I’m often accused of being a hipster. Of course, I don’t “self-identify” as a hipster. No one does! Hipster is more of a derogatory term these days for… well, I’m not exactly sure who. I think I’m accused of being a hipster because I have a beard, tattoos, a garden, a bicycle, chickens, and a broad taste in music. OK, fine. I also wear skinny jeans.
But, if that’s the only criteria for hipster classification, what about this guy?
Check out that sweet beard. And he grows all his own food. This picture shows him making hay which means he even grows the food HIS FOOD eats. Total locavore. His favorite band? You’ve never heard of it. Because it’s him and his friends. HE IS HIS OWN FAVORITE BAND. And, you may have noticed, he’s wearing ONE suspender. Not gonna find that at Urban Outfitters. And he wears that one suspender because he’s OLD ORDER Amish. That’s right, just being Amish was too mainstream.
Or how about this guy in Jakarta?
Dude has a sewing machine on his bike! I bet he’s sewing skinny jeans. And he loves Indonesian cinema. Oh, you’ve never heard seen any Indonesian moves? Wow, you are very uncultured.
And check out this hipster.
Your produce is all from a rooftop garden in Brooklyn? Well, this guy only eats honey he finds himself. And bugs. Bugs he finds in the woods. And he made that shirt himself from CAMEL HAIR. It’s extremely uncomfortable and unfashionable and no one else has one like it. Hip. Stir.
But, really, the label “hipster” has less to do with a list of criteria and more to do with a perceived counterculturalism and a smugness about being countercultural. This is why people often attribute to hipsters the phrase, “You’ve probably never heard of it.” The idea here is the hipster takes pride in being so far outside of the mainstream that other people haven’t even heard of the music he listens to or books he reads.
I don’t think this criticism is valid. I certainly don’t take any pleasure in having a taste for something that someone else doesn’t even know exists. I ride my bike to work because I enjoy cycling and it saves us money. I listen to the bands I like because – get ready to have your mind blown – I like them! And I wear skinny jeans because I think they’re comfortable and because I’ve worked too hard for these muscular thighs to hide them behind baggy pants. The same goes for all the people I’ve met other people consider hipsters. They’re not trying to throw their tastes in anyone’s face. They simply enjoy their music and hobbies the way anyone else does.
But, for argument’s sake, let’s assume the criticism is valid; that hipsters are intentionally trying to be “cool” by adopting countercultural and obscure tastes in music, movies, food, clothes, and hobbies. Is this really contemptible?
We live in a culture that consumes massive amounts of absolute garbage. I’m using the word consume here in a larger sense to mean not just food but music, television, and and a myriad of other things.
Have you watched television lately? Gone to see a rom/com or action movie? A lot of it is trash. Filthy, culture destroying trash. Is the only remedy for this some bizarre indie film? No, of course not. But that’s certainly a better answer than a sixth Fast & Furious (Seriously, how are there six of these?).
We live in a culture that values quantity over quality. This is especially clear in our food culture (or lack of). Chain restaurants peddling processed novelties, giant conglomerates shipping “food stuffs” to every corner of the globe, destructive industrial agriculture wreaking havoc on our land, and all of this supported by a billion dollar advertising industry. Would it really be so bad if someone said to all of this, “No thank you”? If he said he’d rather eat kale and artisan bread and drink craft beer? There are bound to be hypocrisies and mistakes in these sorts of decisions. But I say that’s still better than mindless consumption.
The same could be said of our music. The lines between pop, country, rap, and half a dozen other genres have become almost completely blurred, leaving us with canned hits sickly sweet with tired hooks, trite melodies, and near identical structure. These three and a half minute “songs” are designed to make money, not to be beautiful or contain any sense of artistic merit. Maybe it would be good if someone said, “I want nothing to do with this. I want music that isn’t on the radio. I want something unique, not something designed to make an money for an executive.”
I’m certainly not saying snobbery is a good thing. And I’m in no place to pass judgement on other people’s taste. I LOVE Ke$ha. I’ll go see every single movie Marvel makes. And I’m already craving the Doritos I’ve got stashed in my desk. But I do think it’s good to be aware of what we’re consuming and resist the horde of corporations out to get our money. And our souls.
Maybe that’s why hipsters annoy people so much. Because they remind us of what we already know; that maybe we ought to put a little more thought into how we consume. That it’s ok to dance to Ke$ha every now and then but she probably shouldn’t be your favorite musician. That the occasional Taco Bell meal won’t kill you but you probably shouldn’t eat it every week.
I think most of the criticism of hipsters, especially the accusation of smugness, comes from those who feel a kind of indictment from the countercultural. It isn’t “hipster music” we find so offensive, it’s the suggestion that there is something deeply unsatisfying about our culture. If a hipster is willing to wear something so ridiculous simply to be countercultural, then there must be something very wrong with our culture. And there is. The solution may not be thick-rimmed glasses, fixed-gear bikes, and ironic tattoos. But props to the hipster who’s giving it a shot.