OUT OF THE COOL
SEPTEMBER 24, 1996
Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune laments the stripping of hip.
CLARENCE PAGE: (music in background) Once upon a time, jazz was hip. Then it went mainstream. (music in background) Bob Dylan was hip. Now he's taught in high school poetry classes. Hippies used to be hip. Now they're teaching high school. The post office has stamps for Elvis and James Dean. No sooner is something hip than vendors are selling it on street corners. What is hip? The line that distinctly divided the hip from the unhip has all but evaporated, and the change has upset liberals and conservatives alike. "Hip is dead," proclaims the cover of the liberal "Nation" magazine. "Corporate culture has coopted it," the writer laments. Against conservative cool, demands Rupert Murdoch's conservative "Weekly Standard." Ever since Nixon shook hands with Elvis, the writer complains, conservatives have been trying too hard to be hip. For better or worse, the anti-bourgeois world of hip has melded into the anti-hip bourgeoisie, but when everything is hip, is anything?
SAMUEL L. JACKSON: Oh, I'm sorry. Did I break your concentration?
CLARENCE PAGE: Is pulp fiction director Quentin Parentino still hip, or do Oscar nominations cancel hip out? (music in background) How about Seattle Grunge, Hootie and the Blowfish? Sorry, dude. (music in background) Fashion is the marker of hip but not hip, itself. Once the "New York Times" calls you hip, you know it's over. Is Dennis Rodman, the Rupaul of Chicago basketball, hip? It takes more than tattoos, rainbow hair, and body piercing to be hip these days. Just about every teen-age mall stone who wants to outrage his or her elders has been there, done that. Is heroin hip? It's back in vogue in some circles, and the body count mounts--taking Jerry Garcia and others too hip in this for their own good. (music in background) Is "Trainspotting," the heroin movie, hip? It is certainly successful, which threatens its hip status even before it's established. Even before the hip musical "Rent" opened on Broadway, the mainstream embraced it with a Pulitzer Prize for drama, a movie deal, the cover of "Newsweek," and middle class respectability, surely the death of hip. There was a time when hip implied a certain level of awareness that transcended the mundane, bourgeois world. The hip delighted in their sense of opposition, even superiority to the masses. Hip was counter-cultural, underground, limited to a self-selected pantheon of taste makers. Lack of popularity was a virtue, for it solidified the tantalizing specialness every elite craves. Ah, we few, we hip and happy few. But then hip became marketable.
Trend-spotting modern media like "Esquire" and "New York" Magazine made hip a weekly obsession, and the yuppie was born. Suddenly, the bourgeois life had no value without knowledge of the new jobs, the new neighborhoods, the new dining out, the new strip clubs, the new newness. The commercial world's rapid response mechanism so improved and accelerated that the hip can seldom stay hip for long before it becomes fashionable. What happened to hip? It was embraced, then consumed by the very establishment against which it rebelled. Neither will ever be the same again. Lenny Bruce once said there are no rubes anymore. He died in the mid 1960's. He hadn't seen anything yet.
I'm Clarence Page.