Monday, June 14, 2010

What Makes a Hipster

First and foremost, hipsterism is about stuff. It’s the natural byproduct of a consumption-obsessed culture with a thriving middle class. The complete works of Johnny Cash on vinyl. An iPhone packed with apps. Thick-framed glasses without the lenses. Throw in an unwavering certainty that your tastes are superior to everyone else’s, and you’re on your way to establishing a hipster aesthetic. Future generations may not have the same resources to squander, but there will undoubtedly continue to be artistically inclined young people who define their identity and their aesthetic, by accumulating meticulously selected possessions.

The second element is pastiche, the hodgepodge blending of elements from pop culture to create a sensibility. Whether it be the goofy “post-punk-electro-blog-house” labels associated with hipster music, or the entire film career of Wes Anderson, pastiche is essential to hipsterdom. And clearly, as our already overwhelming inventory of pop culture references continue to grow with the passing of time, pastiche will continue to flourish.

Finally there’s irony, a knee-jerk way for hipsters to emotionally distance themselves from sincerely appreciating things. While the hipster’s ironic sensibility has always been the subject of ire, pretending to be disaffected isn’t exactly a novel concept among people who are “cool.” The James Deans and Fonzies of the world never got the girl by gushing. Instead, they made them swoon by pretending they didn’t give a damn.

And in regard to the hipster’s “ironic” appreciation of things that are not traditionally considered cool—shirts with Pegasus decals, Gossip Girl, PBR—I’d argue that many hipsters do sincerely appreciate all of the aforementioned, either as a form of nostalgia or as a celebration of low culture they’ve been instructed to avoid. This ironic sensibility saturates current shows like Flight of the Conchords and Important Things With Demetri Martin and it’s not about to go away.

As was true with the hippie, another contemporary archetype that’s proven to be here for the long haul, there’s obviously plenty of cultural baggage that accompanies the hipster. All of which, of course, has been thoroughly and exhaustively mocked. Apathy. Trust funds and entitlement. Nihilism. Gentrification. Celebrity worship. Lack of originality. Naiveté. Random stupidity. None of these annoyances is essential to the DNA of the hipster, but all too often, well, you meet some self-absorbed, entitled moron in a panda suit.

- Robert Lanham

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