If you ever choose to experience American Hipster 1.0 on the The American Hipster YouTube channel (not exactly a recommendation), you’ll notice a funny thing about those interviewed and the things they have to say. Many, if not most, of the high-school to 20-something crowd defined the “hipster” as something derogatorily vain, something inauthentic, and something ironically (IRONY!) self-descriptive. In a rather brilliant moment in the public interviews, a young couple describe the classic hipster garb as the normative skinny jeans, the vintage plaid, the un-prescribed black frames; shoot to the next interviewee, and you have said hipster-clad hipster answering the same question: “A hipster is someone who cares more about the way they look than the music they claim they listen to.” Is this self-understanding irony or a self-protective redefining of terms? What is a “hipster” and why is it bad? If hipster is ephemeral, if hipster is Etsy, if it’s D.I.Y., if it’s urban gardening, or “community” or “localism,” what’s so bad about that? Based on these interviews, it’s not so much what a hipster is into that deems it deplorable but the inherent exclusivity navigating their interests. The hipster says, “I am authentic, this is who I am. I am many things, I am not a hipster.” The public responds, “You are a type, this is what you all do, this is what you all say.” And so goes the spiraling and judgment-laden search for a valid identity.
It’s a potent image of our own bifurcated, condemn-to-justify/justify-to-condemn tendencies. As the pharisee excludes the public to self-justify before the law, so does the hipster hit “hip” by way of exclusion. It is part of who he is, she is, you are. You have genuine interests (and they may genuinely include having a chicken coop in your backyard), but you also–of course–want to be cool. The other side of you, the defensive side of you, desires another’s exclusivity to be publicly leveled. For the flannel-clad urban farmers, the leveling comes in labeling: hipster. The “hipster” is the judge, labeling the “hipster” is judging the judges. The term, then, is both “never you” and “always you.”
This is the sad and comforting truth coming from NPR’s “Hipsterfication of America“: that, as the classifiers of exclusivity become the cultural normalcy, we see our own state of contradiction. We are the universal inauthentic–the judge and judged–we are what everyone is, and no one wants to be.
They follow indie bands and camp out at Occupy movements. They work as programmers and shop clerks, baristas and bartenders. They are gamers and volunteers, savvy entrepreneurs and out-of-work basement dwellers. In case you haven’t noticed, hipsters — and those who cater to them — are everywhere. And that really galls some hipsters.
“Hipster culture is omnipresent,” says Peter Furia, a founder of Seedwell Digital Creative Studio in San Francisco. “It dominates fashion, music and lifestyle. It crosses borders of ethnicity, socio-economic status and sexual preference — something that we haven’t seen since the boom of hip-hop culture.”
Furia’s studio is producing a documentary-style Web series, American Hipster — for its nascent YouTube channel — that will debut in April 2012. “What’s funny is that people who aren’t hipsters generally express distaste for them and those who appear to be hipsters hate to be identified as such. Everybody hates hipsters … especially hipsters. And the ironic part is that hipsters’ opposition to pop culture has become pop culture.”
You might think that as hipsterism ripples out, in concentric (and eccentric) circles farther and farther from its big-city epicenters, the ultra-coolitude would lose its authenticity, Furia says, “but the opposite may be true. Cities are known for setting trends; hipsterism is about anti-trends. It sounds funny, but hipsters in Omaha may actually be cooler than hipsters in New York City — everyone knows about New York City.”
American society, Furia says, often thinks of hipsters as “posers who appropriate an image of cool individuality but lack authenticity, but we think there may be real substance beneath it all.” He points to social waves such as urban farming, the Do It Yourself initiatives and the Occupy movement. “There are lots of hipsters in all of these movements,” he says, “who are authentic in their passions.”
…The greatest concentrations of hipsters, the hiptionary definition continues, “can be found living in the Williamsburg, Wicker Park and Mission District neighborhoods of major cosmopolitan centers such as New York, Chicago, and San Francisco respectively.”
Sure enough, just a couple of years ago everyone was writing about discrete hipster enclaves. A 2009 essay in Time magazine focused on the Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg, noting that because of a lagging economy and neighborhood gentrification, “Hipsterdom’s largest natural habitat, it seems, is under threat.”
But in fact, the opposite happened. In the past couple of years, Hipsterdom has entered — and in some cases, dominated — dominant culture. Hipsters, after all, know how to adapt: how to make the cheap chic, the disheveled dishy, the peripheral preferable. A shaky, shabby economy is the perfect breeding ground for hipsters.