Apr 21 2010

Honoring Confederate History Month

Ta-Nehisi Coates writes for The Atlantic. Since I stumbled on his blog about a year ago, it’s become one of my favorites: TNC writes with insight and verve, covering a broad range of topics, most incisively the subject of race in America. He’s also a comic book and computer game nerd, which of course I find charming.

For the past year or so he’s gone on a Civil War kick, offering stories and images from the history books he’s been reading and the tours he’s taken of the old battlefields. As a black man, his interest is especially in those who rarely got to write their own histories: the freed slaves, the black soldiers, and how their lives were woven into the societies of the time. He’s also been confronting—with impatience, but also, sometimes, with a surprising level of compassion—the ‘Lost Cause‘ mythology that persists in the South to this day.

So when the governor of Virginia recently declared April to be “Confederate History Month,” reigniting an old controversy, some were appalled and some were defiantly pleased and some, like me, just kind of winced and hoped it would all blow over soon. But TNC decided to take it very seriously, and to contribute as much as he could to the effort, as the Confederate History Month declaration put it, “to understand the sacrifices of the Confederate leaders, soldiers and citizens during the period of the Civil War, and to recognize how our history has led to our present.”

Here’s TNC on a group of citizens whose “sacrifices…during the period of the Civil War” are beyond measure.

Here he presents a group of soldiers who laid down their lives at rates “astronomical when compared to other regiments.”

And here he finds Ulysses S. Grant writing in visionary fashion of how a Confederate History Month should be truly “honored.”

I would not have the anniversaries of our victories celebrated, nor those of our defeats made fast days and spent in humiliation and prayer; but I would like to see truthful history written. Such history will do full credit to the courage, endurance and soldierly ability of the American citizen, no matter what section of the country he hailed from, or in what ranks he fought. The justice of the cause which in the end prevailed, will, I doubt not, come to be acknowledged by every citizen of the land, in time. For the present, and so long as there are living witnesses of the great war of sections, there will be people who will not be consoled for the loss of a cause which they believed to be holy. As time passes, people, even of the South, will begin to wonder how it was possible that their ancestors ever fought for or justified institutions which acknowledged the right of property in man.

Mar 20 2010

Too Late for the Caption Contest

…but while I was falling asleep last night, I thought of a caption for this picture on Unhappy Hipsters:

“He collected the implements of travel–suitcases, motorbikes, once a whole jet engine–only to disassemble them in his elaborate ritual. He wanted a world where nobody could ever leave him again.”

Jan 29 2010

Sympathy for the Hipster

So, I recently stumbled across the Unhappy Hipsters blog, which for the most part I think is great: it takes images from Dwell magazine and gives them captions that turns the trendy design-and-lifestyle layouts into evocative vignettes, little short-short stories about alienation and modernity. I tend to like blogs that do this, take an image and build a story around it: I love, for instance, the “Secret Life of Dresses” series on A Dress A Day. And I don’t, personally, much like modern architecture or design—to me all those shiny, graywashed, hard-edged surfaces seem antiseptic and even anti-human, although I understand that some people find them soothing and restful, or alternatively “interesting” and “challenging”—so I’m fairly sympathetic to a blog that takes a snarky look at that aesthetic.

But having recommended Unhappy Hipsters, I want to also talk about that word “hipster,” which has recently exploded in usage. For example see latfh.com, which is mostly about mocking kids who are having fun with their clothes. In fact a large part of the the “hipster” sneer seems to be a cut at people who take too much interest and enjoyment in a certain subject. Somebody on the New York Times comment section, for instance, called me a “fucking hipster” when I said I liked dark chocolate.

So a hipster is somebody who just likes trendy things, right, except where “trendy” is defined relating not to mass culture but to the specific trends of a young urban demographic. But here’s the thing—only people in that demographic would recognize the trends. Only somebody who’s familiar with the bands, the food, the festivals, the fashion, would have the capacity to recognize and to object to certain preferences on the grounds that they are overdone or too popular. And only somebody who actually worries about whether or not their own tastes are suitably idiosyncratic would even think to insult somebody else on that basis.

Therefore, the people who devised use of the word “hipster” as an insult (in its current popular usage) are clearly OTHER HIPSTERS. Nobody else knows or cares enough about the subcultures in question to police authenticity in this way. Nobody else gives a shit about what’s really cool and what’s overplayed and poser-y. And in the end, it comes down to making fun of people for what they enjoy, which is petty and mean.

So I guess this is an elaborate “no YOU are” to that dude in the nytimes.com comment section? And also, I like Unhappy Hipsters for the stories it creates, but I think the title of the blog probably says a lot more about the people who created it than it does about people who happen to like Dwell magazine.