As recently as last week I heard a friend of mine arguing with a fellow craft beer drinker about why he is not and never was a hipster. We were celebrating a friends birthday at a Manhattan bar and we were obviously not in our right minds. Ales with high alcohol content and cheap shots were being consumed like it was the Aerosmith farewell tour. Every hear a of pickle-back? Me neither but at the time a shot of whiskey chased with pickle juice sounded like a grand idea. That pretty much sums up the kind of night it was. So with a head full of whiskey and enough beer to make him brave enough to stand up to a newly formed acquaintance, my buddy railed about the fallacy of hipserdom (he even tried to define this newly made up term but without much success). He went on about how the word hipster is a creation of mainstream media in order to profile young adults living in urban areas. Well he has a point, but where I interjected was on his statement that he isn't a hipster. Is he not a young adult living in an urban area? Is a 85 year old woman living in a nursing home not a geriatric?
I have struggled with this issue ever since my days at NYU when the rise of hipsterdom seemed to be at its peak. As an aspiring musician with long hair living in Williamsburg I never really took offense to being categorized as hipster, but I also never referred to myself as one. What I found interesting was that I couldn't find anyone that would own up to being a hipster. It's like how 10 million people bought the debut spice girls album, but nobody wanted to admit it (I stole that from Chris Rock.) So why does the word hipster come with a negative connotation, and why do people that fit the description loathe it like they loathe properly sized eye-glasses?
Perhaps it started when Mark Grief published an essay in the New York Times in November 12, 2010 in which he described hipsters as young white kids with expensive taste paying their rents with allowances from their parents. Now that's not very fair and nobody should take harsh generalizations like that to heart. Then again there was an even more recent article on BrooklynVegan.com calling a 30-something pushing an 800$ stroller a hipster. Now this can all get very confusing when all these seemingly different demographics are getting demoinized as hipsters, so lets actually look at the origins of the word....
It started in the 1940’s with the rise of Jazz and a new generation of young white Americans who wanted to be cool or “hip” like their black counterparts. Jazz was at its peak and American white kids started to dress, talk, and listen to music that was before designated for black culture. Our country was still very much divided racially, and this caused a little bit of a stir in our social ranks. The term hipster survived and evolved in the 1960’s when we saw the rise of hippies. Hippies took the idea of free speech and liberalism to another level, and it made the term hipster take a back seat in American subculture. Black and white counter-cultures were now becoming even more mixed, and term hipster really lost its steam. Then the eighties happened, and New-Wave And Hip-Hop became the new thing in pop music. A new breed of so-called black music was infiltrating young subcultures in America again, and white teens and young adults fell in love all over again. Wearing backwards baseball caps, high tops, and polygonal Ray-Bans breathed new life into hipsterdom. It went away a for a little bit during the grungy days of the early 90s, but that was short lived, and with the rise of Indie Rock we are now in another period of hipsterdom (although I think it is waning.) Its funny how hipsters have taken control of American subculture during periods of social conservatism. Hipsters first rose to power under Truman and Eisenhower, then dominated during the Reagan and Bush era, and again under George W. Bush. These were periods where there was a greater divide of wealth in the country. The rich got richer and the poor got poorer. That would back the idea that hipsters gain momentum when their wealthy parents accumulate more cash, allowing them to afford $2,500 a month rents for their twenty-something’s loft in Williamsburg. This could very well be true, but why take such a negative angle at a term that at one point was meant to be kind of cute or endearing? The fact is that the term has taken on a bit of a different connotation now. It is becoming more difficult to draw a line between what young blacks and whites think is cool or hip. The term now seems to cover a wide range of differing middle/upper class subcultures. So why do we now avoid the term “Hipster?” I can see my buddy’s facial expression become squished and stressed just by me mentioning the word.
The problem is that the word was invented to generally describe a group of people that pride themselves on being different and cool. Its not that they don’t want to be classified as hipsters, its that they don’t want to be classified at all. They want to be above that level of generalizing. Now that’s very admirable, but seriously, people need to get over themselves. Everyone gets classified. Elderly, Obese, Republican, Preppy, 99%, the list goes on. It could be worse. Instead of using a term that denotes coolness, free will, and extreme liberalism, we could call everyone in Williamsburg “shitheads,” but that wouldn’t be very nice. What I would like to see is the people who fit the bill, come out and embrace it. Don’t deny it. If you’re rocking a pair of skinny Levi’s, and you’re nodding along to the new Radiohead then sorry, but you’re a hipster. Nobody is trying to dis you, except maybe for that arrogant NYTimes writer (what else is new?). The world just needs ways to fit everyone into a demographic. Besides, if you really are an indie loving free spirit than why do you give a shit what people want to call you? They’re probably just jealous and wish that they could pull off wearing a ridiculous plaid scarf with floral patterned pants.
Now that we’re OK with being labeled a hipster lets actually try to classify the demographic in an unbiased manner. Lets call a hipster anyone 17-35 that is securely middle class and a member of some thriving counter-culture. If you still need a rule of thumb for classifying hipsters then try this: Call any suspecting hipster a hipster. If they vehemently deny it, then they are indeed a hipster. It actually works really well. :)
There actually is a point here I’m trying to make. One that goes beyond the superficiality of caring about who and who isn’t a hipster. The deeper issue with shunning hipsterdom is that we end up closing ourselves off to art and music that might be considered hipsterish (another made up term) or Indie. I was guilty of this for a long time, and I ended up missing out on some good stuff. After some deep thinking I have adjusted my view on being a hipster and the negative connotations that come with it. Instead of closing myself off to certain art forms and styles of music, I have allowed myself to be a little more open without the fear of being called a hipster. Maybe its just me maturing and not really giving a shit if some college kid thinks I'm a loser for having Kings of Leon on my iPhone. Thus, I have recently discovered a great band I would never have allowed myself to listen to. They have been called Emo, Post-Rock, Shoe-Gaze, and Indie. All of the terms that we like to relate back to hipsterdom. The band is Circa Survive and by ignoring the scourge of being labeled Emo I will attempt to give an objective review of their latest album, Violent Waves. (Insert segue-way here....)