time, making news affordable to all and decreasing bias by altering the source of funding for the papers.

In chapter 2, however,  I actually enjoyed the comic strip inserted into the text- first because I enjoy reading comics and second, it provided a decent visual of what an amateur reporter must do to get the inside scoop.  I also received a good general layout of newspapers and the newsroom itself, not to mention the complete contrast of working for a local paper vs. a national one.  It seems that while national papers have a greater amount of resources at hand, there are also more voices that comprise the final product and the writer (reporter) has much less of a say in the publishing process.

In this COMM-200 course, I would like to learn how to become a better writer (as I feel every year), which as our professor stated, will obviously give us an advantage in the job market.  Now in my sophomore year at school, I am trying to make decisions as to where my major is directing me.  I am a Foreign Language and Communication Media major, and trying to narrow my field of communication- probably either visual media or public communication.  I hope this class will present a variety of news medium to analyze, and that I will learn a greater versatility in writing, whether it be for a feature in a magazine or an editorial in a local paper.  Just having the opportunity to analyze media in its varying forms will give me an idea of the direction I am heading.

Hello world!

August 27, 2009

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