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Sunday, 17 August 2014

Hipsters: The Cultural Circlejerk, Part 1

 Hello, hello!

So, this article came out not long ago. And more recently, we saw this one. And this one. And this one. Like emo kids from the early/mid-2000s, hipsters are the well-worn punching bags of the internet. And of course, formal media sites also love to take shots at them. From claiming that they're using moral high grounds to dispense the most obnoxious kind of liberal hypocrisy to claiming (ironically) that they're killing culture with overuse of irony, we love to hate on hipsters.

Why hipsters? Why are bearded, skinny-jeans-wearing, paperboy-hatted, fixer-bike and typewriter-using, soy-latte-drinking, occasionally androgynous, infamously Tumblr and Instagram-addicted twentysomethings getting so much heat?


Clothes (and beards) make the punching bag

But the real issue is actually just something very familiar--a vintage issue, even--dressed up in a flannel shirt and thrift-store fur coat. The hate on hipsters is about class warfare and the backlash against the social ruling elite, a fight against the arbitrary and frustrating realm of coolness.

It's fashionable to look "poor" and to dress like the blue-collar workers, even to drink their beer--Pabst Blue Ribbon was originally the "working man's" beer. This might have started as a backlash against the trappings of wealth, but in the context of irony-worship, it has a nasty undertone to it. I'm just going to offer the phrase "ironic poverty" and leave it there for you to dissect and unpack.

Hipster culture also comes from university students, who are in the unusual economic bracket composed of people just well-off enough to attend university or college, but who often have to work their fingers to the bone in order to afford attendance. Thus, the fashion statements hipsters make, with thrift-store aesthetics as chic must-haves, actually result in offering more flexible fashion options for people who can't afford new clothes.

So how the hell did this become a subculture, and why "contaminate" other subcultures by saying that hipsters are just repeating the mistakes of those who came before?

Source. The terrifying thing? The term "hippy" came from the word "hipster".

What makes a subculture?

 Consider a few other famous targets of a backlash, with eras. These groups comprise people who were both idolised and derided. All of these terms were used--and sometimes still are used--as perjoratives as well as descriptors.

  • Emo kids (mid-2000s)
  • Rappers and gangsta kids (mid-2000s)
  • Jocks (90s)
  • Yuppies (80s and 90s)
  • Hippies (60s and 70s)
  • Beatniks/Hipsters (50s)
  • Jazz fiends (30s and 40s)
  • Flappers (20s) 
  • Bohemians (1830s onward; resurgence in 60s, 90s)

Obviously, this could be further refined, but you should notice an interesting and very consistent trend. The mechanics of the trends share a shocking amount of overlap. These include wealth-restricted items, such as craft beers, brand-y designer shoes, fancy coffees, and weird knick-knacks; unusual clothing that is imitated by the mainstream designers but also rejected by them mainstream culture, and a sense of common culture between people who participate in the movement that also involves rejecting the 'normals'. The rappers, punks, and some of the fiends were definitely associated with poorer populations, but it was the rich who made the trends, well, trendy.

A bunch of them--the Jazz fiends, Bohemians, Rappers, Hippies, and Yuppies--also tended to rest of borrowing elements of their trends from non-Anglo-Saxon cultures. Jazz fiends and Rappers lean on the experiences, music, and stylings of African-American people; Bohemians and Hippies (as well as some Yuppies) borrowed from Indian, First Nations/Indian American, and Asian cultures in their aesthetics.

Maybe it's also about a coping mechanism for wealth and white privilege--camouflaging oneself and playing dress-up in an (admittedly problematic and strange) attempt to understand other people's lives and experiences. However, the line between participating in someone's culture and dressing up as that culture, especially in the context of the weird ironic racism thing, is a pretty easy-to-define one. Sure, culture-hunting makes a certain amount of sense, and learning is good--but minimal-effort learning and, as I said, "playing dress-up" are really bad things.

However, this is running a little on the long side--next time, let's talk about how the whole thing got started. There's a few hints here, but of course, I'm not going to stop here. Tune in next week!

Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Don't miss any of the phuquerie. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

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