Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Hipster vs. Bohemian

In 2009, the New School hosted a symposium entitled "What Was the Hipster?" (The companion book is now in print.) In 1955, the New School hosted a panel discussion tackling the question "Are There Any True Bohemians?"

From the department of "The More Things Change..." comes this brief report from The Village Voice of 1955:

Click twice to read large

What I wouldn't give to get my hands on a transcript of that entire discussion--Marianne Moore bemoaning the loss of Bleecker's pushcarts? Poet-critics talking about how "the physical character of the area is fast changing"? Frank O'Hara talking about whatever he talked about?

(This was at a time when you could find lectures in the Village on topics like "The Psychological Cost of Conforming" and "New Attitudes Toward Sex"--in which Dr. Abraham Kardiner delivered the good news that "There are indications that the female in her twenties isn't so much on the rampage today.")

What else did the Village writers and critics of the '50s have to say about Bohemians? Did they find them bothersome and omnipresent as many find hipsters to be today? Were they annoyed by their beards and fetishistic love of coffee? I doubt that the creative class unilaterally celebrated Bohemians then as much as we romanticize them now.

1950s Bohemians

What would poet Jean Garrique, and the rest of the panelists, have made of New York's 21st-century hipster? Would they have seen them as no different than the Bohemians of the 1950s city? Maybe they would say--about both groups--what the authors of What Was the Hipster? say in their book:

"It has long been noticed that the majority of people who frequent any traditional bohemia are hangers-on. Somewhere, at the center, will be a very small number of hardworking writers, artists, or politicos, from whom the hangers-on draw their feelings of authenticity. Hipsterdom at its darkest, however, is something like bohemia without the revolutionary core."

Maybe we've been asking the same question for half a century.

2000's Hipsters