Damn it Feels Good to Be a Hipster
We’ve all seen them. Our neighborhoods are being overrun by a new demographic, a group that continues to propagate and spread its cultural impact like a plague that infects the multitudes and then lingers without a cure. In recent years, their numbers have grown dramatically, and now businesses and cultural institutions tailor themselves to meet the needs of this ever-increasing horde. Yes folks, we are being beset by hipsters.
Maybe it’s just because I live in Colorado, home to more microbreweries per capita than any other state in the nation, but everywhere I seem to go these days, I keep running into more and more of these irony-driven baffoons. Or perhaps it is just that their seeming sense of smug superiority, their pervasive “I’m so much more culturally enlightened than you” air that envelops them in a shroud of ambiguously-framed aloofness, forces me to question myself and wonder if I am actually as cool as I really like to think I am. Either way, there certainly seems to be a lot of neatly-trimmed facial hair, plaid shirts and ridiculously thick eyeglass frames making the rounds these days.
The problem is, though, that as much as I want to hate these PBR-consuming, self-involved, retro-minded douche bags, I can’t help but admit that I kind of dig their style, man. Since I’m pretty sure hipsters invented Urban Dictionary in the first place, I feel fairly comfortable using it for citing the defining characteristics of hipsters as being, “independent thinking, counter-culture, progressive politics, an appreciation of art and indie-rock, creativity, intelligence, and witty banter”. Minus the fact that I might have to break the needle of my record player the next time my girlfriend plays a Bon Iver album, I like to think I embody these values myself. Ok, this goatee I’ve been sporting for the past twenty years is hardly as meticulously groomed as the finely manicured beards these dudes are rocking, but if it weren’t for witty banter, this column would be nothing but a bunch of tired ideas trotted out by a self-absorbed narcissist. Likewise, as a teacher, the one thing I always taught my students was to think for themselves, and heck, I voted for Bernie Sanders, so I certainly have the progressive politics thing down.
Even more sobering for someone like myself who wants to label these young punks as nothing more than pretentious windbags caught up in their own lifestyle choices is that I also resonate with many of their aesthetic choices. Defying the conventions of an uptight and stifling cultural zeitgeist, they tend to live in trendy, nuanced neighborhoods made up of funky, unique houses that form a much-needed visual respite from the cookie-cutter suburbs with their uniform backyards and Target Superstores every 3.6 miles. Hipsters tend to value neighborhoods with cultural diversity and artistic investment. Their restaurants use organic ingredients that the rest of us have barely heard of and often mispronounce, things like quinoa (often overheard as “kwee-no-a”), kale, and birkenspiel (ok, I made up the last one to see if you could even tell the difference). Fact is, though, that even when I am totally ignorant on the subject, I can tell that these pretentious bastards have good taste nonetheless.
Moreover, I appreciate the mindset and philosophy underpinning their enlightened bohemian lifestyle. Hipsters tend to be creative and intellectual, two characteristics that push them towards a heightened sense of independent thinking. Hipsters question mainstream, popular sensibilities and instead adopt a more counter-cultural ethos of artistic merit. They prefer coffee house artists with bad breath over bigger name musicians like Justin Timberlake or Counting Crows. They never wear fashionable labels like Abercrombie and Fitch or J-Crew, instead going for a nondescript plaid flannel atop a 1970’s Foghat t-shirt . Likewise, they would never dare hang some lame-ass, mass-produced Ansel Adams print in their living room, opting instead to frame a fuzzy but curious photograph their buddy Russell took while tripping on ecstasy and watching a light show at Burning Man one summer. They listen to Journey, but only ironically.
And let’s face it- mainstream culture needs a thorough questioning and a good kick in the ass. By refusing to buy into all the nonsense popular culture foists upon us, hipsters inherently create a market for underserved artists. They open up an avenue of self-expression to a group of talented but often ignored artists who just need a chance to be heard and seen. Hipsters serve to invigorate the aesthetic progress of our culture by seeking out new and fresh voices that are otherwise being drowned out amidst a sea of banal sameness.
But let us also not miss out on the obvious irony here. In their drive to reject the monotony of cultural uniformity, hipsters have inadvertently created a subculture that is itself instilled with certain codes that inevitably begin to look like an acquiescence to conformity. Even if their little private club was created as a giant middle finger to the establishment’s pristine white tower sitting yonder upon the hill, doesn’t it have a dress code just the same? Try cracking open a Budweiser or throwing on some Dave Matthews in front of your typical hipster and see if they don’t thumb their noses at you as they turn their head in utter dismissal. Isn’t this just a different version of the same old judgmental orthodoxy they were attempting to eschew? In the end, truly independent, counter-cultural thinking allows for the difference of opinions, even when they are bad. In other words, true friends let their friends make bad decisions. Even when those bad decisions constitute Budweiser and Dave Matthews.
Steven Craig is the author of the best-selling novel WAITING FOR TODAY, as well as numerous published poems, short stories, and dramatic works. Read his blog TRUTH: in 1000 Words or Less every THURSDAY at www.waitingfortoday.com