Generation “Sell” Coexists With Generation “Go To Hell”

by | Nov 13, 2011

Portland-based essayist and author William Deresiewicz explores what kind of values support the hipster persona in the opinion pages of The New York Times.

“What’s the affect of today’s youth culture?” he asks. In other words, what’s going on underneath those pork pie hats and ironic t-shirts?

Today’s polite, pleasant personality is, above all, a commercial personality. It is the salesman’s smile and hearty handshake, because the customer is always right and you should always keep the customer happy. If you want to get ahead, said Benjamin Franklin, the original business guru, make yourself pleasing to others.

…Today’s ideal social form is not the commune or the movement or even the individual creator as such; it’s the small business. Every artistic or moral aspiration — music, food, good works, what have you — is expressed in those terms.

Deresiewicz also says the term “sell out” has no resonance in the culture today–it’s “an idea that has rather tellingly disappeared from our vocabulary.” I’m not sure that’s bad.

Also, I don’t think it is wise to lay the “youth culture” label on hipsters and be done with it. As I write this post, there are young people of another class occupying city centers across North America and they have a very different set of concerns, “affability” nowhere among them.

At the same time, I do relate to what Deresiewicz is saying. Hipsters, and the Bobos who share their values, are selling themselves in increasingly obvious ways and he’s right to question where it all leads. Can you really be friends with someone who’s always selling? I guess it depends on what’s being sold and how, but the concept is mostly off-putting (even though I can see myself in this particular mirror).

I see myself not just because I’m a Bobo who frequents Portland’s hipster coffee shops, I’m also a writer who has to sell to survive and a Netizen who is “always on.” And I believe, like the hipsters in Deresiewicz’s piece, that business is a powerful engine for social change. When you run a business the right way, you’re literally changing things for the better for your customers and your staff. A conscious business like Patagonia, for instance, is worthy of our praise and a great example of how it can be (and needs to be) moving forward.

Of course, Patagonia is not born of hipster values, nor run by hipsters.

Here’s a company that is:

It’s hard for me to see people “taking care of business” and each other as anything but a good thing, especially when the business in question is focusing on the triple bottom line.

Let’s encourage, not discourage, more social entrepreneurship. At the same time, let’s find a balance and value much more than crafty commercial solutions to today’s problems.