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Semiformalishmaybe

In defense of Hipsters

Before I get into this topic, let me add the following disclaimer: I have never met anyone who seemed to me to be clearly a hipster. I may be talking a lot about something I don't know anything about. If I'm full of it or you just disagree, don't be shy about letting me know (this goes in general too).

In Defense of Hipsters:Over the last few years, I've seen considerable anti-hipster ranting/mockery and other cultural content. Not really understanding hipsters as a subculture, I initially wondered if I might be a hipster; is there overlap between academic-flavoured no-woo intellectuals and hipster? Am I in that overlap? I've tried to find reasonable non-hating definitions of hipster subculture, and as far as I can tell, I probably am not a hipster, but have a fair number of things in common with them. Still, I am uncomfortable with the harsh critiques of hipsterism.

I am bothered in part because I think hipsters seem to be a cousin to (or overlap significantly with) intellectuals and the criticism feels too close to general anti-intellectualism in the United States. One of the dominant themes in American culture, and a major failing here, is that we value folksiness; we turn our back on the highest accomplishments in culture and science and technology, and we resent the idea of accomplishment and scientific and cultural virtue. We praise simple ignorance over complicated intellectual life; many of us yearn for simpler days devoid of complication. The hipster, even if it is something specific, is also a stereotype of country folk towards city folk. The fast-moving, complicated nuances of a city folk with acquired tastes, constructing and deconstructing new norms all the time rather than having relatively static life of country folk make the hipster just more city than most city folk, and an easy target for misunderstandings and a retreat from the values of civilisation. What are we afraid of with hipsters? Novelty? Being disapproved of? Being too slow to be in their notion of the loop?

I am also bothered in part because some of the specifics of what I read of Hipster subculture seem good things, even apart from their overlap with intellectuals. For one, I am very very enthusiastic about the idea of cultural appropriation and an international/anational identity. For another, anti-traditionalism. Much of the irritation I have with criticism of hipsters has to do with people who have a problem with cultural appropriation.

In sum, it feels to me like hipsters arn't really doing anything that isn't either very understandable as being part of human nature, that hipsters are essentially an archetypes of city folk, that hipster culture has some pretty fantastic things about it, and that the opposition to hipsters is a form of (or at least related to) general American anti-intellectualism and anti-city-folk-ism.

From what I've read, I'd rather surround myself with hipsters than people who are proud to be beer-guzzling TV-watching people whose mental lives are relatively static. Hipsters may not exactly be my people, but they're closer to my idea of the right thing. Probably. Not having met any, I can't say for certain. If the "it's not cool if lots of people know about it" might feel a bit silly to me, but I don't need their judgement that I'm cool anyhow. If anti-hipsterism significantly involves injured pride, mine is fairly tough to injure.

Comments

I suspect that concern over image is common to most social groups in one form though. It's hard to find subcultures that don't have norms and a self-image.

I find that "Stuff White People Like" site kind of disturbing, although I recognise that "White People" is code for something (hipsters, I gather) rather than literally white people. I'm still as wary of the language as I would be "Stuff Black People Like". I sometimes wonder if this is needlessly stifling in that if one has enough underlying specifiers as to what "White People" or "Black People" means in a context, one can talk about, say, "Inner-city Black Culture in the United States" and actually have it mean something substantial enough to talk about. I do want to have the ability to have discourse on the common/frequent content of people of a subculture and ideally also avoid sounding like a racist or a sloppy thinker in implying that either everyone of the race or everyone in the specific subculture shares some traits. I've never really managed to figure out the best way to navigate that. Some people just suggest "groups don't exist, never talk about them, there are only individuals", but I think that's got to be missing-the-point bigtime.
Right, "concern over image." As I understand it, the complaint against "hipsters," (as opposed to earnest nerds/outcasts/whatever*), is that the movement is about "creativity! go against the grain! love things that might be overlooked by the mainstream!" right up to the point where you still have to be pretty, and the things you love still have to be loved by the hipster-stream. Otherwise you're still just a dork. I certainly think there are worse aesthetics/movements, and one thing hipsterism has going for it is that it also encourages the boys to be pretty if they want. But I think it has the same problem as pretty much any other counter-culture: over a certain size, it starts to look an awful lot like the main culture.


*This is the crux of the problem anyone has when they try to taxonomize hipsters: how can you tell who is "for real"? If you need to ask, it's probably not a useful scheme. And everyone thinks that they, personally, are for real.