On Hipster

On Hipster

Dusting off an old post. From Astral Days, September 2010.

Every hippy is somebody's square. And don't you ever forget it. -Rev. Howard R. Moody, June 6, 1965

Hipster. The word sounds dirty to me, like mall did when I was a child- so ubiquitous and representative of the corporately-molded youth culture that I couldn't bare to utter it. I'm not saying that I was aware of this back then, but I heard teenagers say it on television and it just sounded like something I wasn't supposed to say. I'm not so much afraid of hipster as I am hesitant to use it, because of what it's come to symbolize. You say hipster, you think of a skinny guy with a beard and an "old" T-shirt, suffocating his balls in impossibly tight jeans, maybe some fancy shoes. But are they fancy? Or are they old and gross? And which would be more hip? Or, to misuse the term in its newfangled form, which would be more hipster? See, this is exhausting. This is why I want to give up before I start trying to analyze this idea. It's a classification of a culture to which I at least partly belong but am afraid to embrace. Or my friends like to shun. Or about which none of us really care, and people throw around this word and I get stuck thinking about it for days. Living in Brooklyn, being twenty-six years old, one notices the (counter?)culture and wants to form some sort of opinion about it. But before we start hipster-slinging at people who aren't so different from you or me, let's look at this word and try to understand what we're saying.

You could call someone a hep cat or a tell them what hip is or make them turn down that hippie shit and pump up the hip-hop; any of that banter will make it clear that this word was not invented for Generation Y. Some sources state that hipi is an African Wolof word, meaning, "to open one's eyes." This isn't a sure thing, but it's slang so it's fluid and I'm not here to split hairs. As far as I'm concerned, hip needn't be a dirty word, the question is whether one would want to be considered a hipster. Here's what I've come to: if you're hip, you are with it; you know what's up. You start the trends, or at least ascribe to them in a way with which you are and suits your own unique thing. Now, if you are a hipster, you essentially follow those who are hip. Like a slave to fashion, you sacrifice personal comfort to prove that you are unique--
WAIT! My argument is already flawed. Who is qualified to draw the line between a poseur who is pushes his personal tastes aside to stand out (or fit in), and a truly self-expressive individual who disregards practicality in order to make a statement? Does this line even exist? I have consistently claimed that I am hip, a trend setter, laid-back yet charmingly eccentric, but what the hell perspective do I have to judge myself as holier than thou, my hipster friend?

And while we're on the subject of judging, why don't we just get right down to it: when my friends and I use the word hipster, we are doing but one thing: hating. We're looking at people in our age group, making stinky faces and deciding that we are better than they are because we think that they think that they are better than we are. Because they wear vintage clothes (like me!)? Possibly. Because they are not from Brooklyn but say that they are (sorry, friends)? Maybe so. Because of ALL OF THOSE TATTOOS? Yes. And let's not even begin with irony. This is apparently the age of irony, which my literary criticism classes have taught me is sadder than tragedy, and we are all mere reflections of our time and surroundings. So the world is becoming so sad that it's funny, which is ironic, which is why we wear thick glasses and deliberately unattractive hairstyles (though this aesthetic seems to be fading...or maybe it's been adapted into a more attractive, or generic, incarnation of itself). So we, as a young, creative culture, are a mirror to the times, and I don't know if this goes for all hipsters, but my friends and I seem to believe that we are not a part of this, that we are not this thing. But if we are not, then why are we so compelled to criticize those who we deem to be hipsters?

Is it because WE ARE HIPSTERS? What could we do to avoid this tragic fate? Shop at Wal-Mart? Watch network television--- watch television at all?! Wait...relax. Maybe we can strive to be what hipsters are actually supposed to be in this new age: young, forward thinking people who ride bikes, make their own shit, listen to independent music, and quite possibly go vegan? Now, I'm not about to swear off my omnivoracity, but all of that other shit is cool. There is nothing wrong in letting your freak flag fly as you try to change the world because you are young and smart. If you are superficially emulating those who do this as you do nothing but watch youtube videos and, dare I say, go to the mall, then maybe you can take a step in the direction of putting your mouth where your image is. But to make everything a little less harsh, let's start by taking it easy with all of the label-slapping. (And the tattoos, well...that's for another time.) And one final question...

What does it matter? I try to stake claim to my own hipness with the assertion that I have always stood out, been a bit of a weirdo, and indulged in thrift-shopping. But maybe all of these Brooklyn kids have; maybe we've congregated here for a reason. If not, well, thanks to all the rest of you for catching on to what it means to be super cool. And all of you other kids in other cities and hip regions, congratulations for making it there. Self-expression in numbers is a beautiful thing. But to judge or even worry about what it means, well...

When I was brewing this essay up in my head, I went upstate and got some air. I went to the hills, saw swooping birds at sundown and heard the many voices of plummeting waters. And then I thought about this piece, and how unimportant it is to even care about this stuff. I understood why I had been compelled to analyze a minor cultural phenomenon and the use of a silly word, but I wanted people to remember that our humanness is what we have in common, and that we often use our similarities to create false divides. So, my hipster friends, stop talking shit about the other hipsters and be glad for what you've got. And if you find that too challenging, then maybe you should get out of the city for the day and regroup.

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