Millennials are characteristically devoid of a defined counter-culture. The 50’s had the beatniks. The 60’s and 70’s had the hippies. The 80’s and 90’s had the punks and the birth of hip-hop. All these counter-cultures arose amongst the youth as a rebellion against society’s mainstream cultural codes and perceived injustices.
In the face of two-party induced political homogenization, corporate hegemony, pop culture obsession and nearly religious consumerism, you would think we have a lot to rebel against. And in truth a sort of counter-culture has arisen. This movement, like any other cultural emergence, has inspired extreme criticism and antagonism. It actually has zero self-claimed members.
What subcultural group could possibly be so disdained and elusive?
Yes, you are tired of hearing about this. We all are. What were once funny characterizations have become the most obnoxious clichés. Undoubtedly, the marks of a hipster include vintage flannel, thick-framed glasses, fixed-gear bicycles, Pabst Blue Ribbon, American Spirit/Parliament cigarettes, and of course porno mustaches.
In his article “What Was the Hipster,” New York Magazine contributor Mark Greif cites 1999 as the year that the modern hipster first appeared. The phrase “hipster” itself is much older though.
It appeared in the early 1900’s and was popularized in the jazz era of the 30’s and 40’s, first defined in singer Cab Calloway’s “Cab Calloway’s Hepster Dictionary: Language of Jive.” He labeled a “hep cat,” a precursor term for hipster, as “a guy who knows all the answers, understands jive.”
By the 50’s, the term was being used in reference to young white males that lived with a certain reckless abandon. That rejection of mainstream values was a solid part of the hipster identity and was expressed through how they lived.
Why Are Hipsters Hated So Much?
Hardly anyone is romanticizing the hipsters of today. It’s actually amazing how much self-identified “non-hipsters” seem to hate them…passionately. Douglass Haddow’s 2008 article for Adbusters says it all in its title: “Hipsters: The Dead End of Western Civilization.” He writes, “An artificial appropriation of different styles from different eras, the hipster represents the end of Western civilization – a culture lost in the superficiality of its past and unable to create any new meaning.”
Christian Lorentzen identifies one of his problems with the hipster in his article for Time Out New York, “Why the Hipster Must Die.” He says, “Under the guise of ‘irony,’ hipsterism fetishizes the authentic and regurgitates it with a winking inauthenticity. Those 18-to-34-year-olds called hipsters have defanged, skinned and consumed the fringe movements of the postwar era—Beat, hippie, punk, even grunge.”
The general consensus is that hipsters represent a group that has adopted the indicators of other subcultures but has stripped these indicators of their original meaning. This bastardization of cultural symbols is part of why people hate hipsters so much.
Probably a bigger reason for the hatred is the perceived hipster sensibility. What is this? It may vary, but there is a specific attitude critics ascribe to the overall group. Greif describes it as a “hipper-than-thou” attitude, Lorentzen as “snarkiness.” It is basically a haughtiness and narcissism based on the belief that one is more up to date on current trends than another, and therefore superior.
The Irony of Judgement
But this sweeping dismissal of hipsters as a whole is also unfair. In a way, it is hypocritical. Haddow’s article is ironic in that it criticizes hipsters for being judgmental. But the article itself judges. This can be said to varying degrees for all the articles cited here. They disparage hipsters for thinking they are better than others, but can it be denied that the authors think of themselves as better than hipsters? To emphasize the worthlessness of an entire subcultural group is performing the precise judgment these critics claim to despise.
The fallacy that these writers commit is focusing on those people who only have the image of the hipster without any of the original purpose. They are focusing on the posers, essentially. These are the people who realize something revolutionary is happening and want to be a part of it. More accurately, they want to seem like a part of it. They have no actual interest in its purpose, however.
At the core of a movement are found the innovators and the truly creative. The original hipsters of the early millennium were setting themselves against society.
The Identity of the Movement
They bought second-hand clothes for economic reasons but also as a rebellion against consumerism. Shopping locally at farmers markets and boutique stores wasn’t done to be trendy, but to support local economy. Indie-music provided an option outside of the corporate driven recording industry. Riding bikes was a movement towards creating a greener planet. Part of the appeal of vinyl records and manual film cameras is that one can truly understand how they function, allowing a person to more deeply engage with these tools. If it broke, it could be fixed. It wasn’t necessary to buy a completely new product.
This is where the root of the hipster lies. It is a pursuit of sustainability in the face of a consumer market based on constant obsolescence. Ironically, the movement got caught up in trendiness and image. But this was because of the people who assumed the hipster identity without engaging its core values. The true hipster lives in a way that allows them to flourish outside of the mainstream.
Like the punk and hip-hop movements, the hipster has fallen prey to the vultures of advertising. In the case of the latter, the attack was simply too quick for the core of the movement to become apparent. The true values of the hipster sub-culture may have to shed its stereotypical look to gain recognition.
Even though we may not identify as hipsters, probably more than most of us share many of their values. So don’t judge so hard based on a person’s appearance. It’s always better to start a conversation and try to figure out what someone’s all about. You may find the so-called hipsters to be less superficial than you thought.