Are Hipsters a Good Thing?
In defense of hipsters
Hipsters are amazing.
There, I said it.
I’m not just saying this out of fear.
I was walking down the street in a giant vintage coat and cowboy boots, holding an iced coffee in one hand and my iPhone in the other, when I noticed a sneering mob beginning to form.
Contemptuous murmurs built on either side. “Hipster.” “Bleeping hipster.” “Look at that bleeping hipster.” “I bet she’s active on Instagram.” It was like that scene in “The Elephant Man.”
“No!” I shouted, as they closed in. “I promise you, this is not what it looks like. I’m not a hipster. I’m you! Dunk me into craft beer and I will sink! Stick my hand into a cauldron full of obscure vinyl, and I promise you, I will draw out the one band that everyone has heard of! I didn’t buy this coat at a thrift shop! It was given to me by my actual grandmother! I’m on Instagram, but that’s because I have to use it for work! Please, let me find you a real hipster and I will gladly join you in burning him and his resplendent ironic beard at the stake.”
They readily agreed. We coalesced into a mob. Oddly, every other likely hipster suspect that we alighted on made the same denial. Finally, frustrated, we dispersed to a coffee shop.
Usually when I escape from a hipster-seeking mob, I revert instantly to my old ways. I sneer at those gosh forsaken fools in their ironic glasses with their scarves and mustaches and old-fashioned photographic equipment. I sneer, because I am terrified that if I don’t, they will come for me.
Hipsterdom is like alcoholism. An alcoholic, Dylan Thomas famously wrote, is someone you dislike who drinks as much as you do.
That about sums it up. I’m not a hipster. I just love craft beers. As long as there’s one symptom you don’t display, you consider yourself in the clear.
But at the same time that we mock the hipsters, we use their amenities. And do we say thank you? No. We say, “Get off my lawn, and crawl back to your Trader Joe’s.”
It’s time we stopped.
Think about all that the hipsters have given us.
Independent coffee shops? Yes, please. Sure, I’m theoretically disgusted that you obtained your beans by sending an overzealous bearded guy in a knit poncho to climb a hill and play “The Shins” to them and put blankets on them at night and give them individual names, but the result is delicious.
Vinyl? Lay it on me! Can anyone who has ever had to open a shrink-wrapped jewel case and squint at some tiny lyrics on a booklet the size of a well-fed Post-it note possibly maintain that a return to vinyl as the Physical Form Of Music is a bad thing? No. If you have to have physical music, make it large and glamorous and force me to play it on a big wheel.
And while we’re on the subject of music, what’s so wrong with accordions and large groups of people walking around clapping their hands? What’s wrong with Lorde and Macklemore? They seem amiable enough.
Yes, all the irony can get exhausting. But the net result of a lot of this hipster nonsense is that Something Tasty And/Or Fun Is Available That Wasn’t Before.
If you’re the person who decides to create a bar where there is gin and tonic ON TAP, literally ON TAP, why do we hate you and revile you and mutter all kinds of evil against you falsely?
“reasons i hate hipsters: -they use old or new technology -they drink coffee” tweeted @neonwario.“sometimes they listen to music, some of which is good and some not,” @michaelleung tweeted in reply. That’s about it. If we don’t have something more cogent to say, maybe we need to cool our jets a little. Maybe we need to apologize.
I’m not saying there aren’t principled cases to be made about appropriation or gentrification. Just that all the Ugggggh-ing and hipster-baiting needs to stop.
Take a straw-man hipster, the Grotesquely Absurd Outfit-Wearing Devotee of Bands That Don’t Exist Yet. “Ugggggh,” you said, picturing this person. To fill in the details, here’s a ChaCha list of “things hipsters pretend to know all about”:
Coffee, hair, scarves, shoes, accessories, vinyl, social networks, notebooks, beer, bicycles, Etsy, vintage, Lo-fi photography, tattoos. HOW DARE THEY!
They’re defined by the attempt to cultivate taste.
That’s the hipster’s calling card. What is so bothersome about hipsters is that they insist they have better taste than you. Sometimes, even more irritatingly, they are right. And hipsters have developed taste only in areas that are pretty accessible to everyone. Music, beer, coffee, vintage clothes. These are things that you can have good taste in without having to have expensive taste. In theory there is no hipster bar to entry. People with good taste in beer don’t have to pay the kind of obscene amounts that people who cultivate taste in say, wine, or scotch do. To be a hipster, you just have to be willing to put in the effort. “You can keep your labels,” hipsters say. “I have my Taste, and no one can take it from me.” It’s, you could argue, the democratization of taste. Why wait until you are a billionaire to eat and dress better than fast-food and big-box retailers suggest you should?
This can be a little much. Difficulty and obscurity can become substitutes for quality. But the end result is not something HORRIBLE.
When a critical mass of hipsters converge on something, it is generally not because the thing is just obscure. It’s because it is both obscure and good. And then it becomes mainstream and the hipsters have to start looking all over again.
And for this, we punish them? Hipsters go out and find us nice music and nice plaids and nice restaurants and sturdy shoes, and then we take up listening to it and wearing them and eating there, and they have to move farther out and look for something else, and whenever we see them we roll our eyes and boo and post unflattering pictures of them on Tumblr.
I know what you’re going to say. There’s something almost pathetic about alternative culture after 2000 or so, in the sense that it is mainly an attempt by people who never experienced what it was like to have anything but a Starbucks on every corner and mostly instant access to everything you could possibly want, mass-produced for your convenience, boxed, shrink-wrapped and whisked to your door at a second’s whim, to replicate what they imagine life was like Before, when you had to trek long distances and tailor your own clothing and grind your own coffee by hand with a pestle. “What’s the matter with mass culture?” our elders ask, baffled. “We didn’t stagger and bicycle through centuries of history so you could go trekking off on your fixie bicycle to buy vintage coats in a thrift shop. We have gears now, you realize? You can use them!” At its absolute worst, hipsterdom is a weird reenactment of the ’60s by people who weren’t there.
But there’s an appeal to difficulty. The one rarity these days is Things That Aren’t Readily Available. That used to be the only kind of thing there was. People fought long and hard so that would not be so. But maybe something got lost in the shuffle.
Yes, popular culture is good now. It’s almost too good. It’s tailored. It knows what we want before we want it, and it gives it to us, and we don’t have to lift a finger. But there’s no thrill of discovery. And sometimes it misses a spot. Sometimes we like things we didn’t know we’d like. And thanks to the Internet, if you find something obscure and good, it can spread rapidly, like wildfire, or Starbucks.
Leaving aside the usual debate about what happens when people move into a place and insist on stuffing it chock-full of coffee shops, because Times trend writers have to have something to make their own, can we lay off?
Look at food trucks. Look at coffee shops. Look at mustaches! Are we going to sit here and say that some of these things are not net boons?
We should thank the people who have given us so much.
Thank you, Hipsters.
Thank you hipsters for all that you do. I won’t say “ugh” to you any more.
I have always wondered this and wanted to get some insight into what most people despise about them. I have always considered myself a hipster, even though I won't admit it in public, and so were many of my friends when I used to live in Toronto. So what's the beef?
“I think it might be the "I saw it first so I'm better than you" attitude that's stereotypically hipster? I don't know much about the style myself so I can't say much more.”
“So long as you're not the condescending twat type of hipster: nothing at all.”
“It's a shallow lifestyle. There's nothing wrong with liking unpopular things but most people only do it as a way to stand out and be different.”
Being a Hipster Is an Excellent and Wonderful Thing!
“It took me a little while to understand how much nastiness people generally intended when they used the word hipster. It just sounds sort of attractive to me, a hipster. I thought yeah, I guess that is sort of my culture. Those are my people and I was just about able to go on thinking that it was a perfectly nice thing to be until someone pointed out to me or it finally sank in that it was meant contemptuously and I really I’m not sure I accept the premise that I think it’s a self-loathing term and I’ve come to be very alert to this self-loathing propensity that surrounds certain kinds of cultures of what are essentially connoisseurship, generational affiliation.”
— Jonathan Lethem, in answer to the question “Are hipsters ruining Brooklyn?”
The things that hipsters such as Jonathan Lethem value and embody are worthy things — surprisingly so, in view of all the mockery the hipsters come in for. I agree with him that a hipster is “a perfectly nice thing to be.” It is a pity that anyone should be made to suffer so much, and so needlessly.
If it were really such a contemptible thing to be a hipster, you’d think that nobody would want to live in Echo Park or Williamsburg or Shoreditch or the Haut Marais; you’d think nobody would want to be caught dead wearing skinny trousers or the colored Ray-Bans or listening to WHY?. And yet people in search of the like-minded flock to those places, to those things. So why this “self-loathing propensity,” the doubtless real and widespread thing of which Lethem speaks?
It isn’t really self-loathing at all. People don’t hate hipsters, and hipsters don’t hate themselves. What people hate so much is the faux-hipsters: they hate poseurs. And because it’s such an irritating thing to be having to tell the real from the fake (exactly as in the matter of overpriced European handbags), the easiest way out is simply to deny any involvement in the whole business. That is why nobody, not even someone who fervently embraces hipster culture, wants to call himself a hipster.
But there are good reasons to validate the legitimate aspect of hipster culture, the aspect that is fun and has real charm and elegance to it; that tries, the way every social group tries, to form bonds between the like-minded using all these signals like haircuts and cardigans and bicycles and magazines.
It’s easy to tell the difference between a hipster and a poseur, because while the former are mainly enjoying, the latter are mainly judging. The poseur is an aesthetic snob without aesthetic discernment; he sneers but has no understanding of standards. So instead of having fun sharing their arcane things together, the poseurs are having zero fun pretending to not like anything. As Nietzsche put it most memorably: The man who despises himself nevertheless esteems himself as one who despises. These two kinds of people really are just worlds apart, even though they may find themselves living in the same neighborhood and going to the same rock show.
The tastes and habits of the world’s bohemias are real symbols of a certain way of life and way of thinking; there’s fidelity to a certain truth in the underlying reality, and that is how a Tokyo hipster can quickly recognize what might prove to be a kindred spirit in Buenos Aires or Austin. This kind of symbolism has been around since at least the time of Oscar Wilde, when the greenery-yallery aesthetes drifted about carrying “a poppy or a lily” (q.v. Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience.) In the age of the Internet, though, that symbolic force has become just hugely magnified, because new symbols can penetrate the hive mind so quickly, and so deeply.
So today’s bohemians get in a big gang and live together, as they have for over a century at least; almost every city of any size in the Western world has at least one such neighborhood, and the big cities have many, each with its own flavor. In effect, though, all these places are the same place, like Solzhenitsyn’s “archipelago” (except not a prison camp for political dissidents): a series of far-flung islands but really one place, invisibly linked. In this case, residents of the archipelago value inventiveness, intelligence and taste over wealth and conformity; what Lethem is calling “connoisseurship.” There is lots of artwork and music and clothing being made in these places, experiments of all sorts, an atmosphere of discovery. There is generally “more dash than cash.” It is fun to have lunch or buy records there, more fun than having lunch in the rich neighborhood; people from “outside” come along to see the foreign movie, to have coffee. The hipsters live there, and the poseurs who follow them do, too.
The widespread vilification of hipsters has entirely failed to distinguish between the hipster and the poseur. Maybe that is the very reason why people never seem to tire of the constant ragging, even though it’s all been done to death; the irresistible “Being a Dickhead’s Cool” had millions of YouTube views only a matter of weeks ago. But please note that what is being mocked in every case, from “Dickhead” to “Hipster Olympics,” is not really hipsters! It is poseurs. Nobody is ever mocking anyone who is having fun. The mockery is reserved for those scowling, affected types who are in such a hurry to be the first to know the New New Thing before anyone else does, not out of real curiosity or scholarship, but just out of anxiety and a cold, sterile competitiveness, a kind of pushing other people out of the way. It’s the ignorance and fakery that are being mocked, not the actual hipster culture: “We’re puttin’ on this rave, and there’s a band in the mosque? And all the proceeds are going to that thing that happened in the Middle East or Africa or whatever?”
So what are these alleged good reasons for praising the hipsters? There are two. One is to decrease suffering among the youngs, because there should be no shame ever surrounding the love of or identification with a place, a way of life, a band or a pair of glasses. There could be so much more happiness (and inventiveness, and liberty) if people were just free to just love what they love without having to worry about whether or not they are going to be crucified for being a hipster.
When you are around young people who have ambition and taste, and who long to enter an imagined world full of gloriously attractive and brilliant cognoscenti, it can break your heart to see their fear and insecurity — which is very natural and really, almost inescapable for the young — manifested in distrust and an assumed arrogance, in a pretense at more knowledge than they really have. The way they pretend to know about this or that band, or the way they suddenly up and say that Pitchfork itself is “too mainstream,” or they pretend to read a book that they haven’t read. They literally twitch with grief and fear. They are suffering! And this suffering stifles their natural curiosity and pleasure, imprisons them in an airless chamber of embarrassment and insecurity. How many lofty, jaded teenagers are out there right now, too bored and cynical to enjoy anything freely? When they should be having fun instead. So that is why it is a good idea to say, go ahead and be a hipster, if you want to! That is very charming and delightful, and please tell us when you find another band as good as WHY?.
An aside: I am one of the ancients, myself, but I can still remember something of that fear; wanting to prove I was smart, fit to participate, things like this. Nervous that I might not really be as worthy as I hoped, no matter how hard I worked. A common paradox, I think: it’s a strange thing, but as an ancient I feel far less informed, less well-read than I did at eighteen, when I thought it was such a big deal to have read (a tiny bit of) Dostoevsky (in English.) Maybe this is partly a question of making friends with your own inescapable ignorance? So that you go in the library and can fully, absolutely realize that you’re only ever going to absorb the tiniest particle of what there is. I can remember, too, how liberating it was to be able to admit freely and even with pleasure, “I don’t know!” and to view saying so as an opportunity to learn something, rather than as an admission of inferiority. Ignorance is Liberty! Haha, God, now I sound like Orwell, whatever.
The other and equally good reason for encouraging the hipsters is that bohemian values of inventiveness and not-so-much-materialism are particularly helpful to have just now in the U.S. Because there has been way too much materialism over the last fifty years, new ways of looking at “success” and so on are badly needed. It would be great if, instead of excoriating the hipsters, people took a serious look at how they like to live, and maybe tried some of the things they like, for example riding a bicycle instead of driving a fancy car, or trying a vegan diet, or learning to play music. If we could broaden the idea of excellence to include more than wealth and power-to include cultural fluency, invention and new experiences — it could be such a good thing.
Is being called a hipster good or bad?
Some girl referred to me as a "hipster" last week. While I know what one is, I don't really know if it's a positive or negative thing.
“Most people I know use it in a bad way. "Yeah, Joe was a cool, anti-establishment punk rocker as a kid, but now he's just another corporate hipster." Generally, at least in my experience, it means someone who is trying desperately to cling onto the persona they had as a younger person even though they're now in their 30's, have kids, etc. As one of my friends likes to say, the surest way to tell if you're a hipster is whether you get super pissed off if someone refers to you as a hipster.”
“Hipsters are a subculture of men and women typically in their 20's and 30's that value independent thinking, counter-culture, progressive politics, an appreciation of art and indie-rock, creativity, intelligence, and witty banter. The greatest concentrations of hipsters can be found living in the Williamsburg, Wicker Park, and Mission District neighborhoods of major cosmopolitan centers such as New York, Chicago, and San Francisco respectively.”
“It depends. Does it bother you? If yes, then it's bad. If no, then it's good.”
I have spent a combined 3 years living in the Mission district and Silverlake. While my attire has certainly become more indie-band friendly, hipsters and me haven’t always seen eye to Italian frame with the lens popped out eye. I think they should eat more, and they want me to DJ rare vinyl at the such and such hut. I think they should learn how to play sports, they think I should learn graphic design. They like PBR and I…wait, I like PBR too. The stereotypes are endless, yet so is the amount of crossover. So who is the hipster, and what really makes them so bad? Maybe that damn Christmas spirit has got me all introspective and sympathetic, but I swear to God this is an unironic defense of the most shit on majority/minority of my generation.
- Drink PBR– I don’t know if you guys heard, but we are all headed toward a fiscal cliff. A fiscal cliff! Our economy resembles Pacquiao after his latest fight and jobs are harder to come by than ever. Ask Alex Smith. Whoa! Now that’s some topical stuff. PBR is routinely the cheapest drink at any bar and surprisingly doesn’t taste like piss. All those flannel shirt assholes drinking PBR aren’t hipsters, they’re economists.
2) Riding Fixed Gear Bicycles– I hated on this once upon a time. “Look at those idiots rocking back and forth at the stoplight.” Then I got over the fact that the gears are fixed and realized they have impeccable balance. Think of all the money they save on gas that goes straight to their PBR fund. Not only are they thrifty, but also they are environmentally friendly. Bicycling is great exercise and lessons carbon footprints or whatever. Did your parents never teach you how to ride a bike? Do you hate Al Gore and Earth? Then shut up.
3) Fashion Sense– While I can’t endorse those super skinny jeans that are like vice grips for your junk, I generally respect and have even adopted various “hipster” stylings. Some people look like idiots, and if they do then it’s more than appropriate to make fun of them, but at least give them credit for being bold and progressive. I’ve met plenty of pretentious assholes in a button-up and jeans. While I do wish some girls wouldn’t dress like part-time archeologists, I applaud quirkiness in all its forms.
P.S. Please limit your archeologist outfits to twice a week. I think that’s fair.
4) Pseudo creativity - I don’t quite know how to address this issue. We’ve all heard shitty bands, been to stale art gallery openings and seen depressingly bad open mic comedy. The subjective nature of whether something is good or bad is always up for debate, but the creation of that art, in any form, is important and irrefutable. We lose so much of our creative juice as we age that we sometimes forget how the process works. It is necessary for all of us to engage in creative pursuits as often as we can to remind ourselves that we are still capable of great things. So just because you didn’t like “insert ridiculous indie band name here” last album, doesn’t mean they didn’t have the time of their life making it. Ok, I’ll put down the whiskey and stop getting so senti.