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Is old school cooler than modern when discussing 8-tracks, laserdiscs and Betamax tapes?

Por que no?

Enthusiasm is never cool.
  • Enthusiasm is never cool.

Dear Hipster:

If old-school is cooler than modern, and if obscure is cooler than common, then why aren’t hipsters stockpiling 8-tracks, laserdiscs, and Betamax tapes? I would think these various media, so much more obscure than vinyl or VHS, and so much more obscure than streaming or DVD audio/video, would hold some sort of ultra-prestigious hipster appeal. Por que no?

— Stan

I can dream up a handful of practical explanations for you. For one, although I own “Han shoots first” VHS copies of the original Star Wars trilogy, I don’t watch them because (a) setting up a VCR is a pain in the butt; and (b) I fear mutually assured destruction of my media keepsakes if I rouse 1980s technology from its long slumber.

On a similar note, yeah, sure, it would be cool as heck to host a party at your house and bust out some Emerson, Lake & Palmer 8-tracks, effectively forcing lesser hipsters to choose between the twin deaths of either (a) asking “What is that?” and revealing their ignorance; or (b) trying too hard to play it cool and thereby failing to visibly appreciate god-tier hipsterism at its finest. There’s only one little problem with this delightful vision — much old, tape-based media hasn’t survived like vinyl records, or even CDs, so, unless you have a cool uncle who gifts you his basement full of vintage Quad-8s, accumulating a sizeable 8-track collection requires an obscene amount of work.

Because it is such a titanic hassle, reviving obsolete media is beyond the ken of mere hipsters. It’s the province of the enthusiast, and that’s an entirely different thing. Hipsters, somewhat by definition, tend to be dabblers. In order to dabble as broadly as possible, nothing in which the hipster dabbles can require too much effort or time. A given week has only 168 hours, roughly 60 of which must be used to sleep off craft beer hangovers, approximately 40 hours go into earning money, 20 hours go into complaining about not having enough money, and arguing (over beers) about pop culture with other hipsters can easily swallow up 48 hours in any given week. There simply isn’t time left over for focusing with maniacal intensity on one subject to the exclusion of all others.

Enthusiasts, on the other hand, make sacrifices. They stay home in the evenings to exorcise the gremlins from obsolete machinery. They eke out a starvation diet of Simpler Times Lager and ‘Bertos bean burritos so they have money left over to purchase estate sale music collections sight unseen. They will corner you at a party. This is why true enthusiasts — the kind of people who hang out on internet forums arguing Beta v. VHS — are, and I mean this as nicely as I can, kind of weird.

Don’t get me wrong. We need the enthusiasts. Who else will preserve that which is objectively not worth preserving? Woven somehow into the fabric of modern life is a simple guarantee: somewhere out there is a guy, and I mean there might be only one guy, total, for the whole world, who knows all there is to know about something nobody else bothers to know about. Sooner or later, we all need his help with something, and he’s usually happy to oblige, so long as we don’t mind an impromptu lecture on the subject of his enthusiasm.

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