The Hipster Conundrum

hipsters across the 2000s

Hipsters across the 2000s photo courtesy of google images

By DEBORAH HOSTETTER

He appeared to fit into what many would consider the hipster mold. The ironic mustache was present as were retro sneakers, an indecipherable wrist tattoo and tight black pants. He was contentedly sipping on a craft beer while rapidly tapping away on some kind of  Apple Device. However, when asked by a reporter if he would like to be interviewed on his hipster experience, he became indignant and refused to respond.

Ahhh, the countless conundrums one runs into when faced with trying to define hipster or hipster culture. According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, a hipster is “a person who is unusually aware of and interested in new and unconventional patterns (as in jazz or fashion).” But the more explicit Urban Dictionary calls hipsters, “a subculture of men and women typically in their 20s and 30s that value independent thinking, counter-culture, progressive politics, an appreciation of art and indie-rock, creativity, intelligence, and witty banter (…) although hipsterism is really a state of mind, it is also often intertwined with distinct fashion sensibilities. Hipsters reject the culturally-ignorant attitudes of mainstream consumers and are often seen wearing vintage and thrift store inspired fashions, tight-fitting jeans, old-school sneakers, and sometimes thick rimmed glasses.”

Hmm. Do they sound pretentious and annoying, or make you want to be/like/admire them? Are non-hipsters really “culturally-ignorant?” At the very least, these definitions of hipster should lead one to question their origins.

According to The Daily Texan, the term evolved from the word “hip,” and the original hipsters were young metropolitan African-American men from the 50s who shared a special kind of comradeship through their music and style. The Beats, who emerged from that scene, were vagrant poet types who lived hippie-like while opposing consumer culture and the norms of their parents’ generation. While never that big number-wise, the Beats still played a significant part in U.S. culture, making an impact especially in the music and literature scene. However, they were gradually replaced by the Beatniks, who were more into fashion then an actual ideology, and then the hippies, who fixated more on community living (with lots of peace and love thrown into the mix) than anything else. Then came the Punks, who responded to the shifting climate of the era (this was right after the controversial Vietnam War), with an outpouring of angry music and dress, piercings and tattoos included. Somehow from all that evolved hipsters, who seemingly can’t be figured out (or even figure themselves out).

Notwithstanding, Christian Lorentzen from Time Out New York, figures that “hipsterism fetishes the authentic elements of all the fringe movements of the postwar era–beat, hippie, even grunge, and draws on the cultural stores of every unmelted ethnicity, reinventing it with a winking inauthenticity.” And Huffington Post contributor Julia Plevin thinks that the “definition of ‘hipster’ remains opaque to anyone outside of (its) self-proclaiming, highly selective circle.” Meanwhile PopMatter says that hipster might be the “embodiment of postmodernism as a spent force, revealing what happens when pastiche and irony exhaust themselves as aesthetics.”
Ok then. Plain English, anyone?

Maybe this snarky review of a Lancaster City self-described hipster dive resonates more strongly. As this one disgruntled customer posted on yelp.com, “If you want to hang out with annoying, rich college kids and phony bologna snobs, this is your place. Do yourself a flavor and walk over to Square One for a real cup of coffee without all of the annoying people who love themselves way too much. Disgusting. They seriously should sell mirrors at this place. I think they would make a killing. I thought having a coffee was about having a coffee. Not anymore, it’s a fashion show coupled with dirty looks from the upper crust.” But apparently Square One Coffeehouse, though it takes its products very seriously and is known for its efforts to maintain reasonable prices while providing top quality coffee (http://www.squareonecoffee.com/) isn’t immune either. Some of its customer reviewers have described it as “too scene,” leading one to wonder what kind of scene (hipster or anti-hipster?) that is exactly, and if the  Square One fan was aware of those reviews when he posted his.

No wonder hipsters are afraid to identify or define themselves. But maybe we should take it easy on them. After all, some say that hipster culture has some positive aspects to offer.

Someone like Luke O’Neil from the Huffington Post. According to this self-proclaimed hipster (which some would judge destroys his authenticity), there should be no shame in wanting to dress stylishly and appreciate the finer things of life while sharing said experiences with countless others through multimedia. O’Neil gives hipsters credit for their capacity to discover worthy cultural and entertainment selections and then publicize said selections through online sharing for the benefit of other less aware folk. He says that sans hipsters there would be no decent mainstream music or art.

And New Cities Foundation blogger Sua Son credits hipster culture for bringing positive changes to cities, since apparently hipster types “look for ways to grow businesses, transform communities and become long term investors. They are young entrepreneurs who are doing things for cities. They are crafting new street scenes (while) influencing non-hipster types into making hipster decisions such as buying organic or enjoying brunch at local cafes.”

Son basically thinks that the majority of hipsters are busy creating positive business and cultural opportunities in their metropolitan areas of residence, therefore providing overall better living experiences for other locals. However, another Huffington Post writer explains that since there are no set ways of defining a hipster, said metropolitan areas are turning into centers where young folk (those counting as hipster sorts of “different origins and social class”) compete with each other to create new definitions for what truly classifies as “good taste.”

And New York Times contributor Mark Greif sees hipster communities as “crossroads,” where various young people are in silent competition for social status and secretly malign each other for their liberal arts degrees or attempts to become involved in the “creative professions.” They dabble in the notion of being the starters of some original idea and pride themselves on getting what’s really “cool” and “in” before anyone else does.

Perhaps, this is why they’re so easy to misunderstand, and then utterly despise. Popular website Cracked.com (among various others) pokes fun at hipsters for their “unwarranted self-importance” saying that their “rebellion” against those so-called societal norms is more ironic than anything else because it shows how much more attention they are giving them.

As Times writer Dan Fletcher says, “Hipsters are the friends who sneer when you cop to liking Coldplay. They’re the people who wear T-shirts silk-screened with quotes from movies you’ve never heard of and the only ones in America who still think Pabst Blue Ribbon is a good beer. They sport cowboy hats and berets and think Kanye West stole their sunglasses. Everything about them is exactingly constructed to give off the vibe that they just don’t care.”

Fletcher goes on to describe the enmity hipster types have attracted and why it’s somewhat merited. However he defends the original hipsters and their unique “alternative” music and art enterprises, saying that, “The hipsters who will be the dead end of Western Civilization are the ones who add nothing new or original and simply recycle and reduce old trends into a meaningless meme.”

Ahh, hipsters. Maybe they just need to stop trying so hard. It is possible to be creative and original without meaninglessly striving through the process. Many young people nowadays, while they wouldn’t admit to being hipsters, have borrowed certain so-called hipster features such as constant media use (http://www.wikihow.com/Defeat-a-Facebook-Addiction, anyone?) What’s more, most women won’t be seen in flared bottom pants anymore while plenty of guys rock flannel shirts and undersized hoodies. And how many people wear those trendy, yet old-school style square-framed glasses for actual vision issues?

However, when polled on their overall impressions of hipsters, most people respond negatively, calling out hipster types for being overly concerned with style and veneer, while giving the impression of “trying too hard.”

Millersville student Zac Livesay summed up the responses well when he said, “Hipsters are so focused on themselves and their appearance, (it’s) pathetic.” And as Jordan Steele, also a student, said, “Hipsters are just a paradox; what will happen when they’re not hip anymore?”

It seems that while most people do appreciate the visual effects of a swanky knit cap, they sense fake irony, striving and evident shallowness from a mile away. It’s not difficult to tell  when a lot of effort was put into creating what’s supposed to be an effortless or even careless look.  So perhaps these hipster types just need to take it easy. Yes, this may be the Digital Age in which people can live in little self-made movies shared with countless other through  Instagram and other similar devices. And it might be easy to adapt an attitude of irony or disinterest while working towards originality and creativity. But there are far more important things to focus on then achieving the perfect mixed drink, discovering a “new” indie music show or trying to create an ideal slim cut denims/cardigan combo. Yes it is important to strive for creativity, intellectual growth and originality. But not while making it all about the image and impression. Instagram is an absolutely fantastic photo and video filtering device which can be fun to use; however, actually living the images is far more meaningful then constantly uploading and viewing them. Hopefully.

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