What is Cool? Gentrification in the Hudson Valley

What does it mean to be “cool”? Cool can be best understood as a symbol or marker sought by participants in a competition for status. Those who enjoy the success in this competition, this struggle to be recognized as cool, know that they must distance themselves from what is considered “mainstream society.” It seems as if there are two groups. Those who go are constantly trying to be “cool” through nonconformity, and those who conform to trends with a majority of the population.

In Neo-Bohemia: Art and Commerce in the Postindustrial City, Lloyd examines a sample of those who would be widely recognized as cool or authentically hip- the young musicians, painters, film-makers, writers, and other artist types who populated Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood in the 1990s. Lloyd recognizes being “hip’ as a status marker, and discusses its place in the status game that Chicago’s “neo-bohemians” play.

Lloyd acknowledges that culture is a big business, but in order to acquire the profits that culture provides, harnessing of creative talent is essential. For example, neo-bohemians use their location in poor and working-class neighborhoods to characterize themselves He describes the dispositions of bohemians ability to change the meanings of spaces, “applying their creative talents to the construction of their own lives, they are practiced bricoleurs, turning secondhand clothes into chic, trendsetting ensembles, and concerting cultural capital into a myriad of social opportunities, from gallery openings to exclusive parties” (165). They turn grit into glamour, and create popular trends.

During October break I went to the Hudson Valley in New York. My mom wanted to go because she had read that the Hudson Valley was a place where people from Brooklyn flocked to during the weekends. While we were there we attended a craft fair and a flea market held in an apple orchard. It seemed as the artsy, hipster types from Brooklyn had all left New York and come to Hudson for the weekend. There were bearded men clad in flannel and overalls, touting their craft hard apple ciders. Women wearing Levi’s 501s, vintage sweaters and handmade jewelry. Even a five-year old girl was dressed for the part with bright tights a white tutu dress and doc martens. It was honestly the best-dressed group of people I had ever seen. But the prices weren’t what I had expected. Unlike the vintage stores I had visited in the neighboring towns, the wears that these tables touted were far more expensive. I even found the exact same dress in a town 20 minutes away for $20 less then it was at the flea market. The difference was there were no hipsters to be found frolicking around the vintage store, or even the town.

It was interesting to see how for a weekend Hudson Valley was a hipster hub. Lloyd points out that, “within the neighborhood, culture for profit may mean that an object of cultural production is sold on the market, like a painting, or it may mean that cultural objects or activities are used to sell something else, as in advertising” (167). In the case of the Hudson Valley, the flea market and the crafts fair was used by these people to not only sell culture for profit, but to make these towns look like cultural centers. It was already apparent that these areas were becoming gentrified due to the urban population escaping from New York for a much quieter locale. The towns with a mix of book stores, boutiques, small foodie restaurants, and then hardware stores and bars. The small town of 2,000 that we stayed in had old crumbling houses that were being bought up by artists and converted into ruggedly styled air bnbs.

Through his work Lloyd shows that Wicker Park’s artists are connected to interests that they profess to describe. Without capitalism there would be no such thing as “cool.” Imagine a society transformed along socialist and radically democratic lines. There would be no “others” that the “cool” could compare themselves to, because everyone would be the “same.” There would also be no working-class, low-income people that neo-bohemians could identify themselves with. Lloyd shows that those perceived to be authentically hip, and therefore nonconformists to the corporate mainstream, often end up conforming to capitalism’s profit making essentials. Are these neo-bohemians actually “cool” or “hip”?

 

Just wanted to add some extra reading on the gentrification or “Brooklynization” of the Hudson Valley that I found to be very interesting:

Brooklynites Blessing the Hudson Valley With Hipness

Cultivating Hudson: Enter the Tastemakers 

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Comments

  1. Cool blog! Check your first sentence, though, there’s a typo…

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