Hipsterism is actually an expression of societal discontent

Chris Gelardi

Excerpts from the slam poem, “The Mating Habits of the North American Hipster,” by Neil Hilborn (only to be read while convincingly mimicking the affectations of Steve Irwin and recognizing the irony of mocking hipsters via slam poetry):

“The male even produces a pocketwatch from inside of his neon yellow vest. He then goes on Craigslist to search for more pocketwatches. Notice his smartphone case that weighs as much as and resembles a pocketwatch. Remember always the hipster creed: ‘Why be efficient when you could be inefficient?’”

“Remember always the hipster ideal: ‘If you base your life around your possessions, make sure they are bizarre, inconvenient, and obsolete, for then no one can accuse you of being shallow.’”

“Indeed, the hipster may be an a**hole materialist, but at least he warns you with his uncomfortable shoes made of vegan alligator skin and good intentions. No, dear viewer, I would posit to you that the North American Hipster is just like us, only… sillier.”

As with nearly all semi-organically organized trends and subcultures, the hipster has caught its fair share of flak. It has been caricaturized and stereotyped, its ideals mangled by the anti- introspection sector’s perceptions of its style and habits: the tight jeans, bold-rimmed glasses- wearing, PBR-drinking, indie folk alternative- listening, fixed-gear bicycle-riding, white agnostic who refuses to accept greater society and therefore must blindly adhere to a smaller ethos in order to feel a sense of belonging and identity.

However, as with most cultural accounts that have grown sour and hostile, in order to understand the American hipster, the narrative it has produced in the current generation of new and young adults must be explored far more analytically.

Hipster-ism, at its essence, is a subcultural manifestation of the societal discontent of the young. Like the hippies of the 1960s and 70s and the hipsters before them (no, hipsters were not a millennial invention), the rise of hipsters in 21st century America is the response of a generation— partially conscious, partly sociologically sub- conscious—to societal values it finds unsettling.

One of the most peculiar aspects of hipster- ism is that, although its fads and fetishes may be easily observed, defined and classified, no one actually wants to be described as a run-of-the-mill hipster. The original spark of the contemporary hipster movement came out of a desire for a styled expression of anti-consumerism and a way to walk the thin line between no culture and label culture. The hipster is anti-label, anti-norm and anti-consumerism, fighting back against what he or she perceives to be the death of the societal soul. The thrift-storing sticks it to branding giants. The unisex clothing styles, typically skinny men, and frequently short-haired women stick it to propagated beauty norms. The obsession with antiques sticks it to consumer culture by creating a new materialism not based on innovation and profit.

However, unlike the counter-cultural movements of the past, contemporary American hipster-ism hasnotrulynewideals.Whereasthehippiesfound a voice in a new version of peace and love rhetoric and the style which represented it, the present-day hipster is stuck borrowing from trends long past. With a few exceptions, hipster style is a reach back to the old and obsolete—the typewriters and record players—a desperate stretch to a more free and innocent time.

Of course, despite hipster-ism’s well-intentioned start, the very culture that hipsters have hoped to counter has swallowed up the movement, processed it, and regurgitated it as its own. American Apparel,

Urban Outfitters, and even characterless branding and retail giants like Target have dissected the hipster subculture, carefully harvested the fashion, and thrown away the ideals, selling a consumer hipster-ism (formerly an oxymoron) back to the youth. “Distressed” jeans are now something you can buy new, and old band t-shirts are no longer merely thrift store commodities.

It is naïve to think of hipster-ism as a faultless victim in this tragic tale of big business’ triumph, however. The hipster spelled out its own demise when it failed to forge its own narrative and looked blindly to the countercultural movements of the previous century for models of intellectual freedom and innocence. What the hipster doesn’t realize is that the counterculture vs. big business society story has been all but the same since the beginning of the twentieth century: big business always consumes.

But the demise of hipster-ism’s purity does not mean that it should be completely discarded as corrupt. Unless one is militantly trying to fit a preppy or ethnocentric style ideal, as millennials we are all at least somewhat attracted to some aspects of hipster-ism because in it we subconsciously recognize and identify with its original intentions. I will gladly admit to my beat-up pair of Converse high-tops, the fact that I almost have enough thrift store flannels to go an entire month without repeating, and my late-night vinyl jam sessions.

But these are only chaotic remnants of a disjointed embryo of a unified cry of societal discontent, a symbol of the young adult generation’s inner disquiet, and an emblem of the nonexistence of a new and cohesive agenda. What does this mean for the future of cultural dialogue? Is the fire of the young being smothered by the growth of a force- fed societal creed? Let us hope not. But the future moves of our generation as either sheep or poets will undoubtedly be crucial in answering these questions for future generations.