What Was A Hipster Anyway?


Hip Hip Horrah, by Karel Appel

I used to be cool. There have been a couple of times in my life when I flew close to the zeitgeist, and felt almost part of something. Way back in 2009, much closer to the temporal epicentre of the hipster menace, I wrote the first article of an intended two parter, attempting to analyse exactly what hipsterism is (or, even then, was).

I mailed some of the young ‘alts’ I knew asking…

Dear ‘young’ art people of my acquaintance,
So I’ve been thinking about this lately, it’s especially ‘relevant’ what with the Dirty Projectors making Letterman and Williamsburg going out of business. What exactly is or was ‘hipsterism’?

The word brings a dozen distinct and contradictory images to mind- AmAp spandex clad androgynous 19 year olds doing coke and dancing to electro; plaid shirt and horn rimmed glasses wearing, 25 year old bloggers with advanced haircuts who enjoy Stuff White People Like, Animal Collective, and the novels of David Sedaris; vintage / threadless shirt wearing 30 year old ‘DIY’ indie or ‘hardcore’ musicians who do graffiti and ‘art projects’ in their spare time…

Are all these images of ‘alternative‘ mutually exclusive, are they the same person through the stages of hipster, or they merely cliches thrown up to account for the lack of a coherent youth movement? Possibly going to write something suitable ironic about this soon. Your thoughts…

I didn’t really expect a response, although in fact I received several. With hipsterism now well and truly in the dustbin of history, just another fad amongst many, I figured there’ll never be a less appropriate to post their responses, so here goes.

Andrew Booth wrote…

urlPerhaps when posterity tells the tale of the Obama Recession, the
greatest victim will be rightly seen as the last bastion of hope and
artistic integrity, the Williamsberg commune. It’s disappointing that
the Great Hope has crushed our last hope. The Hipsters were our
Dadaists, our Scottish Colourists, our Pre-Raphaelites. Through their
detached irony, their increasingly desperate attempts not to create,
through full fluffed moustachioed lips they rarely knowingly spoke
truth, but always hinted and sniffed at it. Their importance cannot be
underestimated. Indeed it is only when parents were bankrupted, their
gravy trains halted, the tears of sorrowful mourning joining their
carefully tattooed counterparts, that we can judge their true value to
society. They were not only the bedrock of society but its highest
pinnacle, simultaneously underwriting and souring high above the
cripple grubby masses. Alas for the hipster, we shall not see your
like again.

Scott Manley wrote…

I’ve always thought of it like this (from a North American perspective):

‘hipsters’ are broken into two types. real hipsters and faux hipsters.

i hate giving the ‘real hipsters’ that name, because they existed before ‘hipsters’ existed in the sense they are stereotyped today. of course, ‘hipsters’ have been present in all times and the definition changes. but let’s assume we know the current stereotype. these ‘real’hipsters get unfairly grouped into the greater stereotype. to me, these real hipsters are the artists, the musicians, the writers, the group of naturally creative and randomly expressive people that exist. these people have the unique ability to genuinely see or hear things differently that most would kill for. anyone can fake it to some degree, but these people do it with such ease that it’s easy to ‘know’ who they are when you meet them.

some of these people were my friends in school–i grew up with them; they didnt do things differently because they wanted to be different, they did things different because they couldnt do it any other way. as they grew older, they become that cant-be-helped image of a starving artist. they work dead end jobs to surive. buy clothes from thrift stores because they cant afford new ones, are vegetarians because meat is just too fucking expensive, and rode fixies because they didnt have cars and bikes with gears used to be the premium.

these people always embodied this modern ‘hipster’ image. and when ‘hipster’ dies, they will still be ‘hipsters’.

but the people that try to emulate this look, these are the faux hipsters. they don’t have this “god-given” ability to be expressive or see things differently. they do things different because they are educated enough to know that they are part of a greater, media-driven, cookie cutter image of normalcy. this of course has its own ironies as you can spot these people even more readily than you could before. but, this digresses from what i think is the core part of being a ‘hipster’. where the real hipster cant function without releasing creativity, faux hipsters go looking for that outlet, and it never comes. the evidence that leads me here? look at some of these people, they “write a blog”, AND they’re “photographers”, AND they know how to play a few songs on guitar, AND they drip paint onto a canvas and call it Pollock. they want people to think they have natural ability where there is none.

im not claiming to be a real hipster or faux hipster, but ive taught given enough guitar lessons to know when someone has natural ability or not, and im sure that is applicable to any creative field.

at any rate, im sure i could go on, but that’s a short bit on what i think about ‘hipsters’.

Darragh McCausland wrote…

Podge from Ham Sandwich, as featured in the ‘Look At This Fucking Hipster’ book

I really don’t know about this whole hipster thing and don’t think about it a lot ‘cept for laughing at the odd unfortunate photo on the LATFH tumblr. I don’t even think it is that relevant to Irish culture outside of a small group of Dublin teens and twentysomethings who read a lot of US blogs and shop in American Apparel. It’s kind of a surrogate culture for them, I think. Maybe because in Ireland, there isn’t a youth movement that fits them, something that is both vapid and surface-obssessed, yet has pretentions of a deeper cultural awareness at the same time? In my mind at least, these qualities hang over all that is ‘hipster’ like giant flashing neon arrows in the ether.The whole hipster thing is a nifty balance isn’t it? A sort of path of least resistance, where you look cool and tick all appropriate intellectual or cultural boxes without really scratching the surface. And now, more than ever, you can do this. With so much information available on the internet re: music, literature, fashion etc…it is very easy to have your opinions formed for you. And I think that’s where the term ‘hipster’ originally came from (too lazy to wikipedia – correct me if I am wrong). It’s someone who changes opinions and values like they would underwear; a borderline personality type, terrified of feeling irrelavent, keeping their thumb in the wind so they can constantly see what way it’s blowing.

I feel nauseous when I see all the regressive scene-analysis about what’s relevant on american blogs like hipster-runoff, and in their comments sections too. To me, outside it all in Ireland, it looks so parochial. And I’d venture any sociologist interested in the phenomenon (God fucking love them  if they are), could easily link a lot of the shite spewed on those elitist little comment boards to the teaching of post-modern literary theory in American Universities. You see this in commenter’s excessive use of post-modern terms such as ‘meta’ and ‘meme’. And there is also this crummy notion that every cultural event is a ‘text’ which needs to be dismantled and obsessed over, until you get to the ridiculous point where a load of fuckers who should know better, and moreover, should be using their intelligence more constructively, are arguing over whether such miniscule chunks of pop-cultural flotsam as Bradford Cox’s jizzy pants are ‘relevant’.

For me, the concept of ‘hipsterism’ which you seem to be getting at with your examples above, is a diverting, solipsistic, parlour game for insecure, university educated, moneyed young American white people. And it is partly driven by fear. The fear of not being ‘with it or ‘chill’, or whatever cunt of a term those pesky hipsters are calling it nowadays.

Karl McDonald wrote…

url-2Hipsterism recedes indefinitely. It’s like a gestapo style thing, the whole “I’m not a hipsterbut I can point one out to you if you let me go”. There’s always someone worse. For a lot of my friends, the hipsters are the Spy crowd, people our age and younger who have a lot of consideration for their hair and like dancing ironically to terrible music. Or I suppose the people in vintage, flea marketed clothes who have tea parties, but then those are probably some of my core group of friends at this point. I’m sure the Spy crowd could name a class of vinyl-collecting, smoking area hipsters who they hate for being so aloof and bitchy.

It’s a receding thing because, like with any sort of identity construction, you have to define yourself against something. I have a friend who got chewed out recently for going to (specific) gigs and being a “Trinity artsy” type. The accuser, in attendance at both gigs and not unfathomably a Trinity humanities student himself, saw no contradiction in giving out about somebody else’s habits.

Secondly: “merely cliches”

I’m going to show some horrible English student roots here, but I don’t think hipsterism is an adequate term to describe what it’s trying to describe. There’s too much it doesn’t account for (especially, as noted above, internal dissension), and it’s not anchored to anything. There are things that pop up, like art and DIY and I suppose books and vintage (rather than retro) stuff, but none of it is catch all. Is a punk who does art installations ahipster? Or are they excluded because they’re already a punk, and punk is a “coherent youth movement” with handy traceable roots?

A thing I did a few times in interviews, and saw others do probably more than I did myself, was to assume bands don’t like Pitchfork. Say “hey, Pitchfork sucks” and wait for them to agree and throw snobby hipsterism under the bus. But it’s probably hipper to say you hate Pitchfork than it is to say you like it, and Pitchfork doesn’t give a fuck either way so long as people are reading. So what are you latching on to? Even Pitchfork doesn’t work as a tentpole for hipsterism.

Thirdly: “Dirty Projectors ‘making’ Letterman”

What’s hipster music? Arcade Fire were once, but then, without changing at all, they became maltstream and your cousin who buys CDs (yes, actual CDs) at Tesco said she loves it. Animal Collective, by virtue of being a bizarre band who got popular (after what, 7 albums?), are targets, but what did they do to deserve it? If you saw Avey Tare out you’d think he was a roadie or an old punk or something. You’d never say “hipster.” Electro and coke? Electro’s not exclusive enough. Thousands of people go out and dance on weekends to what could fall under hipster electro, but if sneerily discerning taste is supposed to be a hipster trope, how does that work?

So fuck it. Hipsterism is too slippery to even exist, if you ask me.

Finally: HRO

I bought an I Am Carles t-shirt last week but I am definitely never going to wear it visibily. Ever.

Finally, Alex Sinclair summed it up…

Urban Outfitters sell this entire image on the ground floor.


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