Hipsters: The Absent Others

By Annie:

If you informally polled the population of any major city, you would find that hipsters are nowhere and everywhere. No one identifies him or herself as such, but ask any twenty-something and you are likely to hear about how hipsters are everywhere, permeating our popular culture. Why the paradox? Hipsters crave a sense of authenticity, but lack this authenticity by their very nature. As such, the term has a negative connotation. Hipsters dream of the edginess of countercultures, but instead, usher culture away from counterculture groups and into the mainstream.

Hipsters are a prominent subculture. They operate under different patterns and values than the mainstream. However, proposing the hipster subculture as counterculture is a bit of stretch.  Most notable countercultures in recent history have had, at their foundation, a movement towards social, political, or economic change. Hippies were anti-war proponents of free love, and expanding their consciousness.  Punks were known for being anti-establishment. Hipsters, on the other hand, are devoid of that deeper meaning. While they have the appearance of a counterculture on the surface by their rejection of mainstream popular culture, this stems not from a deeper goal of fighting authority, but from the constant seeking of something cool and unique this is not yet embraced by the masses.

Hipster subculture occupies an interesting niche in the hegemonic cycle. The rejection of “popular” and the embracing of “unique” and even “ironic” suggests resistance to the dominant culture. However, hipsters lend themselves equally to the incorporation side of the scale. They act as a liaison between dominant and subordinate cultures, appropriating pieces of other subcultures that are deemed cool, but subsequently losing the original function or message of the item. In the west, keffiyehs were originally worn as a symbol of pro-Palestinian support.  Now, if you questioned the average wearer on the origin of said scarf, the answer would likely be “Urban Outfitters” rather than an answer touching on any cultural significance. Fixed gear bicycles regained popularity through bike messengers who valued a low weight, low maintenance, bad-weather reliable vehicle. Subsequently, like messenger bags and other aspects of the bike messenger “style”, these have been appropriated based on their inherent coolness by virtue of being less common and harder to ride, and therefore elite. This appropriation for the sake of aesthetics and street cred alone sets these trends up for immediate re-appropriation by corporations.

It may be this process of non-corporate cool hunting and lack of a deeper message that creates the feeling of self hatred among hipsters.  When the ideals of the subculture have the pretense of rejecting “selling out”, no one wants to be associated with the term that implies culture with a primary goal of looking cool. Additionally, there is no sense of creation associated with the subculture. The punk and hippie movements were responsible for music and fashion that were inspired by and developed secondary to the fundamental roots of the movement. As the hipster subculture utilizes existing culture solely for the sake of expressing individuality, there is little to inspire new creation.

Since moving to Portland, I have found myself drinking more coffee, wearing skinny jeans, and craving a MacBook. This is a testament to the strength of this subculture and that elite, cool feeling it produces. However, I like to think I keep myself grounded and avoid most of the hipster clichés. After all, I can justify legitimate reasons for these trends, and most importantly, I’m not a hipster. No one is…except everyone else.

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