the definition of hipster is the same as the definition of obscenity
The whole point about the people one calls "hipsters" is that they are just a few degrees different from you. They are like an exaggerated version or a caricature of everything you see as potentially cool about yourself--but somehow rendered false and inauthentic. Consequently, they represent a perpetual threat to your own self-identity (hence all the anger about their superciliousness: "I was into that before it was popular etc."); they threaten to expose your own "coolness" as mere posturing.
It's impossible to divorce the anger from the 'hipster' label because the when you name someone a "hipster" you're identifying a threat to your own sense of identity.
I don't think "hipster is about appropriation" is sufficient - while there are certainly people wearing "Indian" costumes to house parties while drinking Pabst, there are plenty of culturally-appropriating groups (New Age folks with dreamcatchers, frat bros appropriating what they think is "black" culture, etc etc).
And there's plenty of snobbism and misogyny in non-hipster subcultures too - bike assholes, for instance, are a cultural universal from hipster bike repair place to mainstream frat row one.
Honestly, I think the allure of calling people hipsters is this:
1. The rhetoric of misery - in the US, we're all supposed to be nose-grindstone-shoulder-wheel, I'm-going-to-need-you-to-work-this-Saturday, pensions-are-for-the-overpaid, etc etc. And if we see folks who aren't working, or seem to do fun work, we assume that this is because they have trust funds or because their work is stupid. This is true in the activist scene - people who are frugal or work seasonally or whose work is harder than it looks get slagged off a lot and rumors get started about how their parents must be supporting them.
2. Prurience. There's a whole creepy genre of "pictures of so-called hipsters in revealing clothing" that people cluck over with barely-disguised prurient interest. Hipster girls ZOMG wear leggings instead of pants!! Hipster guys sometimes wear effeminate clothes to parties!!! How whorish!
3. Unease about gender. If you go to "look at this fucking hipster", which I can't link because I'm at work, you'll find a kind of funny ear-worm of a song about how terrible hipsters are. And several lines and slides are basically "hipsters are terrible because sometimes you can't tell their gender or sexual preference from their clothes!"
4. Hatred of art and non-conformity; ressentiment; fear that you're missing something. You know what? A lot of hipster stuff is kind of cool. And even more of it is kind of cool to at least a few people. Fancy vegan cooking? Silk-screened patches? Fun haircuts? Bikes? What the hell is so bad about that? Americans are miserable and unfree, and we're terrified that someone somewhere is having a good time that doesn't necessarily involve being rich or having a fancy job....because what that means is that maybe we could be happier too if we took a few minor social risks, loosened up a little and stopped accepting the normal narrative about American life.
5. Hatred of youth. I'm no longer young, so I can say this - Americans hate, envy and fear youth in a way that is truly fucked up. Youth sexuality, youth subcultures, just the mere fact that young people have young bodies - that really flips everyone the fuck out. So naturally, any young people who seem to be having fun being young and irresponsible must be terrible human beings, and young people should be rushed into stodgy middle aged consumer patterns as soon as possible.
6. Belief that everything fun costs lots of money. So obviously, hipsters must be spending tons of cash (ill-gotten, undeserved) on their pursuits, and regular Americans can't afford to be happy because they don't have that kind of (ill-gotten, undeserved) money.
Now, that's not to say that there aren't young artist types who are big ol' jerks. But I would hate for Patti Smith, Sarah Schulman, Jello Biafra and Shane McGowan to have skipped youthful artistic rebellion for a civil service job and a mortgage.
I think seeing hipster as a narrative, rather than a distinct group of people, is a great way to understand how urban middle class identities are constructed and how postmodern class distinctions are established. The mythology of hipster is an extremely fragmented, occasionally contradictory, frequently derogatory narrative about a subculture that may or may not exist. But it doesn’t matter, because regardless, we are using this narrative to make sense (and express) our identities. By frequently othering hipsters as superficial trend-seekers that seem to do things “for the wrong reasons,” we are also authenticating our own acts that might actually mirror those of this group. Thus, a seemingly autoimmune reaction to our own consumption acts serves us to mark the boundaries of our more authentic identities from the other groups that we deem as more consumerist, superficial and inauthentic.
« Older Orson Welles' final interview, conducted October 1... | Down To Fax: We're Chatroulett... Newer »
This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments
Buy a Shirt