thoughts on ‘hipster’ culture

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Image source: VectorStock

Hi guys, I know that this blog is meant to be for my more ‘frivolous’ thoughts – like what makeup I wear, or what YA book I’m reading this week.  But every so often it plays host to my rants as well, and I hope you can forgive that. I guess in a way you can understand them to be frivolous as well – in that these thoughts have little bearing on the world, neither do they address something particularly earth-shattering; yet sometimes these niggling thoughts refuse to be let go of until I pen them down – so pen them down I shall.

Today’s post/rant is inspired by a comment my friend made when I was in Melbourne. I had just visited the renowned ‘hipster central’ of Melbourne and was telling her about the magazine I had bought.  This was the ensuing conversation:

Me: Oh, I bought Frankie yesterday. The design is so cute! It looks like a fun read.
Friend: Ugh, it’s so hipster.
Me: What’s wrong with being hipster?
Friend: It grates on my teeth.

Now throughout the planning of my trip and while I was there, she had made it explicitly clear that in no way did she want to visit Hipster Central, and she did her best to dissuade me from going.  But there’s a pretty large part of me that adores the hipster aesthetic (so sue me, I wear large black-framed glasses and I like being environmentally-conscious even if it serves only to soothe my conscience) and yes, I did enjoy my sojourn in Brunswick that afternoon (alone).

But my friend’s unabashed criticism of ‘hipster’ stunned me. Perhaps it was my own affection for the non-mainstream, perhaps because my friend struck me as possessing some hipster characteristics too (an affinity for crafting, pretty stationery, lush cosmetics, to name a few), but her remarks annoyed me. Just what the hell is the problem with being a hipster?

Note: I do not claim to be an expert on hipster culture, neither that of mainstream culture.  This is simply what I observe. It may be inaccurate; in fact, very likely so. For the purposes of illustration I have employed the use of several common stereotypes which characterise both camps – I know that there is much more to both but I have simplified heavily because well, I don’t know that much and I don’t intend to write a dissertation on hipster/mainstream pop culture here.

Urban Dictionary defines hipsters as “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.”

First off: that doesn’t sound so bad to me?? I like creativity, intelligence and witty banter?

Well, perhaps they come off as snobbish.  They eschew the mainstream, saying that something is so much better’ simply because it is not embraced by the masses; that they ‘liked it before it became cool’.  There is a certain arrogance, a ‘holier-than-thou’ attitude just because you use an all-natural vegan deodorant. Or that being part of the mainstream is to be like a sheep, blindly following the crowd without truly knowing what is good for you.  We feel insulted by these hipsters, with their apparently superior lifestyle choices. Our ego has been bruised, our taste called into question, just because we listen to Taylor Swift.

(incidentally, I am beginning to see increasingly how a large proportion of our negativity stems from injury to our ego and our sense of security in our self-identity? Question anything to do with my identity, from my music preferences to my religious beliefs and suddenly we are up in arms.  Why is everything connected to the ego? Obviously I don’t think this applies to everything but definitely a large part of the hostility I encounter in my day-to-day life has to do with the injuring of someone’s ego, whether mine or another’s. God, we’re so egotistical, aren’t we? And our egos so fragile.)

But perhaps another reason why the ‘hipster’ is commonly criticised is much more annoying to me – that the hipster has now become more prominent in mainstream culture, and we are being incredibly hypocritical in our reception of it.  In recent years, so-called ‘popular sentiment’ has embraced elements of the hipster culture, ranging from veganism and gluten-free diets to those oversized glasses. Yet this increased prominence has also led to lots of negative backlash: case in point, my friend’s opinions.  But for a more comprehensive survey of the masses, Mashable had an article a few days ago on the rise of the ‘yuccies’ – the new hipsters – whom you “might not like”. The tone reflects a presumption that readers already possess a dismissive, negative attitude towards hipsters. By then criticising the hipster and saying they ‘grate on my teeth’, or that they are ‘too hipster’ for me – are we not also, ironically, adopting the same superior attitude so much resented as I described above? The hipster, look at them with their holier-than-thou attitude, their almond milk lattes and their non-appreciation for Miley Cyrus.  They think they’re so much better than us – well, we know better. We’re not all uppity like they are.

And then you have the ‘true hipsters’ – the people who insist that they were ‘hipster before it became cool’, and that other people who are now starting to adopt hipster culture, as it enters mainstream, are simply following a trend in the same way that they follow other mainstream culture.  Now the ‘hipsters’ are the sheep; except we are the ‘true hipsters’ who know what all this truly means.  One good example of this I think, is the Jimmy Fallon segment where he asks people on a gluten-free diet what gluten actually is, only to find that none of them know.

Regardless of whether it is the ‘mainstream’ mocking the ‘hipster’ for following ridiculous trends, or the ‘hipster’ mocking the ‘pseudo-hipster’ for not understanding what they are following, either way this annoys me because of this whole promotion of one’s preferences over another’s.  At the end of the day, this just goes back to ego. Let’s face it, whether you listen to Taylor Swift or some alternative indie-label whose band name I can’t pronounce, whether you eat gluten-free or not, whether you wear glasses or not – all these are lifestyle choices. That we are sufficiently privileged to make these choices is already remarkable in itself.  Why start turf wars over glasses, for god’s sake? Everyone has unique choices and preferences, because we are all different people. I like dark chocolate, you like white chocolate, but you don’t see me saying ‘oh she’s too white for me, she eats too much white chocolate’ no that’s just dumb. We are too quick to categorise, to polarise.  I like pop music but I eat quinoa and wear some pretty large glasses. So am I mainstream or hipster or pseudo-hipster or what?

At the end of the day, perhaps all I want to say is, let’s not diss each other’s preferences.  It’s so difficult to be passionate about something these days.  We are inundated with so much stimulation, so much entertainment, so many different choices today, that it’s very easy to just act unfazed by it all. We’re not allowed to get excited over something – the same reason why geeks at ComicCon are looked down upon, or girls who write makeup blogs are seen as shallow. I mean, why do I feel the need to specify that what I write in this blog is ‘frivolous’? That’s ridiculous. We are privileged to have these alternatives. Privileged to say what we like and don’t like. And every time we insult something someone else likes, or is excited about, a little spark that was that excitement is extinguished.

I don’t mean constructive criticism like “I felt the characterisation in that novel was weak” or “The coffee tastes weird” – I mean really hurtful, judgmental comments like “Ugh, why did you buy that?!” or “Let’s not go into that shop, I don’t want to stand around with all those geeks”. Phrasing and tone goes a long way, people. Also dismissing something before you’ve tried it – especially generalised dismissal. Like saying you don’t want to read John Green’s books because “he looks creepy”. That annoys me a lot. Don’t use ad hominem attacks to justify your opinions of someone’s work/products/music/fashion etc.

But yeah, having spent life as a geek, then an otaku, then now a girl who writes about makeup and watches Youtube videos, and also one who likes hipster stuff – throughout my life, I have been very fortunate to have been given the space to embrace my passions, and to be fairly unaware of the criticism that comes alongside these labels. I know they exist, but I have rarely been attacked because of them.  But the knowledge of these labels and the criticism that comes along with them makes me hesitate to embrace my passions.  As I grow older I rein in my enthusiasm, adopting instead the jaded mild interest affected by politicians at sporting events.  And that is something I regret. I wish I could express my passions more fervently, or that I could speak more freely about them without feeling the need to qualify them with words like ‘frivolous’.

But the damage is done, the barrier wrought. It can be undone, but it will be difficult to do so.  And that’s why I believe wholeheartedly, that there can come no good of putting down others and their preferences. Especially when most of the time, it is solely for the purpose of boosting our own ego and self-identity at the expense of others’.

x Nat

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