By Courtney Zott, Michigan State University
They’re stacking their empty Pabst Blue Ribbon cans on the wooden counter with gusto as some half symphonic, half electro-pop song blares in the background. One remarks to the other through a mouthful of unlit cigarette on the sheer volume of alcohol they’ve consumed—surely enough to qualify themselves as “fucking smashed.” He’s wearing a purple flannel over a shirt with Seth Rogen’s head, tight khaki cords, and a white gym band on his head to hold back greasy curls.
The rest of the party looks vaguely similar—grungy punks in a dim room swaying back and forth to the aforementioned mashup.
I ask the flannel dude if everyone here is a hipster.
“Hell no, I don’t hang out with hipsters,” he laughs, lights his cigarette and drops his match in the nearest can.
And that’s just how it goes. Rather than barrage us with fervent verbal verification of their nonconformity as have countercultures past, we have in this day and age an evasive youth subspecies, a self-obsessed, hippie-mimicking demimonde that can’t quite affirm its own existence.
Asking a hipster if he or she is, indeed, a hipster, commonly elicits an obstinate refusal of the title, followed by a listing of said hipster’s inherent non-hipster qualities.
It appears that if you want to belong to this new vogue club, you’ve got to know their golden rule, and that is: do not talk about hipsterdom.
This is perhaps a good thing, because there’s really nothing to talk about. With no prevalent social cause to rally behind, today’s “counterculture” has taken up self-conscious apathy as their distinctive raison d’etat, and an indifferent irony as their primary mode of operation. They claim no purpose that cannot further aestheticize or satirize their movement.
Unlike the 1960s hippies, who acted on an antiwar principle, or the late 1970s hip-hop aficionados who stood for racial justice, they lack any authentic goal and consequently, any objective reason that could save them from their own superficiality.
They are a picked through smorgasbord of every counterculture from the early 20th century modernists on, and accordingly lack any salient distinguishing characteristic. Even their brand name has been stolen from the past.
Back in the 1940s, the term “hipster” denoted an ardent bebop jazz fan. Much like the independent music that today’s hipsters stake their claim upon, bebop jazz was the cool yet obscure alternative to the mainstream music of the time.
And much like today’s hipsters, those of the 1940s took up the relaxed lifestyle of the new artists they admired. Always the antagonists to anything old-fashioned, they were a liberal bunch, impoverished by choice and openly sexual.
In his book Jazz, Yale Professor of Music History Frank Tirro described the former hipster as an “underground man:”
“He is to the Second World War what the Dadaist was to the first. He is amoral, anarchistic, gentle, and over civilized to the point of decadence. He is always ten steps ahead of the game because of his awareness, an example of which might be meeting a girl and rejecting her, because he knows they will date, hold hands, kiss, neck, pet, fornicate, perhaps marry, divorce—so why start the whole thing? He knows the hypocrisy of bureaucracy, the hatred implicit in religions—so what values are left for him?—except to go through life avoiding pain, keep his emotions in check, and after that, “be cool,” and look for kicks. He is looking for something that transcends all this bullshit and finds it in jazz.”
But unlike past hipsters, the problem with the hipster today is that he transcends conventional bullshit with more bullshit. It is counterculture mocking the very idea of counterculture, rebellion as a parody of rebellion, nihilism for the sake of nihilism.
But the joke is up, and has been up since Perez Hilton began blogging in 2004.
So you’re a hipster. Do something about it.