Skip to content

In Defense of Hipsters(!?!)

April 26, 2010

I’ve done a fair amount of hipster-bashing on this blog, mostly for the same reasons one might discredit goths: both subcultures ostensibly deny conformity and convention but in such a way that demands conformity to their own conventions. The unappreciated irony involved in those structures make them more easily subject to ridicule because one can always remove oneself from the equation and say, “at least I’m cognizant of the ridiculousness that is this culture.” However, when it comes to hipsters, there’s a conundrum of recursion involved because part of the overriding thematic consistency of hipsters is an overt and ostensible loathing of other hipsters.

I’ve been to a few events specifically denigrating hipsters recently, and I think popular culture may be passing an inflection point in how that irony is actually appreciated. One event was termed a “Look at this fucking hipster party,” ostensibly after the website of the same name, and featured an adorable hipster puppy. The thing of it is, I wore pretty much exactly what I’d wear to any party, as full acknowledgment of my own hipsterdom. I had contemplated wearing a sign that says, “I hate hipsters,” the idea being that we are all hipsters anyway, and that the only defining feature of a hipster is said loathing. I’ve simply realized that hipsters get way too bad a rap for having tastes that one could quite reasonably enjoy without letting it define one’s entire persona.

Hipsters suffer from the public’s perception, not the content of their views. Part of the problem is that they have a pretty hilarious sense of satire and defiance of social norms, but they just let it get out of hand because they have no perception of long term costs or reasonableness (see, e.g., 31 strange/hilarious hipster tattoos). Part of that problem may result from the fact that their significant unemployment and parental benevolence allows hipsters’ quirkier aspects to dominate their public lives (just 41 percent of people ages 18 to 29 are working full time compared with 50 percent in 2006, according to a recent study by the Pew Research Center). Combine that with the recurrent spirit of the hippies and hyper-awareness of our fleeting youth, and you get the existentially balls-to-the-wall attitude of most hipsters. They can afford to go out every day looking and sounding more than just slightly ridiculous and behave like alcoholic, drug-addled pre-teens in kickball leagues, but they have loads of fun doing so. Who are we to begrudge that?

After deciding that I had had enough of recursive hipster criticism and after considering the fact that I don’t dislike hipsters’ taste so much as the fact that they let it dominate everything they do, the really disturbing realization hit me: is it possible that hipsterdom is a genealogical relative to elitism? I mean, if you think about it, hipsters typically value art, intelligence, and humor, live very existentially, and have excessive senses of savvy and thriftiness, all virtues in and of themselves. They typically have a preference for things that most would associate with quality were it not for the more ready association with hipsterdom. For example, Pabst Blue Ribbon is a pretty darn good beer for the price you’re paying. Indie music is pretty enjoyable. As are many of the tastes hipsters enjoy, because they consume just as much as (if not more than) the rest of us, and are generally pretty intelligent about their consumerism.

The problem occurs when the outlier lowest-common-denominators define the identity of hipsters. The ironic self-hate causes those hipsters to make incredibly bad decisions akin to the ironic anti-elitist preference for things that are just plain worse. Hence the irony in the hipster theory of music relativity: “The less well-known the band, the better it is likely to be. Therefore, the best band in the world does not exist because it would be unknown to even the participants.” If a band gets well known that’s usually because it’s doing something right, not doing something wrong. Abjuring corporatism because its chic can go much too far if it undermines your own sense of enjoyment. That existentialism in denying the rest of society’s norms has to also extend to your own subculture (namely hipsterdom), but then we get back into the whole hipster-loathing recursion conundrum we started with. Seems like a deep question.

What do you think, Hipster Cat?

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Jason Benhaim permalink
    April 26, 2010 11:32 am

    I love Hipster Cat. In addition, I would like to comment on your claim: “If a band gets well known that’s usually because it’s doing something right, not doing something wrong.” Wrong. If a band gets well known, that’s usually because it’s doing something accesible and poppy. That means abandoning unusual song structures for danceability. It means abandoning complex/intelligent/unintelligble lyrics for whatever teenagers will sing along to. It doesn’t mean “doing something right.” So: I submit that hipsters are suspicious of artists who achieve mainstream success not because of the success itself, but becaue of the prerequisite dumbing-down of that artist’s sound that made the success possible. Animal Collective is the perfect example of this. Listen to their first album, “Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished.” I guarantee you’ve never heard anything like it in your life. Then listen to their most recent album, “Merriweather Post Pavillion” – an album that debuted at the top of the iTunes store. It’s more original than anything by Lady Gaga, sure, but it’s moving toward that end of the simplicity/accessbility spectrum. And think about the other popular “indie” acts: Vampire Weekend, Phoenix, Passion Pit. They’re fun, sure. But there’s no chance that listening to their music will feel like a religious experience, and you can’t say the same about “Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished.”

  2. Adam permalink
    May 2, 2010 9:18 am

    My knowledge of the transitive property may be lacking, but:

    If Ricky = Elitist and Elitist = Hipster, therefore Ricky = Hipster ?

  3. slickricks permalink*
    May 2, 2010 9:55 am

    And with one fell syllogism, Adam lays the psychological bias and raison d’etre for this post bare.

  4. Estitlerole permalink
    May 17, 2010 9:06 pm

    Just want to say what a great blog you got here!
    I’ve been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work!

    Thumbs up, and keep it going!

    Christian, Satellite Direct Tv


  1. Tweets that mention In Defense of Hipsters(!?!) « The New Print --
  2. Strike a Juxtapose « The New Print

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: