“Our Hegemony is Bullshit”

“Every social group, coming into existence on the original terrain of an essential function in the world of economic production, creates together with itself, organically, one or more strata of intellectuals which give it homogeneity and an awareness of its own function not only in the economic but also in the social and political fields.” — Antonio Gramsci.

The title of this post came from a rather unassuming note made by 1 of my friends in the margin of my university dissertation about 2 years ago. They were helping me edit it & thought that the manner I had presented pub culture needed revision. I wasn’t crass enough, apparently. Incidentally, I have played with the idea of being more direct. My original title was, very simply, “Adventureland”: the White Middle-Class Dominate Hipster Cinéma

Anyway, last night I re-watched the Greg Mottola film Adventureland  (2009) on television.  The film was produced by Sidney Kimmel Entertainment & distributed by Miramax, grossing $17,164,377 internationally. Strictly speaking, it isn’t independent cinéma, but it possesses quite a few of the tropes I would associate with higher budget independent films over the last decade: it stars Jesse Eisenberg & Kristen Stewart; it has a soundtrack with Lou Reed featured disproportionately; it fits nicely into a genre 1 can only describe as the “beatnik rom-com”.  I do actually quite like the film. It’s constructed well, it takes its time with character & it feels like Donnie Darko might do if its characters had gone through rehab. However, & this is a big however, Adventureland very acutely represents a troubling trend in the arts, most obviously in film, but extending to literature, music & visual art.

Let’s get this straight: I’m talking about art which attempts to appear as if it is questioning the society we live in & attempts to appear profound. I’m talking about art which pretends towards a sub-culture. The conclusion that this kind of art invariably draws is either that life is meaningless (usually padded out with interminable Nietzsche quotes & a false sense of irony – i.e. Little Miss Sunshine), or that 1 can only find solace in the arms of a significant other (usually quirky & part of Zach Braff’s friendship circle). This is the art of what has now become known, rather uncomfortably, as “Hipsterism”.

The conclusions that this form of art draws undermine any appearance of political deference. Either conclusion is acceptable to the bourgeois intelligentsia (& can be seen to be acceptable to the bourgeois intelligentsia by a simple reading of idealist philosophy) as it inevitably arrives back at a bourgeois political outlook.  Therefore, the art of “Hipsterism” is complicit in a bourgeois hegemony[1]. It upholds that a Capitalist society is unchangeable, that there is no alternative & that the atomised individual must each find their own way to survive. This is what hegemony means.

On a less abstract scale, let’s take a quick look at the actual plot of Adventureland. James Brendan (Eisenberg) is a recent college graduate, with a degree in comparative literature. He initially plans to take a Summer holiday travelling Europe, but finds that his parents have fallen on hard times & cannot afford to fund his trip. In order to pay to go to university in September, he takes a ‘dead-end job’ (wording taken from the film’s description on IMDB) at the local amusement park, the eponymous Adventureland. Here, he has a miserable time, working for minimum wage, until he meets Emily “Em” Lewin, another employee. They fall in love, experience heartbreak & get back together as the structure of a rom-com demands, details being rather inconsequential. James does not fulfil his dream of attending university, as he hasn’t got the money to do so, but he finds solace, even happiness, in Emily’s arms.

This may sound very innocuous, perhaps even uplifting. I’ll even admit that I cannot help but find the romance story at the film’s core somewhat touching. Despite this, the film fails to approach, in any manner, the subject matter which rests at its plot’s core. James’ entire character arc is sparked by his parents’ financial situation. In fact, this plot device serves as both the inciting incident & something of a primary motivation for Eisenberg’s character throughout. It is rarely referenced & is discarded when it is no longer needed. It is, therefore, a MacGuffin.

The film’s political character is fully defined by this, the resolution forming only a logical consequence. By placing financial status (& thereby, class status) at the core of the film’s narrative, but simultaneously rendering it meaningless to the overall sense, Adventureland provides us with a bourgeois political stance.  It’s message, subtle as it may be, is that material suffering is inconsequential if 1 can instead reach an idealist euphoria. Capitalism, although the root cause of the narrative, is presented as eternal. Regardless of intent, this is what Adventureland says. I wrote this post intending to highlight this, & the need to further analyse “Hipsterism”. Forming what is possibly the dominant sub-culture in western society at present, “Hipsterism” poses itself as a barrier to Marxist ideas, practice & culture.

Gee, I’m a sucker for a love story, aren’t I?


[1] Hegemony is the ideological domination of 1 class over another, in all spheres of life, as theorised by Antonio Gramsci. What this means is that the racism, sexism, individualism etc. of the ruling class is the dominant form of ideology in our society.

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