Monday, February 6, 2012

Why Hipsters Hate Themselves

I was into cancer way before it was cool.

I am a hipster. You might've never heard anyone say that before. Likely, out at the indie-rock show with thirty impeccably dressed, mostly white, socio-economically mid-to-upper-mid range, "arty," if not quite artistic people in the audience, and the AWESOME PHOTOBOOTH (one of the bandmember's photographer boyfriends) at which you can pose and pout for Facebook with all of your tastefully tattooed, dyed, and Ben Sherman'd friends, you're more likely to hear someone say, over their 'Gansett or Hi-Life or Schlitz (PBR is so 00s, after all, and so effing hipster), "I'm not a hipster, but..." before segueing into a confession of some ├╝ber-hipster proclivity.

Anyone who starts a sentence, "I'm not a hipster, but..." is a hipster.  If you have started a sentence like this, then you are a hipster. In fact, I would argue that the denial of one's hipsterness is so engrained in the fabric of The Hipster that it's nearly integral. In order to be a hipster, you have to believe (or at least project the belief) that you are not.

Also common, though more extreme, are the sentences started with: "I hate hipsters, but..." Sites like Look at this Fucking Hipster have been popular because hipsters love to hate hipsters (and you can be sure that hipsters are 95% of these sites' web traffic). The implication is usually that this elusive "hipster" is someone who is a less authentic version of whatever the speaker identifies as. Someone who wears the clothes and talks the talk, but is only faking it.

It makes sense. Hipsters were probably not the popular kids in school, and their perception of "coolness," formed at lunch tables and school dances, must be almost undivorceable from phoniness. However, this assumption leads the hipster into a bizarre self-negating conundrum. She's found herself, ukulele, glasses, and all, suddenly cool. Now she must reconcile this fact with her negative coolness associations by denying her coolness, and an easy way to do that is to decry similar coolness in others.

Other hipsters are hipsters, but hipsters refer to themselves as geeks or nerds. As in, "I'm just a design geek," or, "Fellow music nerds unite!" Geeks and nerds, we remember from school, are not cool, so they're okay labels for the hipster to identify with. Hipsters mistrust coolness. A hipster will never admit to being cool, even though I would argue that's pretty much the base definition of what a hipster is. The classic line is, "I read manga before it was cool." This means, "I read manga when it was nerdy to read manga, and only nerds read it, and I was a nerd for reading it." By this train of logic, the hipster avoids the dubious realm of cool by grandfathering himself in to the familiar safety of nerd territory.

Subtler and trickier is the trope that challenges the authenticity or motives of other hipsters' personal tastes. I can't count how many times I've heard someone say, "I'm not a hipster. I actually LIKE microbrews." As though there are a bunch of other people out there gagging on their IPAs just to fit in with the cool kids.

What's actually happened, of course, is what we all suspected and were told would happen when we were kids. The nerdy, curious, and creative parts of ourselves that made us awkward in school have set us apart and become our strengths as adults. The college-rule notebook comic-book illustrators, the walking music trivia encyclopedias, and those kids who made their prom tuxedos out of duct tape are now the cultural trendsetters. The geeks have inherited the earth.

But because of the internet and "new media," the hipster is aware of himself and his relevance to larger society in a way that hippies, beatniks, mods, flappers, dandies, and the first slew of hipsters (you know, the jazz cats) were not. It's not just painful memories of two-faced high school mean girls that cause hipsters to mistrust their own coolness. The modern hipster also has a sophomoric grasp of marketing and media manipulation, thanks to an adulthood reached with legs up from Jon Stewart and (more recently) Stephen Colbert. Deconstructing advertising, television, and print media is now a common discourse game over coffee or cocktails. The man behind the big media curtain has been revealed, and hipsters can see how easy it is to fool people into thinking products, celebrities, and politicians are shiny, desirable, and cool. Coolness is elusive, manipulative, and staggeringly powerful. It's no wonder we have a hard time trusting it.

Unfortunately, this loop of self-negation and self-deprecation is one reason why modern hipsters, as opposed to hippies, beatniks, or whatever, haven't made any sort of unified cultural statement. Hipsters are a big post-modern mess of artistic ball-bearings, rolling around each other, bouncing off one another, each one hoping to land in some sort of groove of authenticity, not realizing the rolling itself is authentic enough.

Hipsters, stop wasting time hating other hipsters. What you always wished for growing up has happened. The prom king and queen are atrophying on their sofas somewhere in the suburbs consuming the art and media you and your ilk have a hand in creating. You are now the cool kids. You have a chance to direct the culture. Stop looking at what one another is doing and start looking forward together. Hipsters, unite.


gordonmarshall said...

Superb Essay. Really moved me. The one word I would change is "sophomoric," because it's a pejorative term, and I don't think you mean it that way.

Jade Sylvan said...

Hi Gordon. I actually do mean it that way. Thanks for the feedback, though!

MONITOR613 said...

relevant. I sometimes wonder how I would fare around hipsters. But that would require leaving my house.

Michael J. Epstein said...


Ben Weiser said...

i was into thinking nerdy is cool before nerdy turned cool. now i actually think cool is cool. like black leather biker jacket and a cigarette is cool. movies with explosions and swordfights are cool. lasers and spaceships are cool. glasses are no longer cool, unless they are sunglasses. that guy goes to this bar now? hipster is over. its OVER

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