By Sarah Jost
Almost exactly two years ago, I wrote an article entitled Hippies v. Hipsters: The Generation the Revolution Died?. At the time, hipster culture was still young, a cool, but fringe subculture. Over the subsequent years, hipster culture has largely amalgamated with mainstream society: hipster fashions are commonplace everywhere from their origins in Brooklyn to suburban shopping malls in the Midwest; bands that began with hipster cult followings are played on every Top 40 radio station; and most importantly, and most unfortunately, the quintessential hipster apathy has become pervasive throughout American society.
A few years ago, America was invigorated by promises of real change in both politics and every day life. Obama aroused America from a deep slumber of shockingly low voter turnout rates and 8 years of the Bush dynasty. For the first time in a long time, the masses became engaged in political action. Simultaneously, the environmental movement was steadily gaining force. People were becoming aware of the severe detrimental affects of the American way of life (big cars, big homes, unimaginable amounts of disposable plastic products and packaging) on the environment and starting to rethink their personal practices.
The furor of that time culminated in Obama’s election, and then almost as rapidly as it had grown, people’s excitement began to dissipate. Just one week after his inauguration, Obama’s failure to live up to his hype became the topic du jour. Like in hipster culture, Americans were eager to join the bandwagon of the next big thing, but just as quick to dismiss it after it achieved success.
Over the past several years, the idea that Obama hasn’t accomplished anything in office and let down his voters has been repeated so often and by so many people that it is now commonly believed to be true. The fact is that Obama has realised an incredible amount of change for any president, let alone one who not only had to clean up the economical and militaristic messes caused by George W. Bush, but also has faced an extreme amount of opposition and refusal to collaborate or cooperate by the Republicans in Congress.
Obama did not let people down; it just became impossible for people to continue their facade of political involvement into actual legislation. It was far easier to simply join the next populace wave, which happened to be anti-Obama. The frightening thing is that this is likely to translate into apathy in the upcoming presidential election.
Similarly, according to Time magazine, this year’s annual ‘green attitude’ Harris poll shows that ‘over the past few years, Americans have become less likely to say they care a great deal about the current and future state of the environment’ and ‘less likely…to purchase all-natural or organic products, bother trying to use less water, and reuse things we already own.’ In 2009, 36% of Americans said they ‘care a great deal about the current state, and future, of the environment’ and ’43% of Americans said they were concerned about the planet they’re leaving behind for future generations.’ This year, those numbers are down to 31% and 34%, respectively.
Real, significant cultural and social movements have been replaced by superficial trends. Rather than focus on important local and global issues, or even personal happiness, people are concerned with having a good job, buying a new car, and having nice things. The capitalist wool has been pulled so tightly over people’s eyes that they can’t even imagine another way of life, one that could involve four weeks of paid vacation a year (in addition to public holidays), affordable health care for all, a good educational system, a clean environment, time spent outside with family and friends. Everything in American culture says that without certain material things, you are not happy. Success is measured in dollars, not happiness.
There are other ways. For America to succeed as a sustainable, educated, healthy, relevant nation, and for Americans to succeed as happy, fulfilled individuals, a revolution of action must occur. It might seem daunting, but the obstacles are not too great to overcome. Too cool to care is too weak to act. The Occupy Movement has been a giant step in the right direction. Let’s keep walking.