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Sad Guys at the Wise Owl Club: Hipsters, White Nostalgia, & Neoliberal Optimism Open Access

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Enfolding critical analysis with personal narrative in Sad Guys at the Wise Owl Club: Hipsters, White Nostalgia, & Neoliberal Optimism, I dwell upon the contemporary hipster, thinking about him as the materialized angst of Left-leaning, white millennials during neoliberalism’s totalization in the United States. This angst arises, I argue, from a simultaneous anxiety white power may be seriously jeopardized following the economic crisis of 2008, and anxiety that white male privilege exists in the first place; in short, these are men who want to both deconstruct the detrimental dogmas of neoliberal politics, but who also might benefit most from neoliberalism’s flourishing. The guarantee of such privilege and upward mobility is a marker of white male identity of which the hipster, in large part, seeks to disavow himself. I read this disavowal as configured through simultaneous specters of white nostalgia and the capacious consumption of racially other, feminine, and queer aesthetics; this vast consumption usually leads to a disdain of the hipster, but, I posit, might ultimately lead us instead to an optimistic rendering of hipsters as a strategic segment of contemporary progressive politics.In this study I first attend to ways in which the white hipster of the mid-twentieth-century draws from African American cultural forms, turning then to how today, the twenty-first-century white hipster draws upon not only the racialized other, the child, the feminine, and the queer, but also a white masculine imagined past, in his quest for authenticity, a quest that gives us both pause for critique and, I offer, optimism of potentiality. Through close readings of poetry, music, food, film, and pornography, I seek to uncover the motivations behind the hipster’s cultural consumption. Though the majority of humanities scholarship on neoliberalism and neoliberal figures is pejorative, David Harvey offers briefly that we might instead think of the neoliberalism as a utopian project to redistribute wealth more equitably. Building upon this under-theorized, but seemingly critical idea, I argue the hipster’s body reclaims neoliberalism as a project of utopian praxis; or rather, the hipster slouches coolly towards utopia while aligning himself aesthetically with marginalized people.

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