By: David Alexander
Hipster. It’s a word we all use, usually to describe someone who is not just “cool”, but a very specific brand of cool. Hipsters aren’t “name brand” cool the way the kids in Hollister ads are. They are off-brand cool in a postmodern, too-cool-for-school kind of way.
And whether we like it or not, calling someone a hipster is a self-defeating claim. The moniker stands in for infectious miscreant — someone whose attention to self-image and desire to be ironically cool without appearing to be is so contrived as to incite rage in the rest of us. But what most everyone who uses the word (your narrator included) often fail to recognize is that the word is not as much about labeling as it is establishing The Other — those people who are different from ourselves and therefore earn our ire because of their aberrant behavior.
Calling someone a hipster is as subjective as calling someone an idiot. We base the usage of that term on our own intellect not the collective intellect of any given community. The same is true calling someone a hipster. Unlike other labels — anarchist, feminist, skater, stoner, whatever — calling someone a hipster is always pejorative. Because of this negative connotation, people never call themselves hipsters.
It’s always someone else.
When confronted with claims of their hipsterosity (yes I just coined that term; it rhymes with monstrosity so I thought it was appropriate) everyone always has some reason why they are not a hipster, but someone else is: “Hipsters drink PBR, only wear clothes from thrift stores, and listen to underground music. I’m not like that.”
It’s a game of extremity we play. As if someone can only belong into a category if we meet the most extreme qualifications. That mentality doesn’t work for other negative labels, like, for instance — and forgive my hyperbole here — classifying someone as a terrorist, rapist, or murderer. Prisoners a Guantanamo Bay can’t get out of being tortured for information by saying “Well, I don’t kill children. I’m not a terrorist.”
Most people have a hearty disdain for being labeled. It undermines our individuality, homogenizes our personalities, and pigeonholes our life’s experience. And since we all like to feel like we are unique and beautiful like we are snowflakes on a rosebud inside a souvenir snow globe, we resent any implication that undermines our delicate sensibilities about ourselves. I get that. I too long to feel that warm and fuzzy feeling deep in the cockles of my soul.
The problem is, generally speaking, we aren’t unique. Sure, the combination of our preferences, opinions, and life choices are unique, but the individual choices themselves have already been made ad nauseum by millions of other people. You aren’t the only skinny white kid from the burbs who wears an “uncharacteristic” mullet. You aren’t the only girl with a tattoo of a bird on her ankle. I promise you.
And the hilarity of any counter culture, including the ill-defined hipster culture, is that, just like any social grouping, it is born out of a desire to belong. It’s reactionary. It’s a rearing against the status quo and the generally accepted version of what is “cool.” This happens when the name-brand cool from earlier marginalizes everyone who dares to be a square peg in a sea of round holes.
I say: good for the Square Pegs. But let’s not pretend that this splinter cell of society broke from the Pangaea of the status quo to be unique. They did it to belong. They essentially said “You don’t want us to be a part of your culture; we will go create our own culture.” But in doing that these misfits began to foster an intense hatred for anything conventional.
We as a society frown on being different just for the sake of being different. It comes off as aimless and sophomoric. As if something that is mainstream, however one wants to define that, is automatically bad because it is popular. A hipster’s disdain for all things mainstream stems from a nerd complex. That complex is part of the reason people are reluctant to classify themselves as a hipster. It comes off like the coolness equivalent of a girl with daddy issues, and everyone is aware of it.
Again, here a certain degree of irony is woven into the fabric of being a hipster becomes evident. Hipsters got to be hipsters by having sensibilities and preferences outside what is considered conventional. They began to revel in being different to the point where it became the most defining quality of their personality. Presumably, at least to some degree, this lifestyle movement is predicated on a hatred of the elitism they feel is so inherent in the status quo.
Everyone wants to be cool, but no one wants to appear as if they are trying to be cool. But now, because of the social stigma of the perception of mannered rebellion, there is constant line-drawing, to determine who is a hipster. Sounds like elitism to me.
The fact is, if you spend a considerable amount of time outlining what a hipster is, and have a litany of things that separate you from the hipster populous, you are a hipster. I promise you.
Except me. I’m not a hipster. I don’t listen to underground music or wear Chuck Taylors.