Defending Hipsters (No, Really!) (TQP #0074)

Posted: August 14, 2008 in Jeff Holland
Tags: ,
Brent linked to this article from Adbusters. It’s called “Hipster: The Dead End of Western Civilization” (really? Hyperbole? You’re breaking out hyperbole that quickly? Huh.), by Douglas Haddowe, and it is somehow NOT an old entry from, like, 2003. When The Hipster Handbook came out. Back when making fun of hipsters was kinda fun, not weirdly anachronistic.

The question is, “Why bother?” But who knows, maybe the author’s got some new spin on the subject. Or maybe, he just wants to ask antagonistic, borderline-retarded questions that won’t help anything:

“So… this is a hipster party?” I ask the girl sitting next to me. She’s wearing big dangling earrings, an American Apparel V-neck tee, non-prescription eyeglasses and an inappropriately warm wool coat.

Yeah, just look around you, 99 percent of the people here are total hipsters!”
“Are you a hipster?”
“Fuck no,” she says, laughing back the last of her glass before she hops off to the dance floor.
There’s two ways of reading this. In one, the writer’s struck on the great irony that hipsters generally hate other hipsters, refusing to admit that they themselves, are what they hate. Then there’s option 2: This girl just listened to a weird guy she doesn’t know ask her a boneheaded question, and so decided to fuck with him using superior wit and guile.

Later, he tries to wax philosophical on scenes and trends, but it gets away from him:

But after punk was plasticized and hip hop lost its impetus for social change, all of the formerly dominant streams of “counter-culture” have merged together. Now, one mutating, trans-Atlantic melting pot of styles, tastes and behavior has come to define the generally indefinable idea of the “Hipster.” An artificial appropriation of different styles from different eras, the hipster represents the end of Western civilization – a culture lost in the superficiality of its past and unable to create any new meaning.

Yep. That’s it. Culture is officially done now. Because it’s now defined by a hard-to-classify idea – “Hipster” – which by virtue of its absorption of various cultural tastes, can no longer create anything new.

Nevermind that the author actually just described how ideas form. Civilization is ending! ENDING, I TELLS YA!

Okay, here’s my favorite part:

I ask one of the girls if her being at an art party and wearing fake eyeglasses, leggings and a flannel shirt makes her a hipster. “I’m not comfortable with that term,” she replies.

Her friend adds, with just a flicker of menace in her eyes, “Yeah, I don’t know, you shouldn’t use that word, it’s just…”
“No… it’s just, well… if you don’t know why then you just shouldn’t even use it.”
“Ok, so what are you girls doing tonight after this party?”
“Ummm… We’re going to the after-party.”
After-party? AFTER-PARTY?! What kinda crazy mixed-up stuff is this, after-party? These hipsters, even when they’re not at a party, they’re at a party! Ahh, fooey!

What makes it my favorite part is the “Ummm.” Once again, couple ways you can read it. “Ummm” as in, “Duuuuhhhh, like, y’know…” or “Ummm…are you maybe not terribly bright? It’s Saturday night, it’s 1 in the morning, and we’re young. So…no, not heading home just yet, gramps. And you can’t come, because you just insulted my fashion sense and my intelligence in one fell swoop.”

But the author must be a smoother talker than he lets on with his pithy line of questioning. He does get to go to this bizarre rite of passage the native urban hipster calls an “after-party.” And here’s where we get to the meat of the matter:

“He’s 17 and he lives for the scene!” a girl whispers in my ear as I sneak a photo of a young kid dancing up against a wall in a dimly lit corner of the after-party.

Ah. There’s the problem! The author’s just confused. All this time he thought he hated hipsters, but actually, he hates teenagers. See, if a girl speaks in awe – and in rhyme – of a 17-year-old who clearly seems like a bit of a shitbag … you went to the wrong party, my friend. At this point, if you just go back through the article and replace the word “hipster” with “teenager,” the whole thing makes a lot more sense.

In many ways, the lifestyle promoted by hipsterdom is highly ritualized. Many of the party-goers who are subject to the photoblogger’s snapshots no doubt crawl out of bed the next afternoon and immediately re-experience the previous night’s debauchery. Red-eyed and bleary, they sit hunched over their laptops, wading through a sea of similarity to find their own (momentarily) thrilling instant of perfected hipster-ness.

And about here’s where he just gives up on any sense of journalism so he can write like an asshole. “Wading through a sea of similarity to find their own thrilling instant of perfected hipster-ness”? THEY’RE LOOKING AT PHOTOS THEY TOOK LAST NIGHT, YOU JACKASS.

I do feel bad for the girl with the glasses who said she wasn’t “comfortable with the term.” Which is a little silly. If she’d just said “I don’t grant your premise,” the writer would have been forced to talk to her like a person – rather than a collection of kitchy accessories – and may have been able to get a decent conversation on the subject out of her. But instead, he aimed to fill a narrative that has already been covered enough times to spawn a couple of books five years ago.

See, the reason “hipster” is such a nebulous, sometimes-offensive, and usually weightless term is that unlike hippies or punks, which the writer points to in contrast, there really isn’t “hipsterism.” There’s no ethos. “Hipsters don’t believe anything” is a wild fallacy. Hipsters believe lots of things – many of which contradict other things, because “hipster” is really just an aesthetic sensibility. That’s it. There is no “hipster belief system,” so it’s just clothes, man.

Stylistically speaking, skinny jeans = hipster. And boot-cut jeans = hipster. But the skinny jeans kid may be an artist or a dancer, and the boot-cut jeans kid may very well be a pretty solid accountant. Or, hell, reverse it. The jeans tell you NOTHING about the value system he has.

“All hipsters love irony.” No, people with good senses of humor love irony. I work with a huge collection of dorks with terribly ironic senses of humor.

I have a lot of fun making fun of tight pants and needless scarves, and disaffected poses (they sound like this: “Eeuuunnng”). But I think it’s time the good people at AdBusters – ADBUSTERS, WHOSE AUDIENCE IS MADE UP OF HIPSTERS! – to maybe take a step back here and realize they just published an article that means about as much as my own jokes about tight pants.

  1. Marie says:

    I second you on the disaffected pose, and raise you on the affected manner.

    Gah, I hate that.

  2. Threat Quality Press says:

    Hahaha, what I like about hipster clothes is how stupid they all look.

    I wonder if these are the analogues to the people that look back on what they were wearing in the seventies, and shudder with shame at plaid bellbottoms and frock coats with lace cuffs.

  3. MJ says:

    Being a hipster just means you’re an arty kid who listens to semi-obscure to super-obscure music and who has a certain fashion sense. I don’t see why people have so much greater hatred to aim at THIS group more than any other group. In a way, I think it’s inti-intellectualism, because what seems to get people the most about hipsters is their “attitude.” But their attitude just tends to be that of any intelligent, politically-engaged folks who also like to party.

    What can I say, hipsters are my people. I LIKE the fashion, I LIKE the music, and I’m not about to join some other ill-defined group with whom I can relate even less.

  4. classact says:

    This is the first time I’ve read this blog. It is good. The end.

  5. ISTV Global Stronghold says:

    The only issue I have with this class we call hipster is the point when the irony gets so thick I can’t tell when anyone’s joking. It’s humor as a weapon, and I’ve never been fond of that notion.

    Otherwise, my people-wide rule is: If it helps you feel foxy? By all means, rock it.

    And more particularly, Melissa: Yeah, I think I do like Andrew Bird.

    Now then, to our new friends at Classact, I say: Stick around, we’re just getting started. Tomorrow? Barbeque!

    (Sorry, I was lying. I just wanted you to like us, and everyone loves a barbeque. Tomorrow is actually Short Fiction Friday. But you should stick around for that, too.)


  6. V.I.P. Referee says:

    “I’m undercover reporting…looking for evidence of people who define themselves based on stylized aesthetic and as such, look totally pathetic. I know this might make you ladies hot, but I’m totally serious about my work. Make way for literary reflection”. Top that off with publicly expressed contempt for the flock and I guarantee “Oh! You Pretty Things” was playing behind every pair of rhinestone-rimmed, “Velma” glasses. “What an arrogant prick!” they whispered between plasticy bangle-clacks and headband re-adjustments, “He doesn’t even need us. He’s totally just doing some creative investigation. How dreamy.” The slickest hipster of all was edgy enough to treat underlings with disdain. How thoroughly hip of him.

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