On November 15, 1994 a writer for The Independent, a British Daily newspaper, named Mark Simpson coined the term “metrosexual.” “Metrosexual man, the single young man with a high disposable income, living or working in the city (because that’s where all the best shops are), is perhaps the most promising consumer market of the decade. In the Eighties he was only to be found inside fashion magazines such as GQ, in television advertisements for Levi’s jeans or in gay bars. In the Nineties, he’s everywhere and he’s going shopping.” Though the phrase was clever, it ultimately faded away until eight years later when he returned to the subject, this time for Salon.com. After claiming David Beckham was the quintessential Metrosexual, he redefined it slightly. “The typical metrosexual is a young man with money to spend, living in or within easy reach of a metropolis — because that’s where all the best shops, clubs, gyms and hairdressers are. He might be officially gay, straight or bisexual, but this is utterly immaterial because he has clearly taken himself as his own love object and pleasure as his sexual preference.”
So why mention this? When I was asked by Korsgaard to write a guest post for his blog, I was struggling for inspiration. Most of the time I read things quite passively, I agree or disagree, but without the standard internet level of rage. However, in recent weeks, an article that Korsgaard wrote for my own blog has received its fair share of vitriol, so perhaps I have learned a thing or two. It was his article on hipsters that interested me though.
What is a hipster? Korsgaard explains them this way, “….funemployed trustafarians playing polo and cranking the latest playlists from Pitchfork over their stereos, that come tomorrow, the park will be littered with cans of PBR and leftovers from Whole Foods, and very likely three or four different kinds of bodily fluids. Truly, that these bozos trash a park on Earth Day and hand out fliers to go green before driving to class provides a form of irony too rich for a hipster to understand.” Frankly, this definition is baffling. However, no definition is good.
The term was first made “mainstream,” a wonderfully hipster word, in the 1940s in pop music and ultimately defined by a historian and cultural commentator named Eric Hobsbawm, as a group of people who use language as a way to keep out others. The term has always meant a person who does something to distinguish themselves; all the way through the modern day. Even cultural commentator and Pulitzer Prize winner Norman Mailer tackled the phrase in his essay “The White Negro,” as American existentialists, living a life surrounded by death—annihilated by atomic war or strangled by social conformity—and electing instead to “divorce [themselves] from society, to exist without roots, to set out on that uncharted journey into the rebellious imperatives of the self.”
The term resurfaced in the 1990s as people who liked alternative things. From the grunge movement in Seattle, to the craft beer movement in California and New England, Hipster has been what all people outside the mainstream get grouped in. However, don’t think I am all for the Hipster everything, but there is need for distinction.
When you think of Hipster, there are essentially four ways to think of it: culture, food, clothes, and irony. In all these way there are hipsters and arrogant prick hipsters, there is a difference.
Culturally, Hipsters like the anti-mainstream. Without hipsters, there are no underground films, no cult classics, no alternative music. If you lived in Seattle in the early 1990s, you may have known Nirvana if you listened to the local DJ, but the people who heard it first there and the people in New York, Chicago, and Austin who brought the bootlegs to local clubs where hipsters. Even, Cobain himself, thought he was too mainstream, so he tried to make is album In Utero unlistenable. The whole LCD Soundsystem song “Losing my Edge” mocks this phenomenon, “I heard you have a compilation of every good song ever done by anybody… All the underground hits… I heard you have a vinyl of every Niagra record on German import. …I heard that you have a CD compilation of every good ’60s cut and another box set from the ’70s. I hear you’re buying a synthesizer and an arpeggiator and are throwing your computer out the window because you want to make something real. .. I hear that you and your band have sold your guitars and bought turntables. I hear that you and your band have sold your turntables and bought guitars. I hear everybody that you know is more relevant than everybody that I know.” They are the ones that see the movies in the art theatre and watch all the animated shorts nominated for academy awards. However, there is the douchey turn that takes this love of the new and the unknown that can be summarized with the term, “their earlier stuff is better.” These Hipsters are also nerds.
Food wise, hipsters know better. They can enjoy guilty pleasures, but they live for food; fancy cheeses, speakeasies, Scotches and craft beers. If the stereotype is PBR, the stereotype exists later in the night. Those hipsters are frat boys. Most real hipsters are nerds. Look at most dive bars, they may be frequented by hipsters, however, before long the quality and selection of beers improves. The hipster dynamic is knowing that which is good and choosing it over the bad. The PBR thing? It is better than drinking Bud, as cheap and twice the booze. Besides, it’s so ironic that people like it. Of course the Dos XX man hates hipsters, the beer is terrible. However, hipster is more than that. Next time you dust off Yelp to check-in, or whatever, look at the “ambience” of your favorite restaurants. Everything listed is Hipster; if you like an underground place that has Guinness Ice Cream, a ribs place that is paper bag carryout, or a dive bar; you are hipster. A fancy restaurant that doesn’t require a tie? Hipster. In the end, the food hipster reviews it on his blog. The annoying ones hate everything; the douchy ones tell you where it is better. However, if someone suggests somewhere other than Applebee’s, you may have a hipster friend.
The most common hipster identifier now-a-days is the appearance. They wear plaid, have combed hair, facial hair, and glasses. First of all, I want to thank the hipsters of the early to mid-90s era for making it so glasses didn’t warrant getting beaten up any more. Some of that was people like Rivers Cuomo from Weezer who just wore thick Buddy Holly glasses (also leading to the return of old school Ray-Bans.)That was nice. Who wears plainos (glasses with no lenses)? LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, and Robert Griffin III; that is just a few out of about 4 million Americans everyday (according to Freakanomics Radio). The facial hair and the plaid? Just comes out of not wanting to look like the preppie kids with the polo shirts and the trust funds. Hipsters I know tend to be middle class, but prefer to live outside the mainstream.
Finally, the biggest failing of the hipster movement is irony. When you have a group that has good taste in anything, they will enjoy the mainstream stuff ironically. They will wear ironic t-shirts, watch terrible things, listen to pop music and claim “they are so bad they are funny.” They will support causes knowing that they will never catch on. They love things that they deem low culture as kitsch. However, if it weren’t for these hipsters, we would have no idea that the Montgomery Flea Market is just like a mini mall or that you can autotune terrible news.
In the end, then, what is a hipster? I think since we decided that nerds were ok, we needed a way to hate the nerdy aspects of people that were well dressed. So they get grouped in with preppies (people who wear polo shirts and always tuck into shorts and jeans), hippies (people who do things because they think it helps the earth, the jerks), frat boys (drinking game, cheap beer, collar poppers), and douchebags (they ARE better than you). Who are hipsters then? They obsess over things, but enjoy them? They have hair long enough to comb? They make as much money as I do, but dress better? Hipsters are bad!
The quote I opened with by Mark Simpson caused so much vitriol, he retracted it, but the stigma stuck. However, as it faded, where did those people go? The ones who watch classic and arty movies? Love independent things and good food? Those who dress distinctly? Time to grow a curly mustache, hipster.