by Ben Jeffrey
’tis the season for making lists! As every site in the world compiles its “Best of 2014” lists, Ben Jeffrey thinks back to a more innocent form of list, and wonders where it all went wrong.
The Christmas list. It’s a beautiful tradition. A letter for which you got out your best gel pens and inscribed, on a sheet of crisp A4, all the things you wanted for Christmas.
For children, a Christmas list is a little more than a list of wants. The things that matter to children act as a reflection of their developing personalities. But beyond that, these lists are addressed to Santa. There’s a wonderful naivety in this – a belief that there’s magic in the world, and that someone out there cares about some things as much as you care about them.
As we grow up, most of us stop writing Christmas lists, but some of us continue to make lists. The top ten of this. The fifty greatest of that. The Best Everything of 2014.
Like Christmas lists, these lists act as reflections of an individual’s personality. List your top ten of anything, and you’re essentially saying that this is what I’m made of. These lists also continue to function as symbols of desire. But rather than a desire for material goods from a magical being dressed in red, these lists express a desire to connect – to share the things that mean the most, and to find someone – anyone – who feels the same.
This is a story about the little boys and girls who make these lists, and the mean things they do to each other.
Here’s a game for you to play. A Christmas game. Venture forth into the wider internet. Find one of these lists – any one will do – and read it. Enjoy sampling a slice of the writers’ soul, offered up for public consumption, with love. For this list does contain the things they love. Why wouldn’t they want to share it?
Then go to the comments.
How long did it take before someone took umbrage with something included in the list? To what extent did they consider it a personal affront that our dear list maker would dare hold a different opinion?
Would you do this with the lists we used to make? Would you actively deface someone else’s Christmas list? Would you write things like “OMG WHY WOULD YOU WANT A TOY TRAIN!?” or “TONKA TRUCK IS SUPERIOR TRUCK!” or, worst of all, “FUCKING HIPSTER CHRISTMAS LIST”?
It’s this final one I want to talk about today, and why it’s on my own personal naughty list.
“Hipster” is a dirty word. It’s a catch all term that offers a simple and easy take down of any part of culture you don’t happen to agree with. Its use can bring into question the very motives of such a naive and wonderful thing as a Christmas list.
This is very, very bad news. Rather than engaging with others, sharing our interests and debating the relative merits of our passions, we have instead created a word that denounces culture itself. Why did we let this happen?
Now, full disclosure: I will readily agree with anyone who wants to call me a “hipster”. The thing is, you should too. To save the future, we need to change the meaning of this word.
We are a generation without culture. Or rather, we have every culture. We have grown up with the internet, and it has given us access to media from every generation that has preceded us.
For example, you meet people who can speak at length about the works of Marlene Dietrich, before breathlessly switching to a discussion about their favourite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. Then there’s the die hard Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans who will dance round their bedrooms, alone on a Sunday, to Charles Tremaine. And, believe it or not, there are people out there who don’t think it’s at all shameful to like Coldplay.
Whether it’s through your grandma’s dressing up box, or your older sister’s music collection, it has always been possible to form an identity from disparate cultural relics. However, the sum of humanity’s cultural achievements has never been as widely and as easily accessible as it is now.
Before the arrival of the internet, someone might have existed who would have absolutely loved the work of The Flower Kings as a teenager, and whose favourite book would have been Tender is the Night . But with limited access to culture, they never happened to encounter either. Thus a personality that would have easily developed in our modern connected world would never have been allowed to exist at all.
This, to me, is where the true meaning of the word “hipster” lies. It’s in the ability to combine cultural touchstones. When seemingly disparate spheres are allowed to combine, new and beautiful entities are born. Look at the rise of knowing Whedonesque dialogue in Hollywood blockbusters; or try immersing yourself in a collective blogging site like Tumblr, which serves to constantly bombard people with new images, new ideas, and new information.
Wouldn’t it be lovely if everyone were an out and proud hipster? Imagine how much we’d learn through simply being allowed to be into whatever the hell we like, without a box to hold us.
We’re nearly there. But those who must have order are busy building another box.
That’s right. Our old pal the Christmas list isn’t our friend anymore. It’s no longer being written by children, but by Santa himself. He writes the lists, and they are pored over like stone tablets sent from above. It is for this reason that we know that hipsters eat kale and listen to Animal Collective. To be a true noughties kid you must idolise Mean Girls. Only proper Northerners are allowed to eat their chips with gravy. And so on.
“We’ll tell you what to enjoy, so you don’t have to find out for yourself. Because that’s hard, isn’t it? Best not to bother. You might get it wrong. Or worse, you might end up looking like a hipster.”
If they can attach a brand to it, they can sell you things. And if you think about it, that’s something they’ve been having a lot of trouble doing lately, what with the internet and all. People have too much control of their identities, and because this is very bad for marketing, they must be forced back into their moulds.
The worst thing about it is that we have nobody but ourselves to blame. Because we were all such naughty children, and we defaced each others’ Christmas lists with our cruel little words.
Write your Christmas list. Fill it with all the things you like. Don’t let anyone tell you you’re a hipster, when all you really are is you.
Ben Jeffrey is a sort of scientist, and a magical weaponry expert. When he’s not studying canals, he’s often found dancing round his bedroom to Charles Tremaine.