Sympathy for the Hipster

So, I recently stumbled across the Unhappy Hipsters blog, which for the most part I think is great: it takes images from Dwell magazine and gives them captions that turns the trendy design-and-lifestyle layouts into evocative vignettes, little short-short stories about alienation and modernity. I tend to like blogs that do this, take an image and build a story around it: I love, for instance, the “Secret Life of Dresses” series on A Dress A Day. And I don’t, personally, much like modern architecture or design—to me all those shiny, graywashed, hard-edged surfaces seem antiseptic and even anti-human, although I understand that some people find them soothing and restful, or alternatively “interesting” and “challenging”—so I’m fairly sympathetic to a blog that takes a snarky look at that aesthetic.

But having recommended Unhappy Hipsters, I want to also talk about that word “hipster,” which has recently exploded in usage. For example see, which is mostly about mocking kids who are having fun with their clothes. In fact a large part of the the “hipster” sneer seems to be a cut at people who take too much interest and enjoyment in a certain subject. Somebody on the New York Times comment section, for instance, called me a “fucking hipster” when I said I liked dark chocolate.

So a hipster is somebody who just likes trendy things, right, except where “trendy” is defined relating not to mass culture but to the specific trends of a young urban demographic. But here’s the thing—only people in that demographic would recognize the trends. Only somebody who’s familiar with the bands, the food, the festivals, the fashion, would have the capacity to recognize and to object to certain preferences on the grounds that they are overdone or too popular. And only somebody who actually worries about whether or not their own tastes are suitably idiosyncratic would even think to insult somebody else on that basis.

Therefore, the people who devised use of the word “hipster” as an insult (in its current popular usage) are clearly OTHER HIPSTERS. Nobody else knows or cares enough about the subcultures in question to police authenticity in this way. Nobody else gives a shit about what’s really cool and what’s overplayed and poser-y. And in the end, it comes down to making fun of people for what they enjoy, which is petty and mean.

So I guess this is an elaborate “no YOU are” to that dude in the comment section? And also, I like Unhappy Hipsters for the stories it creates, but I think the title of the blog probably says a lot more about the people who created it than it does about people who happen to like Dwell magazine.

4 Responses to “Sympathy for the Hipster”

  • Nina Says:

    I thin it’s the same as any social group/subculture — he might as well have called you a “fucking hippie” or yuppie/preppy/guido/teddy boy/greaser/sheik/dandy etc.

    I don’t agree with you on one point: I think the larger culture is actually pretty good at divining the characteristics of its subcultures, if only so some groups can speak disdainfully of other groups. There are a lot of groups that I could describe that I’m definitely not a part of (hip hop, NASCAR, surfers…)

    I do agree that it’s a totally stupid insult. FOMG YOU LIKE DARK CHOCOLATE. ?? But personally I think that “hipster” culture is on the whole pretty great — I love the handmade/ecological/conscious consumption aesthetic. I guess “hipster” as an insult is meant to insult by saying “you, you belong to a social group!”

    To which I would reply “why yes, I *am* a human being, thanks for pointing it out.”

  • shannon Says:

    I think it’s more like metalheads making fun of (so-called) poser wannabes for liking, I dunno, Mötley Crüe? See, I’m aware that the metalheads draw distinctions between “real” metal and the despised poser-imitation metal bands, but I’m not at all certain which bands are in and which are out. I originally wrote “Poison” in my example, but then I started wondering if maybe Poison was really an in-group band–didn’t somebody in high school explain to me earnestly that, despite “Every Rose Has Its Thorns,” Poison was actually “really hard”? I just don’t know, and that’s pretty much my point.

    So I really do think that authenticity is something policed mainly within a subgroup, and that the anti-hipster sites springing up right now are almost certainly created and run by other hipsters.

  • Nina Says:

    Ah, okay, I think I get it now — there are two separate issues here — Type 1: non-hipsters making fun of hipsters, and and Type 2: within-group hipster cannibalism. And the sites you refer to are pretending to be Type 1 and really they’re Type 2.

    I did just have a lot of fun reading the Wikipedia article on hipsters. Although I started replying to your post with the conviction that hipsters are no different from any other youth cultural group throughout history, now I think maybe you’re right that a certain preoccupation with authenticity exists within hipsterism that makes it a culture that is particularly ripe for Type 2 infighting.

  • shannon Says:

    That wikipedia article is great. “Hipsters manage to attract a loathing unique in its intensity. Critics have described the loosely defined group as smug, full of contradictions and, ultimately, the dead end of Western civilization.” Ha!

    Yes, there’s definitely the Type 1 thing happening too — “These durn kids are ruining society!” (fistshake). I just don’t think the Type 1 people are expressing their disdain by creating snarky, ironic websites. Ya know?

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