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Twilight of the Assholes: Goodbye to Dov Charney, Terry Richardson, and Hipster Misogyny

“We take no joy in this,” said American Apparel co-chairman Allan Mayer yesterday of the company’s decision to fire its founder, CEO, and card-carrying asshole Dov Charney. Mayer’s pretty much the only one, though — anyone else who’s followed Charney’s career will be taking unbridled joy in the fact that he’s finally been shown the door. And with Charney’s soul bro Terry Richardson also in the news again over his general ghastliness, it’s been a bad week for the patron saints of ’00s semi-ironic misogyny. The only real question: why has it taken this long?

As far as Charney goes, Mayer apparently acknowledged that people will be asking why American Apparel didn’t act earlier, and argued that “a board can’t make decisions on the basis of rumors and stories in newspapers.” It’s not like there have only been vague Internet rumors about Charney’s conduct, though — he’s been the subject of multiple lawsuits over the years, most recently for allegedly strangling an employee (while calling him a “wannabe Jew”). One suspects that his board gave not a single fuck about any of this while the company was making money hand over fist, but American Apparel has lost its way in the last few years, recording increasingly large losses and seeing its share price plummet. If anything, I imagine the board has finally lost patience, and also lost confidence in Charney being able to turn things around — and his history of checkered conduct, to put it politely, provides an easy way to get rid of him.

Corporate cynicism aside, there does seem to be something symbolic about Charney’s fall. It’s another harbinger of the slow demise of the culture that he and Richardson came to define. The attitude of “hipster” culture — and I’m using the “h” word for want of a better term here — toward women has been reasonably well documented, at least in terms of its most prominent figures. Both Richardson and Charney seem to finally be getting a richly deserved comeuppance, although any sense of justice being done is tempered by the fact that they both remain apparently ignorant of why their conduct is not OK, and rich enough not to care either way.

But it’s interesting to think a little bit more deeply about that culture’s gender politics. The hipster aesthetic, such as it was, incorporated plenty of semi-ironic appropriation of the tropes of traditional masculinity: trucker hats, flannel shirts, PBR, beards/mustaches, and so on. I say semi-ironic because beneath the veneer of irony, there was always something deeply conservative and deeply unpleasant about it. Specifically, it was reflective of a wider shift in the mid-to-late 1990s and early 2000s toward the reassertion of traditional alpha-male masculinity.

These things go in cycles, of course: the ’80s were largely about androgyny and flamboyance, with the decade’s defining styles — synthpop, house, etc — arising out of gay culture. The early days of grunge were also characterized by reasonably progressive gender politics — its rise coincided with riot grrrl, and Kurt Cobain was famously a self-identified feminist. As someone who lived out their teens in the ’90s, being a misogynist shithead was something you sneered at the meatheads on the football team for doing. It was part of culture, sure, but it wasn’t part of what you might call alternative culture.

By the late ’90s, though, the pendulum was swinging back. This didn’t just happen in the US; in the UK, it was lad culture, which had its roots in the early ’90s and got a huge boost from the neanderthal end of Britpop and the staging of Euro ’96 in England. There’s probably a lot to be written about how all these cultures arose as a backlash against both feminism and the rise of metrosexual dudes, who wore cologne, were professionally Nice to Women, and got laid a lot. Traditional alpha-male types watched this with horror, and what came next was depressingly predictable.

It’s not like misogynist culture ever really went away, of course — a trip to any sort of frat party will be enough to remind you of this. But in the late ’90s and early ’00s, it was cast as something transgressive, a daring reaction against politically correct orthodoxy. Look, we’re being sexist assholes! Aren’t we daring! If you don’t like it, you’re just a square! And, of course, there was always the ubiquitous defense of irony — no, look, we’re getting drunk and harassing women, but we’re doing it ironically!

As Judy Berman wrote here earlier this week, there’s nothing transgressive about any of this. American Apparel’s aesthetic, for instance, was the most time-worn cliché in the world: using hot girls in various states of undress to sell clothes. Of course, American Apparel’s aesthetic was all about irony, or so it’d have you believe, but really, whether this was done with a sort of knowingly arched eyebrow and sly wink is kinda beside the point; saying “Hey, I know I’m being kinda sexist” doesn’t change the fact that you’re being kinda sexist. The fact that the half-naked girl being used to sell your clothes is in a deliberately flashed-out photo wearing silly glasses doesn’t change that she’s a half-naked girl being used to sell your clothes.

If anything, the ironic stage dressing makes it all the more cynical. It’s bad enough not to know that being sexist is wrong; it’s worse to know this and do it anyway, because it’s a route to commercial success. The perpetually infuriating VICE, for instance, came up with a magic formula for success that was one part actual intelligent, progressive, boundary-pushing journalism to nine parts nihilistic misogynist awfulness. Decades on, it remains as divisive as ever, equally capable of publishing something as good as this or as bad as this.

It’s this tension that’s been at the root of VICE‘s success and, I’d argue, that of many icons of hipster culture; if it was flat-out misogynistic, it’d be easy to criticize. Misogynistic in an allegedly satirical way, though, with a lashing of something worthwhile… that’s harder to get a handle on. (See also: American Apparel’s advocacy for immigration reform and worker rights.) You can make the same argument about hipster culture in general: that it wasn’t all bad or all misogynistic. And sure, you’d probably be right. But ultimately, on balance, it served to perpetuate the same old patriarchal values that more progressive types spent most of the 20th century trying to abolish.

Anyway, while hipster culture may have been shot through with ambiguity, the men (yes, always men) behind it were less perplexing: they were just assholes. Apart from Charney and Richardson, the third member of the culture’s holy trinity of awfulness is VICE founder, racist prick and determined alpha male Gavin McInnes (“Why are all you wimps complaining that violence is bad, ‘macho’ is bad?… This idea of this beta male being in control is, what, 20 years old? You’re going against 40,000 years of evolution”). His fall from grace has already come, of course, and he’s been put out to pasture at Spectator “High Life” waste of space Taki Theodoracopulos’ largely ignored website, where he rants into the void like an elderly and somewhat deranged dog on wheels howling at the night sky.

Then there’s Hipster Runoff bro Carles, whose blog pretty much embodies the idea of being misogynistic while pretending to satirize doing so, a man who’s made a living out of dressing up “Look at these dumb sluts!” as “‘Look’ at these ‘dumb’ ‘sluts’!” (Seriously, if it wasn’t for the existence of quotation marks, Carles would still be serving beers at the Charleston.) And you can also add to the list dickheads like Action Bronson and Black Lips, and plenty of others.

All of them exemplify a special sort of cynicism: the nihilistic appropriation of misogyny for personal gain, dressed up in a pretense of irony and satire. The world can do quite happily without them. So, farewell, Dov Charney — don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out, eh?

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20 comments
Alex Yenni
Alex Yenni

something tells me the author is the most insufferable dinner party guest of all time

brignil
brignil

I take comfort in the fact that all this SJW backlash is largely confined to the tiny audience that reads crap like what is on this website.

pishposh
pishposh

Hipster misogyny is dying? Counterpoint: reddit.

FrankE
FrankE

So, are we nice guys cool again...just asking? :-)

AlexandraC.MacArthur
AlexandraC.MacArthur

YES! I never realized how sexist hipster culture is. What you didn't bring up, because it would have swerved too off topic, is the appropriation of traditional female roles. When I was in the psych hipster scene I was amazed at the shallowness of myself and my fellow female friends running after these old vintage dresses. We got totally immersed in this culture that valued the super feminine and our social setting seemed to almost mimic these time periods when we interacted with boys – the boys had a whole psych dj culture and didn't really care much about us besides if we looked the time period and if we were hot. Intellectual conversation was sparse. 


So glad I don't partake in those subcultures anymore...

Juliana Piesco
Juliana Piesco

Awesome article, @TomHawking . Never thought of it that way – the pendulum swing that brought us conservative-hipster. I felt the increase in the whole conservative, alpha-male vibe, but didn't associate it with this ironical-misogynistic hipster wave... So true.

ScottBryson
ScottBryson

You left out everyone's favorite frat bro Joe Francis...

JazminStewart-Lyons
JazminStewart-Lyons

"As for the rest of the article, I didn't count a single example of genuine "misogyny" from VICE, American Apparel, Hipster Runoff, etc." 

That commentator had clearly never been on their websites then.

Can we figure out a way to get rid of Tucker Max too? 

grrrama
grrrama

"The hipster aesthetic, such as it was, incorporated plenty of semi-ironic appropriation of the tropes of traditional masculinity: trucker hats, flannel shirts, PBR, beards/mustaches, and so on. I say semi-ironic because beneath the veneer of irony, there was always something deeply conservative and deeply unpleasant about it. Specifically, it was reflective of a wider shift in the mid-to-late 1990s and early 2000s toward the reassertion of traditional alpha-male masculinity."

There is nothing "deeply conservative and deeply unpleasant" about masculinity or beards, trucker hats, flannel shirts or PBR. I actually read the above passage and thought that the author is so deep in bizarre ideology as to be legitimately insane. 

As for the rest of the article, I didn't count a single example of genuine "misogyny" from VICE, American Apparel, Hipster Runoff, etc. In some cases it was simply asserted that these institutions and "hipster culture" (and beards and flannel shirts?!) are misogynistic. In other cases, the use of images of "hot chicks" is used as an example, for reasons unstated. The VICE article linked as an example of misogyny is particularly baffling: it's written by a woman arguing that progressive people should reclaim vaginas from their exploited, porny cultural status and that she personally would like to overcome her own personal, socially conditioned distaste for images of vaginas. What a woman-hating alpha publication.

Flavorwire should be embarrassed to run this sort of article. The author is entitled to their own opinion, but these harsh blanket claims should be supported by genuine evidence and much clearer sense and logic. 

DonnaLynnRisolo
DonnaLynnRisolo

The author, Tom Hawkings, did not say that masculinity or beards, trucker hats, flannel shirts or PBR are "deeply conservative" and "deeply unpleasant." If you follow his train of thought closely, you will see that he is saying that the masquerading of mysogyny under the veneer of hipster irony is indeed deeply unpleasant, cynical, self serving of the men who reflect it, and most definitely not fooling those of us who still remember when such an apparent sham would be called out for what it is: conservatism wrapped up in a cool pretense. Thank you Tom Hawkings for still caring enough to write this very worthwhile and timely critique.

grrrama
grrrama

@DonnaLynnRisolo

"If you follow his train of thought closely, you will see that he is saying that the masquerading of mysogyny under the veneer of hipster irony is indeed deeply unpleasant, cynical, self serving of the men who reflect it"

OK, I did follow that. I suppose where we part ways is in the expectation that the author, who outright calls specific people, publications and the entire cultural/trend of "hipsterdom" misogynstic, should supply any evidence of these serious claims within the article. Which the author does not do. It's lazy, it skirts slander and it encourages readers to condemn people and publications without evidence.

Similarly, @
JazminStewart-Lyons above says "That commentator had clearly never been on their websites [VICE, Hipster Runoff, American Apparel] then."

Well, that's a witty dismissal of my point. In fact I have very infrequently visited Hipster Runoff and was shocked to see it accused of blatant misogyny, since I thought it was a parody website of Pitchfork. So a single statement as to how it is misogynistic and some supporting evidence would help me make up my mind (or judge whether the author's fine-grained and I think wrong-headed argument about ironic misogyny being as bad or worse than regular misogyny is sensible).  

Similarly I've never found VICE to be particularly regressive or misogynistic and the article linked to defend that position is clearly not (as I stated above). Both it and American Apparel seem to condemned here almost entirely for using images of sexualized women, which I don't believe to be misogyny and certainly not an extreme example of it in our culture.

But maybe I'm missing the point, because - as I say and object to - that point isn't made here. Maybe those companies are deemed misogynistic because of the behavior or comments of their employees or execs. Which I think is as questionable, but again it's not really in the article. 

Finally, I find it bizarre that both the article and your comment refer to these practices as "conservative"! If there's one thing conservatism consistently and globally objecta to, it's the sexualization of the female form and the publication of nudity. Calling Terry Richardson or VICE or AA "conservative" is frankly odd and goes to the importance of clarifying what we are actually accusing people of here. 

JoeJoeBraden
JoeJoeBraden

@grrrama @DonnaLynnRisolo If you're not seeing it, quite frankly, you're not looking hard enough. 

As for not providing explicit examples for every single site - again, feel free to do your own research, but it's a perfectly reasonable journalistic technique to list numerous publications that are known for certain styles. I wasn't surprised to see a single name on the list, quite frankly. It's like saying "KFC, McDonald's, and Wendy's all serve food that's bad for you." Even if they're just talking about the Big Mac, we all still know the others are bad for you.

Additionally, as for conservative, there's a two-way street on that: 1) The "deeply religious conservative" that seeks to shame and repress women for any sexual expression, which you note, and 2) the overtly possessive conservative who believes a woman's sexuality - any woman's - belongs to them because they want it. We see this in MRAs and any number of other conservative ideological groups - which do often like to include Biblical passages about women being subservient to their husbands. And - yes - these conservative ideologies contribute to explicit photographs of women which contribute to rape culture.

Here, for some fun sources (spaces included for posterity): http:// mic.com/articles/42717/ think-american-apparel-isn-t-sexist-maybe-this-will-convince-you

http:// bitchfork-media.tumblr.com/post/ 19163053506/vice-magazine-hates-women-why-were-so-awesome

http:// www.collapseboard.com/ everett-true/hipster-runoff-explained-in-two-simple-pictures/

Fun how that works, isn't it? 

Re
Re

It seems to me, however, that @grrrama didn't quite follow the article, and missed the line of thought, the reasoning, and/or the gist.

rjcylon
rjcylon

Misandry is usually hard to follow but in this case I believe he nailed it quite adequately.

JoeJoeBraden
JoeJoeBraden

@rjcylon Sorry, no such thing. Like the rednecks who love to cry "reverse racism" we all know there are no explicitly ingrained political, social, and cultural mores or laws that seek to undermine men's power or opportunities in any way, shape, or form. Men are not the victims of domestic violence at the baffling rate of women, nor are they the victims of street harassment, rape, or murder at the hands of their female partners (or strangers on an everyday basis). Those who cry misandry tend to be the most misogynist folks out there. Maybe take a look in the mirror on that one, sparky. 

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