Much to hipsters’ horror everywhere, a big studio movie has come out about them (for the confused, Adbusters had a surprisingly accurate article on this “movement” as the end of Western Culture). And it’s not only about them, it’s an attempt to market directly to them. Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist is supposed to serve as a swooning missive to the Manhattan indie-kid culture. Or it’s at least an attempt to make a few bucks off it. And while inhabitants of this subculture might deny it, Hollywood has unwittingly nailed the essence of what it means to be one of them: the constantly shifting style of self-deprecation, the obsession with knowing about every obscure band months before they become popular, the never-ending search for something, anything, to make them feel unique.
The film stars that alpha of all beta-males, Michael Cera, as Nick, the predictably lovesick bassist and only straight member of queercore band the Jerk Offs. His bandmates Thom (Aaron Yoo) and Dev (Rafi Gavron), along with an unnamed beefcake boy toy (Jonathan B. Wright), attempt to push his romantic interest toward Norah, daughter of an unnamed rich man with apparent music connections. Nick’s gay bandmates and their friend serve as a sort of Greek chorus, offering advice and representing the scenester hoi polloi.
What this movie does so well is capture not only the incidental qualities of the subculture, it seems to peg the sexual mores as well. At one point, Thom tells Nick that nobody wants to get married for a hundred years nor have meaningless sex. The Beatles, he says, nailed it: people just want to hold your hand. Not coincidentally, this conversation happens while Norah is being insulted by longtime frenemy Tris for never having had an orgasm. It was hard to tell if this was purposefully acerbic, but the significance was clear: While nobody wants meaningless sex, having an orgasm is not too far removed from holding hands. These sort of sexual mores are nothing specific to hipsterdom though. It’s an attitude toward sex crystallized in everything from Scrubs to The OC. Partners shift as frequently as pop culture itself. What separates the world of Nick and Norah from these others are the subcultural signifiers, such as mix CDs of obscure musical taste. Norah can fall completely for Nick without having met him not because of love at first sight—hipsters are way too cynical for that—but because she’s heard the mix CDs he’s made. She claims that he is her “musical soulmate,” and that is essentially enough to let him get in her pants.
For as impressively accurate as this film is, it still comes off as a purely moneymaking venture. It dry-humps every hipster fantasy and never calls their bluff. In the end, there is no irony about the fact that Infinite Playlist is a film attempting to suck dry a culture that subsists on sucking culture dry. These scenesters are still middle-to-upper class white kids, angry at their “hippie-turned-yuppie” parents, but still apparently living off parental expense accounts on a scene that is an alternative culture’s version of Gossip Girl. I’m reminded of a story about a friend of mine, who was angry with one of her hipster friends. She made posters telling everyone about ultimate indie band Neutral Milk Hotel and plastered them all around their school. It was the ultimate revenge on him. His shelter of obscurity was destroyed. No longer the only kid to know of the band, he had lost the power inherent in privileged information. In a similar way, Infinite Playlist publicizes the favorite indie bands for the rest of popular culture. No doubt the hipsters are already in their parent’s basements scouring MySpace for the next big thing to not tell you about.