The Hipster as a Projection of Me
“Hipster” is one of those strange words in our modern parlance that has been tossed around so much that it has lost virtually all meaning. Music, clothing, books, and even attitude can be and often are described to me as being hipster. I, myself, have even been called a hipster, and this hasn’t happened just once. It’s an appellation that makes little sense to me, but that’s probably largely because the very idea of the “hipster” is one that’s fairly nonsensical.
Let’s begin by considering the results of a quick google search for “What is hipster?”:
A person who follows the latest trends and fashions.
Hipsters are a subculture of men and women typically in their 20’s and 30’s that value independent thinking, counter-culture, progressive politics, an appreciation of art and indie-rock, creativity, intelligence, and witty banter… Hipsters reject the culturally-ignorant attitudes of mainstream consumers… It is part of the hipster central dogma not to be influenced by mainstream advertising and media, which tends [sic] to only promote ethnocentric ideals of beauty… Hipsterism is often dismissed as just an image thing by some, but the culture as a whole is effecting changes in society, leading to feelings of insecurity and resentment in people who are no longer a part of the cultural ruling class… Anti-hipster sentiment often comes from people who simply can’t keep up with social change and are envious of those who can…
Hipsters are predominately white, 20-something, well-educated, liberal or progressive, urban dwelling career college students from upper middle class backgrounds… They may not as much crave attention as their appearance may hint, but rather covet acceptance from their hipster community, and do so by imbibing in the hipster archetypal representation very deeply.
I’ve done my best with these three quotes to portray the three modes of thought towards the concept of the hipster. The first is what I would call the simple, accurate, unbiased definition, which makes sense considering the source. The second is how the majority of people I talk to would imagine hipsters talking about themselves–notice I didn’t say that this is how a hipster would describe himself. The third is how the majority of people would describe hipsters, although the use of the word being defined in the definition is somewhat problematic.
Now I want you to stop and think for a moment. Reflect on those last two definitions. Does anybody that you know on a more than cursory level seem to fit those descriptions? Does anybody even come close? I know that none of my personal friends resemble these descriptions in the slightest, and I have a hard time believing, humans being what they are, that any such person exists in this world. But maybe one does. Maybe somewhere, there’s somebody who manages to be simultaneously extremely self-aware and also utterly unselfconscious; he might be able to fit this definition (I’ll come back to why only this person could in a moment). Even so, he wouldn’t deserve the dismissive eye-rolling I so often see directed at the concept of the hipster. Are we not called as Christians to be the salt of the earth–a preservative and seasoning to make it better? How does that jive with being dismissive of something a person sees as his very identity? Even for non-Christians, isn’t it common decency to not judge a person simply for being different than one’s self?
Now I’m not arguing that hipsters don’t exist while every other group into which we mentally divide every person we meet does. Whenever we think of a cultural sub-group to which we ourselves don’t belong, we instantly apply a broad range of stereo-types: Skateboarders say “dude” a lot. Nerds don’t know how to talk to people. Frat guys don’t ever think of anything but alcohol and sex. Middle-aged white men are seeking only to impose their will on the world. Americans are fat. The list could go on forever. By contrast, when we think of the groups to which we believe we do belong, the image we see is much more nuanced. Rather than seeing nerds as a bunch of socially inadequate losers who like computers and never leave their rooms, I see nerds as a broad set of individuals who share a few interests in common but are extremely diverse in every way that matters. This is only because I see myself as being something of a nerd.
A friend of mine was teaching a lesson for a seminar at my church tonight. One thing he said that really struck home with me was on the topic of homosexuality: he said, though I paraphrase, “What the church should really be doing is convincing people with homosexual desires to see themselves as more than just being homosexual. It isn’t their identity. I am not a heterosexual. I am a person with heterosexual desires.”
But it’s even worse than that when it comes to these arbitrary social groups we make. Much of the time it doesn’t even have any meaning. Look at those three definitions of the hipster; do any of them say the same thing? Of course not–that’s because people themselves aren’t the same. At this point, this isn’t about hipsters at all, nevertheless, let me post a definition of “hipster” that I wrote for an earlier version of this post.
A hipster is a person in their 20s, usually white and from the upper middle-class. A hipster dresses in items from a thrift store that haven’t been in style for decades or in items that were only briefly popular with specific sub-culture. He listens to indie-rock or folk music or really anything that isn’t extremely popular. The things he “likes”, he doesn’t like because he enjoys them. He likes them because of the thing’s image, because of how it makes him seem to others. He doesn’t try to hide the fact that the things he likes are only about image but rather revels in the contradiction of “liking” something he doesn’t really enjoy for only its image, calling it “irony”. Rather than trying to spread “hipster culture”, he tries to confine it; the entire reason he became a hipster in the first place was for the feeling of smug superiority it gives him. He’s an individualist only in that he purposely does whatever is necessary to keep him separate from the so-called “mainstream”.
Do you know what I see when I read that paragraph? I see all of my own worst traits. I see arrogance. I see entitlement. I see my tendency–despite immense efforts to end my image obsession–to want to make choices based upon how it would affect my image. I see my lonerism. I see my judgmental attitude. I see my veiled consumerism. More than anything, I see my own tendency towards acerbic sarcasm.
Friends, this isn’t an easy post for me to write; I am far too quick myself to judge people based upon which category of my own mental stereotypes into which they happen to fall. I’m not denying that people with common interests don’t exist, but I think we would be much better off if these common interests we see other people holding didn’t become part of how we identify them. Similarly, it’s fine to hang out with people who enjoy the same things we do, but why should we limit ourselves by wrapping up our identity in these minor activities.
This post isn’t an attack on hipsters. Neither is it one in support of them, whether they exist or not. Rather, this post is a plea. It’s a plea for subtlety in our understanding of each other. It’s a plea for kindness in how we deal with each other. It’s a plea for caring. It’s a plea for love.