I hate hipsters.
The former sentence is more difficult for me to type than it really should be, and mostly due to shame. Shame becomes the unavoidable result of making such severe judgment when you consider yourself to be fairly open-minded.
If you had asked me a few years ago what a hipster was, I might have asked to see your class of ‘75 high school yearbook because “hipster” sounds like a retro term. The truth is: this subculture remained relatively unknown to me until I started dating women in Brooklyn and Manhattan, and subsequently exposed myself to its members. Yet, once I was able to accurately identify one, I immediately hated them.
Up until now, I hadn’t really thought deeply about the reason why I disliked this trendy subculture, although it was apparent that I wasn’t alone. Recently stumbling on the Internet, I came across a blog whose particular focus was roasting hipsters. The blog used the term “cultural vampirism” to describe the nature of the hipster subculture—a group comprised mainly of young people parading around in tight vintage clothing and basking in the ironic exploitation of pop-culture fashion taboos that have made a recent comeback on expensive runways. As it was described, the vampirism of the hipster subculture is demonstrated by the actions of its members, which often borrow from other subcultures and time periods to create a kind of anachronistic blend of both once popular and once outlawed trends.
The comment section of the blog was inundated with responses from people enrolled in one of two camps: the “Who gives a crap” camp and the “We give a crap” camp, both camps also known as the “I’m probably a hipster” camp and the “You’re probably a hipster” camp, respectively. Over the course of 50 comments or so, members of both sides played out an epic debate on the issue—each response becoming more pretentious than the former by the smug usage of obviously forced vocabularies. When I finally did finish sifting through all the comments, it became clear that every one of them were probably hipsters (or at least wannabe hipsters).
Although most of the comments added very little substance to the issue, a few of them did put forth genuine effort to extract a legitimate line of reasoning to explain animosity towards hipsters. The frustrating thing about it was that some of the commentators seemed to uncover at least part of the root of this feeling, yet no one could really nail it just right and it felt much like groping around aimlessly in the dark—having somewhat meaningful progress sporadically, but being unable to capture a truly concise picture that was useful and easily understood.
Frustrated by the lack of clarity, I got up from my desk to wash my face and get ready for bed. Fixing the hand-towel in its rightful place, I had almost surrendered to defeat, determined to convince myself that hating hipsters was enough when, suddenly, I began understand the true problem with hipsters.
On the blog, someone had commented—correctly in my opinion—that the hipster subculture was unique in that, unlike other subcultures, they were largely not quick to self-identify. The comment went as far as to suggest that, indeed, the very problem with hipster culture was that no members self-identified as being a “hipster”. The implication here is complex as it implies that:
in order to preserve the authenticity of their individualism, hipsters deliberately don’t self-identify, taking cover under the guise of being indifferent to the identification of their own subculture, and by feigning oblivion to their hipster membership in the first place.
While none of the comments were able to spell this characteristic of the hipster culture precisely, it was clear that this was the core issue that anti-hipsters were going on about. Yet, it seemed to me that this wasn’t enough. To say that a culture is bad because they pretend to not be a culture sounds equally childish and petty as the subculture you’re trying to charge with the offense. For me, I need something more real; I needed to understand how exactly this culture really offended people in the most elusive way. What emerged was that which follows.
Aside from deliberately not self-identifying, the hipster subculture offends on the subtle principles of cultural elitism and sub-culture distinction. The real crime of hipsters is that they are elitists disguised as populists. It used to be that the elitist was easy to identify, being so obvious in their wealthy white-collared manner, that the shear magnitude of dissonance apart from anti-elitists—both economically and visually—was enough to keep both sides feeling safe. The elitist knew whose self-esteem they could control with high standards and condescendence, and the populist knew exactly who to hate for always being made to feel unheard, and where to picket about it.
What’s happened now is that elitist minds have blurred the lines by ditching their white collars for ironic tees, ripped skinny jeans and aviator sunglasses. They have effectively infiltrated the native stomping grounds of populists, creating a confusing message about how to confront an enemy that looks exactly like you do, and now sleeps a little too close to your bed. When a member of the elite class purposely hunts for ripped jeans and ill fitted clothing—the former authentic wear of the anti-elite—the offense is not on the anti-elitist’s sense of individuality, but rather, on the struggle of anti-elites through mockery waged by elites through the mediums of fashion and accessorizing. In this way—despite being found out—the contemporary elitist has become a chameleon, using mixed messages to play both sides while effectively playing dumb in order to avoid the charge.
So, it’s really all about the elitist (for the sake of fashion and novelty out of boredom) gaining notoriety by exploiting those popular characteristics of the anti-elitist culture—characteristics for which outsiders have formerly been persecuted and exiled for. It’s a pretty neat trick when you can make a tee favored by 12 year olds in the 80’s, or the choice hat and bandana combination of a redneck seem cool now, when 20 years ago, it might have promoted everyone else to the status of “social outcast” overnight.
With the adopted fashion and manner of the anti-elitist culture, elites have set up new posts of rejection within anti-elite territory by associating themselves with cultural markers that commonly reflect sentiments of acceptance and open-mindedness. The trouble is, they aren’t open-minded, and anti-elites continue to feel the mounting stings of elite attitudes dressed up as friendlies.