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The Hipster Facade

Hip is a sort of Neanderthal mentality that is terrified of serious thinking, and thus substitutes the superfluous for the profound.

Palestinians are hip in a way that Israelis are not; but pro-Palestinian reporters stay in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv without a clue why the two cities are different from Ramallah. Hip is loud support for the Dream Act, but avoidance of places like Mendota or San Joaquin, or any serious contemplation about why millions of Mexican nationals wish to cross their northern but not their southern border. Hip is shopping at Whole Foods, but supporting more food stamps for those who shop at a distant Food 4 Less and weigh more than you do. Hip decries school choice and vouchers, but means Sidwell Friends is under armed guards for your own progenies.

Tell an uninformed hipster that Obama wants to outlaw abortion, and abortion can suddenly become very unhip.

Hip is furor over Cheneyite Scooter Libby -- tried for an Orwellian crime that didn’t exist, and if it did exist, it was committed by someone else -- while snoozing through Fast and Furious and Benghazi.

Hip is certainly not Halliburton, but most certainly is Solyndra. The unhip Patriot Act, renditions, and Guantanamo are suddenly now kind of hip; so are drone targeted-assassinations -- a sort of “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Predator.” If we bomb Iran, we will be OK -- if only Snoop Dogg high-fives the mission, the pilots are gay, the bombers run on biofuels, and the shrapnel is recyclable. Let us hope that the outgoing F-22s have a Che logo painted on the side as they blow stuff up.

Corporate Hipsters

Take also finance. America loves -- and loves to hate -- Wal-Mart, the cut-rate discount store that draws in millions in the concrete and repulses them in the abstract, perhaps because it originated in Arkansas and is unimaginatively named after the late Sam Walton, a scheming, up-from-the-bootstraps self-made zillionaire. Could Sam not have been Jacques Cartier -- and thus Cartier-Marqueé? The chain, so the writ against it goes, supposedly drives out local small businesses, treats its employees unfairly, and represents the worst of crass American hucksterism.

But if Wal-Mart were just hip -- in the sense only of a hipster veneer -- it would be mostly exempt from such criticism. Starbucks, for example, is a similar global franchiser. It, like Wal-Mart, has been hit with charges of European tax avoidance, and accused of dodging local planning procedures and of operating at a loss to drive out small competitors. It is also at odds with various unionizing efforts. But Starbucks, in our shallow public imagination, remains hip and thus gets a public pass in a way Wal-Mart does not. Kids brag that they work at Starbucks, not at Wal-Mart. Maybe it is the literary name taken from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick (could not Wal-Mart be renamed Gandalf’s, Sherlock’s, or Lancelot’s?)? Or does its hipness derive from the literary quotations that it slaps on products, or its sales of “Ethos” water?

Could not Wal-Mart put memorable lines from Shakespeare on its plastic bags, or a Greek hexameter from Homer, or sell vitamin water called Sophos, Kalos, or Logos, or pipe in John Lennon’s “Imagine"?

Would Google have had more trouble for all its outsourcing and overseas tax avoidance had it been named American Internet, Inc., or if its founders had grown up together as good ol' boys in Mobile, Alabama, who still had a nagging propensity for putting patriotic slogans under the Google logo when the browser pops up each morning? Imagine waking and hitting the American Internet, Inc. logo -- and then reading “Live free or die” before your search. (How odd that liberals -- e.g., “the medium is the message” -- always lectured us about advertising-driven false demand, and then became past masters of deceptive branding.)