For the sake of clarity, I will be using the term hipster in two ways. When you see it written like (hipster), I'm referring to the actual term. When you see it written like ("hipster"), I'm referring to the term that modern society has coined, redefined and abused.
What The F*** Happened?
When did "cool" die? Was it when Johnny Rotten stripped his bright orange hair & laid down the Sex Pistols microphone for the final time? When Jack Kerouac's way of living finally kicked him to the dust? When Kurt Cobain took his own life on a rainy, spring afternoon? When high street chains released "band tees" depicting rock and roll icons, even though the majority of Generation Z couldn't summon the name of a Rolling Stones single if they tried? When fourteen-year-old-private school girls started selling cocaine to their Bieber-squealing peers? Or was it when the masses started cottoning on to the "cultural phenomenon" that is the "hipster".
After punk was watered-down beyond all recognition & rap lost its incentive for powerful social commentary, subculture slowly bled away in the background. Today seems to have lost all recollection of what it means to be "counter", even going as far as to mesh these fringe groups into one, horrific, unspeakable hybrid - the "hipster".
While previous youth movements have challenged the dysfunction and decadence of their rule-makers, today we have this "hipster" - a self-labelled monster that mirrors the doomed shallowness of mainstream society.
Here are the three, main problems:
1. People using the term hipster incorrectly.
2. People throwing around the term "hipster" at every Joe in a pair of combat boots.
3. People thinking that they're a hipster. when they're actually a "hipster" i.e. an "every Joe" in a pair of combat boots.
I say, if humanity is to salvage itself, then the "hipster" must die. That is, before the "hipster" kills us all first.
The original hipster belonged to an amorphous movement without ideology; it was an attitude, a way of "being" without attempting to explain why. We're talking Charlie Parker, Harry Gibson, Jack Kerouac & Allen Ginsberg. They didn't want to tell you why they were doing what they were doing, because you weren't part of their reality, and they didn't give a fuck; their vernacular was limited, as it was obscure. There is no translation in contemporary language for what they stood for. There was neither a future nor a past, only a present that existed in some existential, harmonic illusion. A jazz aria or bebop solo - that was the only truth.
The hipster's outlook transcended socio-political boundaries and instead favoured levels of consciousness. The only divisions that mattered were between "hip" and "square". Squares sought security and an easy road. Hipsters sought the meaning of life and could never be afraid of death. Hipsters were the real deal and signified the coming together of the bohemian, the delinquent, and the outcast.
But now, in our fearful contemporary society, the "hipster" has emerged, blocking out every syllable those mad beatniks uttered.
Long before this happened, we were warned about "authentic inauthenticity"; cautioned by Socrates and Plato and Aristotle about following the crowd and losing ourselves in titles coined by the mundane. About being sheep. It's just a shame that we weren't warned by Kanye West or Kim K, otherwise we probably would've listened...
And now they're selling "punk" & "hipster" starter-kits on Etsy. I'm telling you, it's the end of the world.
What sets apart the "hipsters" of the now from the hepsters Ginsberg & Carr described in the Beat era, is an astounding lack of menace. Kids today aren't angry at anybody. They don't want anything enough. James Dean and Neal Cassady and William S. Burroughs were philosophical, musical psychopaths, who were hankering to jack your car and take it for a sexually ambiguous 100mph ride through the deserts of South America. Young people today are set with an angsty Tumblr and a loose-knit sweater from Urban Outfitters.
Disguised behind the semblance of "irony", contemporary "hipsters" glorify authenticity and in the process, chunder it back up with catastrophic inauthenticity. As Christopher Lorentzen seethed in his '07 Time Out article, they are consumed with anxiety over having an image, so have brutally decimated, defanged & redefined movements that were never meant to be touched again - the fringe movements of the postwar era, like Beats, hippies, punks, and even grunge.
I'm betting half the people identifying as "hipsters" in your local farmer's market, record store, and independent coffee house, have no idea where the idea came from. I'm sure they don't know anything about 40s & 50s hepsters, the liftestyle of the jazz musician, the Beats subculture, the actual meaning of subculture. And that's sad. Harry Gibson, Charlie Parker & Kerouac must be turning in their graves.
By taking over these once-cool fringe cultures, the "hipster" mutes the edge these movements may have had in their day, thereby making them a safe beverage for the everyday man, woman, child & cocker-spaniel to consume. Despite what they insist, like an Avon saleswoman at your door on a Saturday morning, they're cons. They're frauds. They're the middle man, working in the vast plain between underground, and mainstream. Indeed, the paradox of these doe-eyed beardsmen is that despite claiming to be deathly allergic to all things conventional, they do more to shape & define the mainstream than any other group today.They're both overly self-aware and hilariously unaware while they're at it.
This is where the "hipster" goes wrong - it's completely and absurdly oxymoronic. Hipster, in its essence, is doing whatever you want and not giving a shit. "Hipster" is telling people what to do, how to dress, which drugs are cool, and where you should be hanging out. Menace is completely lost on those posers between the ages of 18-30, but still, the myth of menace survives in the pages of publications like Vice and Nylon. Why? Because they offer a safe path to transgression, one with little effort, and an even smaller amount of spunk.
Now, the "hipster" doesn't even have to be an artist or a musician. Now, he has an office job, a trust fund, an Ivy League education, and wears a porkpie hat after work as if none of this matters in the slightest.
What's even funnier, is that the reputation of the "hipster" as a rich, middle-class, self-important, unoriginal snob in uniform, instead of a social rebel, means that in this day and age, pretty much the most insulting thing you can moniker a hipster is, well, a "hipster". If there are any real deals left, that is.
Indeed, what we have got left are those that were "like, completely inspired" by Leonard Cohen when they were zygotes. The awful clichés that insist on taking a picture in a fake, semi-racist Native American headdress, in their best bra, toting a joint, truly believing that shell is what makes them the rebellious, acid-trip nightmare Hunter S. Thompson wrote about. They croon the uplifting ballads of hip poseurs who refuse to get their hands dirty, unless, of course, that filth is quaint and photogenic through the lens of their girlfriend's Nikon.
These people aren't hipsters. They're wannabes; kids who want to be cool and different, but are too afraid to pave the way on their own terms. More than that, you shouldn't want to be anything in the first place. You are who you are, no matter how much that sounds like something your neurotic career counsellor told you in those high school meetings.
However, if you want to buy pre-ripped skinny jeans from Urban Outfitters and listen to live recordings of Mumford & Sons through your brand new, oversized headphones because Vice told you that was "in" - fine. Go ahead. I'm happy that's what makes you happy. But don't go around with a haughty look on your face, calling what you're doing something that it's not. To me, that's an offence to those individuals that had the courage to step outside the box in the first place; to go against societal norms and make a stand for what they thought needed to change. To them it wasn't a fashion accessory. It wasn't an image alone. It wasn't something to brag about. Often, it wasn't something they were even aware of. And it certainly wasn't a label crafted by sociology academics galore.
Throwing "Hipster" Around
This is what happened when society big-wigs got a hold of the "hipster"; the capitalists and the advertisers and the money grubbers. They turned it into something so completely opposite to what it once was, the outcome has become almost comical.What do I mean by this? Well, if you're floating around town in a pair of non-prescription glasses and a Nirvana tee from H&M, you're not being "edgy", but buying into what ten men in suits, chuckling in an advertising high-rise boardroom, told you to be; you're merely a player in some high street mogul's sick wet dream. No originality here, people, and certainly no trailblazing.
The "hipster" of today is nebulous - anyone who is creative, social & young - and so lacking in meaning,that you might as well just say "young person" or "youth that enjoys a nice flannel shirt".Why, dear reader, that probably makes you a "hipster", too. Haw haw.
But at the end of the day, after all is said and done, what do these labels actually mean? Because I don the occasional fedora or flower crown or knitted headgear in high summer, that makes me a "hippie"? Because my clothing colour of choice has and will always be black, that makes me a "goth"? Because I enjoy a pumpkin-spiced latte every now and again, that makes me "basic"? Because I resent being called any of these things, that makes me a "hipster"?
Why can't I just be Betsy? Why do I have to choose? Can I not like the BJM and the Sex Pistols and Bruce Springsteen and the Spice Girls? Am I not allowed to wear thrifted combat boots and a a dress from Forever 21 at the same time? Should I admit that my most-loved poets are Poe and Ginsberg, even though I like to pin inspirational quotes on Pinterest? Do I have to make a decision between "camp Starbucks" and "camp independent coffee house that also sells delicious kale chips"?
Who made these rules and why are we all still playing their fucked-up game?
Surely these terms have been thrown around so often and with so little thought, that they've started to lose any meaning that they originally maintained. That three-year-old in the flannel shirt: hipster. The grandmother shopping for a parka in the charity store: hipster. The guy drinking a PBR at your cousin's birthday: hipster. Right.
My point, at the end of it all, is that the "hipster" stereotype is too broad. It applies to everybody; whether you want to express your joy at finding a new musical act that no one's heard of yet, who all happen to be polyamorous and play disjointed beats on empty kimchee jars; or if you enjoy creating art from old cigarette ash; or even if you just want to listen to a record on an actual record player, whether it's Madonna or Beirut or Death Cab - "hipster" could apply to anyone who doesn't adhere completely to society's ideals of personhood. The biggest problem of all, therefore, is that the "hipster" is stifling creativity because everyone is afraid of seeming pretentious, or living up to a term that, at the end of the day, is completely vacuous and void of real meaning anyway.
That's not okay. The very nature of creativity is a catalyst for change, for the evolving and betterment of humanity; to do that, we have to break out of established patterns. Without it, we are cardboard. For me, being different shouldn't have to fall under a label. It shouldn't be laughed at and it certainly shouldn't be made into something that it isn't.
Indeed, they say that the "hipster" killed us all. But really, the "hipster" killed the hipster.
You want to call me a hipster? That's fine. I greatly admire the Beats and what they stood for, so I guess you're paying me a compliment.
You want to call me a "hipster"? Well, maybe that's fine, too. If pompous, pseudo-intellectuals want to throw around that term every which way, branding individuals who stepped out of line, or did things a little differently, or don't want to spend their lives doing what someone else already did, then they might as well say that Leonardo da Vinci was a "hipster". Or Mozart. Or Socrates. Or Jesus Christ. And if that's the case, society, then maybe I want to be a "hipster" after all.
But honestly? I'd rather you just called me Bets.