Take away the PBR, American Apparel and scarf – who are these people?

By Eli Gottlieb

Courtesy David Fisher

Click here for the other side of Point-Counterpoint: “Hipsters are so individualistic they may not exist.”

Once upon a time, I walked up to the entrance of the hottest, latest nightclub to open in our area. I needed to get in there. The bouncer, however, far from caring about my ID, demanded a password. “Whatever,” I sighed, and quite bizarrely, he let me straight through. Then I arrived, for no apparent reason, to yet another bouncer, who demanded a second password. “Ugh,” I groaned, and luckily enough this appeared to be the password. I finally walked into the club, feeling my bones begin to tremble with the sound of that obscure underground song constantly playing everywhere, like the ones in the iPod commercials. 

What sort of club have I just walked into? A hipster club, of course.  I lifted that parable straight from the cult film (and by cult I mean they pulled it from theaters too early) “Scott Pilgrim vs the World”, but I believe it makes the point quite clearly enough.  Hipsters often seem like the living avatars of chagrin, narcissism, cynicism, and of course “irony”; they have inspired in the rest of us everything from depression to incoherent rage as they march around in their hipster clothes, condescending to the rest of us about their hipster music, and… 

But wait.  Can we never really place what they’re like, can we?  What is this irksome creature, the hipster?  Urban Dictionary.com gave it to me best in a joke: “Q: How many hipsters does it take to change a light bulb? A: What, you don’t know?”  Further hints included, “A person with cultivated eccentricities which are treated very seriously yet at the same time as an inside joke” and the fashion-based, “A hipster is male or female that wears tight jeans, v-neck sweaters, cop shades, scarves and old worn out flats.” So now we at least have a few hints. 

Hipsters generally live in gentrifying urban areas, prefer androgynous fashions (especially tight jeans), shop at American Apparel; Urban Outfitters; or a thrift store, and have drained the keffiyah scarf of all political meaning (yes, it used to have one).  They drink Pabst Blue Ribbon and Keystone Light, but they do it “ironically” so it’s somehow OK.  They listen to obscure underground music that, once they listen to it, becomes uncool, disdained hipster music everyone has on the iPods and nobody will admit listening to.  They do a lot of drugs, and as a consequence have ridiculously thin figures of neither muscle nor fat.  They never, ever admit to being hipsters, and the truest among them also never “sell out” by getting jobs. 

Why, though, does anyone behave like this?  What drives these people, who so vehemently deny any label, to all conform to a recognizable stereotype?  Desperate for further information, I consulted a profile on hipsters published in the anarchist magazine Adbusters.  From there I learned that, “The American Apparel V-neck shirt, Pabst Blue Ribbon beer and Parliament cigarettes are symbols and icons of working or revolutionary classes that have been appropriated by hipster-dom and drained of meaning,” and that as, “An amalgamation of its own history, the youth of the West are left with consuming cool rather that creating it. The cultural zeitgeists of the past have always been sparked by furious indignation and are reactionary movements. But the hipster’s self-involved and isolated maintenance does nothing to feed cultural evolution.” 

Still, I remain both unconvinced and instinctively revolted by anything published in Adbusters (a magazine of far-left anti-advertising activists promoting a clothing brand).  Seriously speaking, who the hell are these “hipster” people and why should I feel such total hatred for them?  Still, that anarchist writer has at least the one point, which was to examine the ideas and mentalities of hipsters.  If their fashions change so ultra-quickly, can we at least pinpoint what they think

Here, I think, we have a much clearer and easier ground to cross.  As much as hipster culture seems deliberately impenetrable, hipster fashion changes each month, and hipster self-conception fails to exist, these accumulated pieces of evidence all point towards a relatively simple psychological impulse: to become “cool” by keeping oneself out or “ahead” of mainstream culture. 

Let us try this hypothesis on for size and see how it explains the known facts about hipsters.  Hipsters wear worn-out thrift-store clothes and drink cheap, crappy beer because, in a classic mechanic of capitalist marketing culture (previously seen with hip-hop and the hippies), they want to make their middle-class, over-educated selves seem in touch with the downtrodden and counterculture – and on the cheap too.  Hipsters live in gentrifying urban areas because it makes them a part of the “progressive” and “cultural” future.  Hipsters look androgynous and keep themselves ultra-thin as an attempt to deliberately subvert the mainstream aesthetics, and damn if it means they just end up looking as ugly as a dog turd.  Hipsters think of themselves as progressive for their apathetic cynicism because, like all self-satisfied cynics before them, they think that jaded ignorance of virtue and public life can never be proven wrong and will therefore always remain “ahead” of those among us so insufficiently bitter that we still believe in things. Hipsters wear keffiyeh because someone in the fashion magazine GQ convinced them that doing so made a political statement of solidarity, ironically (pun not intended) destroying the meaning of the keffiyah as a symbol of solidarity.  Lastly, hipsters do tons of drugs, mostly hallucinogens and stimulants, both because that’s what counterculture kids after a thrill have always done and to cover up the cognitive dissonance that arises from making defiance of the mainstream the most mainstream fad. 

In this spirit, I must note that Mr. Douglas Haddow writing for Adbusters is a complete and total hipster, right down to his denial of hipster-dom.  He too looks down on everyone else for failing to live up to his isolated, self-satisfied standards of counterculture, except that he claims “revolutionary” status for himself just because he wants to throw rocks at condos under construction in what would be quite possibly the lamest anarchist attentat ever. 

So now that we understand hipsters, let us have compassion for them, and try to show them the light.  It’s really quite OK to have beliefs, preferences, likes and dislikes.  A person doesn’t need the approval of a bunch of smug hipsters, and we’ll all be better off if we just come out and be who we are. 

Eli Gottlieb is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at  [email protected].