Jazz, Whitman and Thoreau, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, the Beatniks, White Castle hamburgers, heroin, Elvis, Bob Dylan, Deborah Harry, Kurt Cobain, Andy Warhol, snowboarding, html, James Dean, Dennis Hopper.
That’s a short list of people and things that have been considered hip. Some of them, like Mark Twain, don’t qualify as hip any more. Some of them, like James Dean, never lost their hipness. At least one of them — Elvis — has become a comical caricature of hip; a wannabe-hipster wouldn’t imitate Elvis anymore than he’d act like the Fonz. Some of them have become so commonplace — snowboarding and html — that it’s difficult to imagine that they were ever the province of the cutting edge.
People disagree about the exact definition of “hip,” but I think most cultural historians would agree that three principles rest at hip’s core: intensely living in the present (no past, no future, no worries), disdain for material possessions and ambition, a vague type of enlightenment or awareness.
We shouldn’t forget those three principles of hip. They’re intensely religious. Living in the present? C.S. Lewis said, “The present is the point at which time touches eternity.” Disinterest in material possessions? See St. Francis of Assisi and every other saint on the roster. Enlightenment? That’s the Catholic faith in a nutshell, nourished and protected under two millennia of dogma, rituals and tradition.
Although it might be difficult to find many heroin-shooting Catholics, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Catholicism crops up throughout America’s jaunt with hip. Mark Twain wrote an excellent biography of St. Joan of Arc. Andy Warhol prayed at church almost every day, financed his nephew’s studies for the priesthood and worked in a soup kitchen. Even the highly orthodox and chaste Flannery O’Connor (the “Hillbilly Thomist”) gained hip currency for a while.
Perhaps the best example of all comes from Jack Kerouac, the central figure of the hippest hip movement of all, the beatniks.
Kerouac said the word “beat” is a religious word with a relation to the beatific vision. He said he first realized this in the early 1950s when he saw a statue of the Virgin Mary turn its head in his hometown church’s basement. It’s no coincidence that he habitually sprinkled religious terms — holy, soul, mystic, immortal — throughout his greatest work, On the Road.
Hipness in St. Blog’s
Is blogging hip? At one point it undoubtedly was, the realm of the hip Wired magazine crowd. Although blogging is still a bit edgy (people still argue about where it’s going and whether it’s a valid form of writing), with millions of bloggers out there, it’s hard to claim that blogging is hip.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t find individual hip bloggers. If you want to find hipness in the Catholic blogosphere, consider these guidelines:
Avoid blogs that talk about fatherhood and motherhood. Parenting is definitely un-hip, at least parenting of the responsible type. If you’re beatnik William Burroughs and willing to raise your son to be an amphetamine addict alcoholic, then maybe you can be a hip parent. But otherwise, parenting brings cares about providing for one’s children, which often requires a person to conform to conventional ways of life, and that’s un-hip.
Avoid sermonizing blogs. There’s nothing wrong with Catholic morality, but there’s something un-hip about lecturing on it.
Don’t write off blogs by clergy. Clergy can be hip. Indeed, for the reasons parents tend to be un-hip, clergy tend to be hip. After all, they don’t need to care much about material things and they don’t need to be conventional.
Remember this saying of Charles Rice, a professor of mine at Notre Dame: “You don’t need to wear sandals to be a radical. You just have to be an orthodox Catholic.”
“Orthodoxy” does not equal “conventional.” In fact, in this era of secularist political correctness, it’s often just the opposite. Look for bloggers who are unabashedly orthodox and aren’t afraid to state their conclusions. Like these.
The Orthometer (orthometer.blogspot.com): Hip priest checks your orthodoxy. … The Dawn Patrol (dawneden.com/blogger.html): Rock lady makes chastity chic. … The Wacky Wannabe Musical Monk (themusicalmonk.blogspot.com/index.html): Un-cloistered convert hits all the right notes. … The Ironic Catholic (ironiccatholic.blogspot.com): Tongue-in-cheek observer considers middle America “this side of Heaven.” ’Nuf said. … Alive and Young (aliveandyoung.blogspot.com): Unqualified commentator offers quality commentary. Very cool. … Relapsed Catholic (relapsedcatholic.com): Ooh, that Canadian copywriter is crazy cool. … Survivors Weblog (survivors.la/blog): Pro-lifers living on the edge. … Ales Rus (alesrarus.funkydung.com): Self-describes as “a strange duck.” As in Daffy, not Donald. Far-freaking-out. … Powerblog (powerballplace.blogspot.com): Steel City DJ with an attitude and a half. Dig it, Daddy-O!
Finally, although it’s not a blog, I also highly recommend Godspy.com. It’s the hippest high-fidelity-Catholic site on the web.
Oscar Wilde was one of the earliest hipsters: an opinionated drug-taking alcoholic with libertine mores in Victorian England. But he apparently found grace at the end. According to blogger Gashwin Gomes (gashwingomes.blogspot.com): “Wilde’s is a fascinating and thrilling story of grace and sin and fall and redemption. He did convert to the Catholic faith on his deathbed, and he believed he was cured of an ailment by receiving a blessing from the Pope.”
Not everyone believes that Wilde crossed the Tiber on his deathbed, but the reliable biographer Joseph Pearce does, noting that Wilde once said, “Catholicism is the only religion to die in.”
The hip life isn’t for everyone. It certainly isn’t for me, a man with seven children and a conventional middle-class life that makes Willy Loman’s routine look exciting. That’s Willy Loman, brainchild of the tragically hip playwright Arthur (Death of a Salesman) Miller.
But everyone can learn something from the hipsters. The Catholic faith provides the seeds of hip. That’s why hip’s essences — peace, detachment, enlightenment — smell like grace.
Eric Scheske’s semi-hip blog,
The Daily Eudemon, is at