First I’m going to define ‘hipster’. Then I’m going to talk about pornography, what I think it is. Then I’m going to talk about Jacques Lacan, particularly the analyst’s discourse and the master’s discourse. Then I’ll apply that to hipsters and show why hipster pornography is beautiful.
Hipsters are a group of individuals that believe we are not members of any other group. But hipsters are a group. We end up absurd. We’re absurd because we act as if we’re not members of any group, but yet we do this all together. It’s like that South Park episode where Wendy breaks up with Stan and Stan falls in with the goth crowd and the head goth kid says “if you want to be non-conformist, you have to be exactly like us.”
Pornography. There was the very famous supreme court decision that said “you know pornography when you see it.” To me, you know pornography when you see it because you know when something makes you uncomfortable, when something is dangerous, when something is inappropriate, but in porn this has been made explicit. If all of existence is what is appropriate–because it exists–when you believe something to be inappropriate it shouldn’t exist. But in porn, look, here you have the inappropriate thing existing. So it titillates you. You say to yourself “I shouldn’t be looking at it but I want to look at it more, I’m bad, this is wrong, I want to see more.” There’s something in front of you that shouldn’t exist. You’re confronted with the thing you want to marginalize. This is obviously sexual, but it doesn’t have to be. Porn can be anything from which we derive this odd pleasure: When we know deep down that the line between appropriate and inappropriate is a human fabrication, it’s not really there, that everything is appropriate, and there’s something that delights in undermining the common sense idea that everything isn’t appropriate. Porn can be political, psychoanalytic, cinematic, pedestrian–it could something homeless person does on the street, something that happens at the gay pride parade–it undermines whatever is in the center. It’s explicit. Whatever is in the margins becomes unmarginalized. It’s pornographic when we take pleasure in it.
We, as hipsters, believe that we’re not members of a group–but yet we do this together. And pornography is the marginal unmarginalized, the inappropriate appropriated. The way of explaining why hipster pornography is beautiful is with these ideas, but through Lacan. Specifically, Lacan’s master discourse, which talks about the series of symbols that run like blood through our culture, the river of these symbols. He uses Sausserian linguistics to describe it. Saussure has the distinction between signifier and signified: the former points to the latter, like the difference between ‘tree’ and the brown-green thing in the forest that squirrels climb. It’s the difference between what I say and what I mean.
Lacan sets up power relationships between these. He gives prominence to the signifier. The symbol is what we deal with in culture. The word is more powerful in culture than the thing. The signified, the truth of the world, what actually is, becomes marginalized underneath the signifier. This is the master’s discourse.
The way he reads this: the master signifier is over the barred subject and “affects” or “determines” the slave signifier, which is over the objet petit a. The master discourse describes this flow of symbolism and communications we have with one another. The master signifier is the thing that has the power, it’s accepted, it’s the public, the one we all believe, the one we have prominent in our minds–whatever we think is appropriate. Like, if you’re very religious, then the master signifier will be something like God and the Bible. Or if you’re an atheist-capitalist, in this case the market is the master signifier. Or if you’re crazy about democracy, then the democratic process is the master signifier. Underneath this is the barred subject: what doesn’t get talked about. We’re barred from it. If our master is God, we don’t want to talk about the problem of evil. If God is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibeneficient, how could God allow evil to exist? This undermines God’s existence. So it’s barred discourse. What if democracy is our master, but the masses don’t know what’s best for us? What if we really don’t really recognize everyone as a citizen? Is that really a democracy? These things, the barred subject, are put in the margins of the master discourse.
These things affect the slave signifier, S2. This is slave knowledge. This is the technical knowledge you have when you follow the master signifier. The appropriate things. The god-fearing person goes to synagogue, attends the regular religious meetings, reads God’s texts, lives a God-fearing life. The democratic person praises democracy, votes, participates in the discourse, does everything expected of a democratic person. It’s what we do to follow. This is over the objet petit a, which is supposed to represent the psychic discharge leftover when the slave is following the master signifier. It’s what happens in my mind when I behave like a slave, what gets put down in the unconscious when I follow S1. This is Lacan’s theory of the unconscious–it’s the repository of what we marginalize when structured by culture. We have all kinds of deviant thoughts, scary thoughts that culture has no language for–that are inappropriate. Like in Donnie Darko, there’s a character Jim Cunningham, a motivational speaker, who talks about how to be a good student and live your life in Love. All the students and teachers (except for Donnie and others), most notably Ms. Farmer the gym teacher and principal, believe in this Cunningham. But what we find out is that Cunningham runs a child pornography dungeon in his house, tapes and tapes and tapes of child porn that he makes and sells. The objet petit a is the child porn, which is the result of the psychic energy he represses in the name of the master discourse he follows.
The other discourse is the analyst’s discourse. Psychoanalysis can help ameliorate the problems caused by the master’s discourse. The analyst’s discourse is every symbol in the master’s discourse turned around two clicks clockwise. So now the objet petit a is over the slave knowledge, and these affect the barred subject which is over the master signifer. So objet petit a occupies the old place of power. We make all that repressed psychic energy, the deviant and scary thoughts, more important than our slave knowledge. All the weird psychic stuff is more important than what we display in public to be appropriate. This set of things imposes upon the barred subject, what we’re not allowed to talk about, which is over the master signifier. Now we’re talking about what we’re not supposed to talk about. The implicit has become explicit. The peripheral is now central.
How does this help us understand hipster porn? A hipster, again, is someone that belongs to a group of individuals that believe they don’t belong to any group. If that’s the definition of hipster, the master signifier will be this paradoxical understanding: if you want to be a non-conformist you have to be like us. The barred subject is that hipsters are a group. That we all do these things together, the S2: skinny jeans, black rimmed glasses, fixed gear bicycles, etc. There’s conformity in this. We don’t want to talk about the fact that we’re members of this group because we’re not supposed to be members of any group at all. This is why no one call themselves a hipster. Nobody wants to talk about being a hipster, which is funny. A lot of hipsters talk about how they’re not hipsters. They use this as a pejorative, when in fact it indicates their membership in the group. The most recent example of this is the N+1 pamphlet about how the hipsters is dead. But if you’re going around saying hipsters are dead then that’s good evidence that you are in fact a hipster. If you’re obsessed, fascinated with, or even fond of saying that hipsters are dead then you probably are one because you don’t want to belong to any group. The only real way to get around it–to claim that hipsters are dead–is to not talk or think about hipsters at all. (How do I do this once I’m in the discourse? you might ask. The answer is to say that you are a hipster. The only way to really not be a hipster is to say you are a hipster. One way of achieving this identification is hipster porn, as I’ll show shortly.)
If S2 is reading Slyvia Plath and going to Urban Outfitters on a fixed gear, then the objet petit a is the psychic output, the residual marginalized by the slave knowledge in the hipster mind. What’s this? If the barred subject is that we’re actually members of a group, then the objet a will be something like what this person is as a member of the group, their acceptance of what hipster means to them, and how they fit and embrace and enjoy that role, how it is a part of their identity, even though their identity should technically be that they don’t have any group identity. The objet a is going to be how it is that I am a hipster. How it is that I belong. What it is that I do and feel and think as a member of the group.
That’s the master’s discourse. The analyst’s discourse will be a relief from the shame of hiding what we’re always trying to hide. There’s a quote from Zizek where he says that Lacan says beauty and shame both mark a limit. If porn is something we feel shameful of because it’s not appropriate, then hipster pornography will be the making explicit of thoughts that identify with the hipster group. All the things that a hipster is, what a hipster thinks about, presented and made explicit. It’s inappropriate for the hipster to think she’s a hipster. So hipster porn is when she takes pleasure in seeing herself as a hipster. Hipster is porn is how we are our selves.
These two co-incide in the photo of the woman with the dream-catcher tattoo: the public self and the private self. They come together. She co-incides with herself. These two are the same thing in hipster porn. What Sartre might have hoped for: the for-itself in harmony with the in-itself, the free self merged with the hardened, objectified self. What’s so exciting about hipster porn is that it speaks to who I am as it speaks to my identification with the group. I want to say that I’m not a member of any group. I want to have the pride of independence from the mainstream. But what I have to recognize is that I’m a member of a group that’s trying to do this, simultaneously wearing the same clothing, reading the same texts, listening to the same music, etc. The result, the dissonance that occurs, when I try not to be a member of any group and therefore belong to the group trying not to be a member of any group, is the content of the website in front of me. The website is the making public of what I feel ashamed about: belonging. It publicly presents me to myself. It is the hipster analyst’s discourse. So I feel a release, this sense of relaxation, and finally relief. I am hipster and not-hipster. I am myself and not myself. Simply: I am. This is truly beautiful.