When you look at the man sitting next to the groundhog, ready to Thelma and Louise to their doom, you’ll notice a wry smile shaping his lips and a bored glance directed at the camera. This face, wry and sarcastic, will replace Che Guevera as the mug on the t-shirts of hipster kids all throughout the country in the near future. Of course, one must ask why this man is worthy of such adoration from those who see themselves as unique and above common culture. Those who wear irony like a crown of thorns both making them holy and rubbing them raw. But to understand why the great Bill Murray is valued so highly one must first understand the beast, the hipster.
Now, painting a picture of this subculture is notoriously hard because, just like the postmodern philosophy they follow, they are defined primarily by their lack of definability. It is probably easier not to think of them as a cultural trope, more like an attitude towards culture. A systemic disrespect for seriousness and embracement of irony are the common threads. Do not be confused, I count myself among these folks, but a spade is a spade and we certainly have no respect for anything, for good or for ill.
Take for example my friend Taylor, a perfect model for our inquisitive minds to rest upon as we consider the hipster. He’s around five foot eight, waifish, hasn’t shaved in a few weeks, and his beard is growing in splotchy. Taylor wears box frame glasses, which are a common hipster accessory, and they are completely cosmetic, his eye sight is fine. His sense of humor is typical for the Americanus hipsterus he makes corny puns not for the corny laugh, but rather for the laughter at how uncomical it is. The last time we were together we sat and drank Pabst primarily because it was the working man’s beer and we were philosophy and mathematics students. (Read Taylor's response here.)
Many individuals take great offense to this wonton disregard for culture. Some have even gone so far to say that it is the end of culture advancement, predicting that for the rest of time we will just find more and more abstract ways to find irony in previous cultural stages. Sure enough the hipsters respond with “fuck it” and the debate rages on. Maybe it’s because our generation had it so easy. I certainly didn’t have the childhood WW2/Korea/Vietnam that earlier generations had. For my generation everything we could ever want to know, more than we ever could, is only a few strike of keys or click of the mouse away. One must excuse us of being bored, we’ve not many important things to do and a lot of Facebook to check. This is the very heart and soul of hipsterdom, a wry smile and a bored glance.
What is it about Bill Murray that evokes this rabid fandom, this mass of dissidents all loving one man? He is us. Think back on his characters, I know you know at least one. Picture them in your head and let them speak to you, what are their attributes? Sarcastic, slightly sad, apathetic, and generally directionless human beings. Take his character Carl Spackler from Caddyshack. The man spends a whole movie ranging from practicing his tee off on flower beds to rigging a golf course with high explosives to kill a gofer. That is not a driven man, he has nothing to do with his time and he doesn’t give a shit. Arguably his most famous movies the Ghostbusters franchise was successful based on Murray’s exceptional ability to endear the viewer with his sarcastic quips. Quick, think of an actor who was in Ghostbusters with Bill Murray. My point exactly.
But the most iconic and beloved roles for the hipster horde are his later works in independent films. In all of these he plays essentially the same character. In Rushmore, Murray plays a washed up business man with nothing to do but hang out with a kid who goes to the same private school as his son. In another calibration with director Wes Anderson, The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, Murray’s character is a washed up ocean explorer with nothing to do but hang out with some kid he believes to be his son. In his most critically acclaimed role as Bob Harris in Lost in Translation he plays a washed up actor doing commercials in Tokyo who has nothing to do but hang out with some newly wed he meets at the hotel. Of course I’m simplifying, but these characters are so remarkably similar that they seem to be the archetype for the attitude of the hipster. Caught in the malaise of everyday existence, only warming oneself every once in a while to quip and laugh. So preposterously self-conscious that they can’t even feel what their real emotions or intentions are anymore, just floating in their own ambivalent center unconnected to this tiresome life.
People will argue back and forth about whether this is good or bad. Whether we are too apathetic or too unconcerned to ever become functioning adults, we are in line to be the damn near closest thing to “adult” in the future. We are a product of our times and our idols are a product of us and that is why Bill Murray is our generation‘s great folk hero. From all accounts he, in real life, is very much the same as he is in his movies, understated, sarcastic, and, most of all, he does not give a shit. How can we be blamed for identifying?
Over the past few days I’ve been staying at my parents house and I have talked to upwards of 30 people without leaving the house. When this is the way the world works we will feel alienated. We are biological beings, we did not evolve to process the sheer number of social interactions we have now due to the information age. That’s why hipsters exist, the only way to deal with the bombardment of information, fashion, and custom we have been subjected to since our formative years is to care less about everything, because we have so much more to care about.
That is why we idolize Bill Murray. He represents to us the ultimate achievement, being so self-conscious and talented that he has hit the heights and come back down after realizing it really doesn’t matter to him. Achieving and then washing out by his own volition, doing and living the way he wants without ever really trying that hard. That is what hipsters want, to experience life without any real risk or reward. Never having to ante up their own worth to achieve something or to tear something down. Wanting to have a relationship to things through an impersonal medium, to be one step away from having to see the effects of their actions and to be one step away from witnessing a reaction.
Of course, there have to be good aspects. Hipsters are some of the most accommodating and tolerant people around and certainly we are more relaxed than our forefathers. But what we have right isn’t the problem. The problem is we need to do something. We are in the age of the most rapid change ever to be experienced by man, we are futurenauts exploring a horizon soon approaching. We need to remember that in the future we will be in charge. This whole mess is ours to inherit and there are only so many times we can watch Ghostbusters before it gets old.
For more on postmodernism, read "Debunking Postmodernism."
For more on postmodernism, read "Debunking Postmodernism."