Hipsters have somehow become the butt of every joke. And these jokes are not just the product of generational warfare. “Hipster” is used as an insult by professors, writers, peers and hipsters themselves. Why has hipsterdom become so caricaturized, so laughable, so insufferable? Subcultures are about honesty, about authenticity – but it seems that hipsters are perceived as anything but authentic. Subcultures are cool. Hipsters have been accused of killing cool.
The history of the contemporary hipster began in the ‘90s, with a movement that rejected consumerism, capitalism, and superficiality. Then came the “white-trash-hipster” (a term eloquently coined by Gawker), when aspiring artists who worked day jobs near city financial centres in New York City provided a “neo-bohemian” milieu for young, wealthy businessmen. The friction between those social groups produced a white, male, post-1999, trucker-hat-wearing hipster who shopped at American Apparel and read Vice magazine. This brand of hipsterdom faded in 2003 and was revived by the environmental movement in 2004 and came to include women, skinny pants, and nostalgia for the fifties and sixties.
Today, hipsters are recognized by their beards, their flannel shirts, their oversized spectacles and their too-small jeans. We identify hipster neighborhoods by farm-to-table restaurants, Dutch-style bike stores, vegan bakeries and independent art galleries. Hipsters are criticized for their “hipper than thou” personalities, for being snarky, for being posers, for using irony as self-defense. They are rarely art school drop-outs or quasi-communists, but instead middle to upper-class individuals who think that by buying the right mass products they will become progressive. They think that by wearing certain clothing items and owning certain things, they are defying authority, when in fact they are only buying from that authority. They wear thrifted denim shirts to match $100 haircuts. Hipsters are written off as common consumers disguised by an identity constructed by a collage of stolen ideas and purchased products.
I can’t confirm whether or not these criticisms are unfounded. But I can say that this description is grossly incomplete.
The “hipsters” that I know are individuals who are passionate about art, who care for animal rights, who have an interest in health and fitness, who are sympathetic, open-minded, curious and intelligent. They do wear skinny pants, shop locally and are often vegetarians. But they are undeniably stylish, they are interesting, they are knowledgeable, and they are non-judgmental. They do not reject popular culture. Instead, they observe it. They consider new perspectives, new ideas. They do not think they are better than popular culture. But they challenge themselves to constantly explore misunderstood ideas and discover hidden gems just around the corner. They believe in irony and silliness and humour. They believe that creating art is the noblest profession of all. They believe that there is something valuable to be found everywhere, in everyone and in everything.
Capitalism has perhaps claimed some parts of hipsterdom, but there are places where it remains untainted and inspirational. Maybe I’ve been lucky and haven’t had the displeasure of encountering these so-called “fake” hipsters. But I know for sure that real ones still exist. And if their values are the ones that may someday, somehow become “mainstream,” well, we could do a lot worse.