A Eulogy of the Hipster from NY Magazine

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This interesting piece from New York Magazine (ironically, a magazine not really known for its writing) seeks to ask posthumously, What was the Hipster?  While I wouldn’t say that this hipster phenomenon is totally dead, it certainly has peaked and been fully commercialized.  The line between where hipsters end and everyone else begins has just seemed to end. This author claims hipsters started in the late nineties and evolved over the last decade. While I think a lot of this article is incessant babbling and uses one too many “big words” to show off, there are some clever observations.  He essentially chronicles what led to the end of hipsterism as being an alternative trend and more of an adopted, commercialized mainstream trend.  It became something cool and new, that you could buy at Urban Outfitters.  Essentially you could be an individual, just like everyone else:

“The rebel consumer is the person who, adopting the rhetoric but not the politics of the counterculture, convinces himself that buying the right mass products individualizes him as transgressive. Purchasing the products of authority is thus reimagined as a defiance of authority. Usually this requires a fantasized censor who doesn’t want you to have cologne, or booze, or cars. But the censor doesn’t exist, of course, and hipster culture is not a counterculture. On the contrary, the neighborhood organization of hipsters—their tight-knit colonies of similar-looking, slouching people—represents not hostility to authority (as among punks or hippies) but a superior community of status where the game of knowing-in-advance can be played with maximum refinement. The hipster is a savant at picking up the tiny changes of rapidly cycling consumer distinction.”

He also sums up well why their is so much anger and resentment around hipsters and hipster trends:

“This in-group competition, more than anything else, is why the term hipster is primarily a pejorative—an insult that belongs to the family of poseur, faker, phony, scenester, and hanger-on. The challenge does not clarify whether the challenger rejects values in common with the hipster—of style, savoir vivre, cool, etc. It just asserts that its target adopts them with the wrong motives. He does not earn them.”

And finally he makes an interesting point that at its core there is small number of people actually writing, creating art, and contributing to items they’ve made to the public. And most of the other people around them are just consuming the trend:

“It has long been noticed that the majority of people who frequent any traditional bohemia are hangers-on. Somewhere, at the center, will be a very small number of hardworking writers, artists, or politicos, from whom the hangers-on draw their feelings of authenticity. Hipsterdom at its darkest, however, is something like bohemia without the revolutionary core. Among hipsters, the skills of hanging-on—trend-spotting, cool-hunting, plus handicraft skills—become the heroic practice. The most active participants sell something—customized brand-name jeans, airbrushed skateboards, the most special whiskey, the most retro sunglasses—and the more passive just buy it.”

Hipsterism was a trend centered around being alternative, unique and against the mainstream. And somewhere along the line small pieces of these trends seeped there way into popular culture and next thing we knew we all had to have them (think flannel, indigenous print shirts, skinny jeans, Rayban sunglasses, and summer scarves.  We hate that the only thing that is hip in the moment is everything hipster, and that somehow we can’t escape it.

Read the whole article by Mark Greif here.

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Hipsterism is dead, long live hipsters

I started a blog to write about hipsters. I’m worried I may have become one along the way. I wanted to write about the urban phenomenon of hipsters and hipster neighborhoods, popular styles and trends that didn’t originate from a Gap commerical, and I wanted to observe it first hand and provide my own spin. At first I thought my blog might be a bit similar to other hipster-bashing blogs where I would take pictures of hipsters in cafés, hip restaurants, and other venues.  I would write about the silly stores that pop up all over the mission selling taxidermy, antiques, and some beaten-in clothes at thrift stores. I wanted to have funny meme’s that poked fun at people with silly non-prescription glasses and men who wore scarves indoors.  But almost immediately as I started to do my research (which is not much more than getting coffee and people watching) I started to realize that real hipsters were elusive. It wasn’t only that they had moved on from last year’s cool coffee shop to a much cooler one in the next neighborhood over, but that a lot of people who appeared to be hipsters from a distance were really just normal people.  Unemployed, freelance, or between contracts, most of these people were just going about their daily lives. They weren’t actually trying to portray a certain image.  There were software engineers working on their start-ups and writers working on short stories.  And I, just like them, had come to a coffee shop because it’s a better place to focus than being at home.

My other big issue was that in making my first few jokes at random people’s expenses I started to question who I was if I was not one of them. If I’m not a hipster, does that make me a preppy, mainstream kind of guy? Do I think that people who work in traditional corporate environments are better than other people? I don’t really identify with that group either.  Sure, my jobs over the last couple of years were in more corporate environments and I was surrounded by more mainstream folk- but I like to think of myself as an individual… Oh gosh, now I really am starting to sound like a hipster.   I don’t want to identify with any particular group; I don’t want to be limited by being put in a box.  And really, isn’t that what this is all about? Identity. In order to make sense of all the different things we see in the world we create generalizations about the people we see around ourselves.  We write off people who take different paths in life as hipsters and hippies, and on the other end of the spectrum we label people as type-A business jerks and uber-rich capitalists.  And the thing about modern identity is that while there are some groups that people like to associate themselves with slightly (such as Christian, technophile, artist, and businessman), most people want to be thought of as unique individuals with original ideas.  Hipsters don’t identify with being hipsters. Other people coin the phrase and use it to generalize about a not so set group of people. You can’t interview a hipster and get his or her take on the world.  They can’t defend themselves.

What I am coming to terms with is that I want to write as my main job and a side passion.  Somewhere along the line in my life I learned that artist is a dirty word.  I learned that artists are a lazy group of people who are hopelessly lost in their own delusions.  But this doesn’t seem fair.  When you think of all the musicians, actors, painters, and writers whose content you consume and allow you to feel excited, inspired and validate your experience – you know that artists do indeed produce something of value.  If hipsters are really just a bunch of people exploring their creative dreams and slowly building their skills and their portfolio of works, then who are we to judge? We want to consume the music of the band as they get successful, but are annoyed by their struggling artist lifestyle on the way there.

So what is to become of hipsters? Hipsterism, as a mainstream alternative style, has already peaked in the last couple years.  At this point hipster styles are so ubiquitous that it’s hard to really call it alternative anymore. As this New York Times article points out, recessions are perfect breeding grounds for hipsters. There is a lack of steady, long term jobs and many young urbanites are graduating from undergraduate and graduate programs into an economy that just doesn’t have the jobs that they imagined they would land as they finished school.  On top of this, many young people today grew up with parents and schools that instilled a certain amount of idealism in them.  We want the perfect job and we want it now (and we feel somewhat self-entitled) that we deserve it.  We want a job that fulfills our passions, allows us to dress as we feel, is viewed as cool and sexy by our friends, and pays for us to have that ridiculously expensive home on the cover of Dwell Magazine.

I’m currently working on a re-brand of the site. I am planning on expanding the focus to urban phenomenon, trends, and neighborhoods.  Talking about hipsters all day can get boring, they don’t deserve all the attention they get.  Keep an eye out in the coming weeks for some changes and let me know if you have any input: missionhipstersblog@gmail.com