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The Hipsters’ Identity as a Postmodern Product

July 7, 2010

While sitting near a window in a café on the corner of 25th & Mission in San Francisco, I am waiting for a friend to return after purchasing some tea. I am looking onto the street corner, playing the role of the voyeur. As my friend returns to our table, I reenter the realm of reality. We converse over what we have been doing for the past month. As we discuss my recent article, the mere mentioning of Arcade Fire causes a vibrant, conniving smile to cross my friend’s face. The first words to fly out of his Cheshire-grinning mouth are, “You are such a hipster.” For some reason, this is taken to be an insult, and my friend is clearly amused by my reaction.

The instigating friend got me thinking, what exactly qualifies one to be a member of the infamous hipster society? Is it the mass purchasing and consuming of Pabst Blue Ribbon? Is it the shopping at American Apparel for deep V-necks? Or could it simply be the type of music one listens to? One of the main concerns with the hipster community regards if the interest in fashion and music is legitimate or contrived. Does one listen to an indie band because he or she may genuinely like the sound, or because it is expected of them? Just because I like Arcade Fire and going to smaller concerts does not qualify me as being a hipster. And if it does, so be it. Although admitting this isn’t very hip, is it?

People claim that they are too hip to be hipster. But I am going to argue that I am not hip at all. It takes a lot of effort to look a certain way; whereas real passion is effortless. Yes, I go thrifting; but to say that I have been doing this since “before it was cool” is precisely the hipster thing to do. But why not accept it? People will label you what they will, and honestly, that’s their business, isn’t it? Maybe the sooner I accept my status as hipster queen the sooner I will be rejected from the community. I will become an exiled hipster looking for the next undiscovered band just as I would browse through a rack of “vintage” shirts at a local thrift store. It is tough to be so ironic.

I will argue, however, that the creation of the hipster army is purely a product of the postmodern society that we live in. The self-reflexivity and simultaneous denial of one’s identity as a hipster is closely related to the theory of postmodernism. Hipsters dwell on their status as a hipster just as Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything is Illuminated is a novel about writing a novel. Postmodernism was formed as a rejection of Modernism. Hipsters want to reject the norm as well. Rather than listening to Lady Gaga and wearing Abercrombie, hipsters will listen to The xx and wear clothes that look as though they were purchased at a thrift store. Maybe some do secretly listen to Lady Gaga in their rooms, but could never admit this guilty pleasure for fear of being judged by their uber-hip friends. They have something to prove, don’t they? I would not say that being a hipster is a political movement, but it is a statement nonetheless.

However, I fear that hipsters are becoming the norm—the anti-hero is becoming the rule. Many cannot claim the title of “hipster” because of this. They want to deny being a member of the norm rather than embrace it. This experience is not entirely unique to the hipsters. This has happened with grunge, 80s punk, and the hippies. It is inevitable for underground music and its followers to leak into the mainstream. And I recognize that it has even become cliché to write about hipsters; but isn’t it also cliché to mention how cliché it is as well? This is something we all must accept. We like what we like—if we genuinely like it, that is—and if someone has something to say about that, well, who cares?

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22 Comments leave one →
  1. RachelStoll permalink
    July 7, 2010 3:03 pm

    what a waste of time to find your identity in labels.

  2. July 7, 2010 3:34 pm

    Hipsters have become the ultimate symbol of 21st century consumer driven, narcissistic apathy. This “counterculture” consumes cool instead of creating it. There false illusion of individualism is both sad and maddening. Has our modern western society ever seen a self imposed individual movement have such a generic uniform as this cultural movement has?

    I think the reality is that everyone into 21st century art/culture/music is going to have a little hipster in them, its probably unavoidable. We are all products of consumerism and trends. But to actually be pretentious enough to believe that being this way is unique, different, or important is laughable at best.

  3. July 7, 2010 3:52 pm

    Zach, I’m convinced “hipsterism” is the result of traveling through a cultural wormhole. Things we thought had been completely consumed by the black hole of uncool just seem to populate arbitrarily in the parallel universe of the hipster. It’s your job to avoid approach. The closer you get, the more warped your reality becomes. And once you cross the event horizon, there is absolutely no escape.

  4. July 7, 2010 4:41 pm

    Hmmm, that’s all very eloquently articulated and fun to read (if a bit quixotic) but I would argue that PBR tastes like goat piss.

  5. Gia Hughes' Favorite and Best Looking Friend permalink
    July 7, 2010 4:56 pm



    I’m the true hip.
    There is no Hip but for my hip.
    Both of them.
    My hips don’t lie.
    Suck it, Homo.

    Your favorite best looking friend.

  6. John German permalink
    July 8, 2010 2:22 am

    “Hipster” isn’t a new title. People called the Beats hipsters in the 50s.
    Human beings just HAVE to label things.

    Just like the hippies, the “hipsters”(which is almost the same word) have turned into a cliche. Social movements work that way. It starts with an underground movement, and as soon as it gathers enough strength to become mainstream, its “founders” want nothing to do with it because they feel like its a watered-downed commercialized by-product of what it was intended to be.

    I just don’t get why anyone should be insulted by the title “hipster”. The only reason you should be offended is if you are one of those people who just listens to music or dresses a certain way to fit in with a crowd. If you genuinely like who you are, the “Hipster” title is harmless.

  7. July 8, 2010 4:19 am

    Well ya, the only people who don’t mind being called Nazi would be… the Nazi folk. It’s all extremely and tragically relative.

  8. July 8, 2010 9:52 am

    I’m with john german here. Every society and movement starts off great, but as people hop on and you’ve quote end quote “made it.” There’s nothing to fight for anymore. You have to move with the times and find new ground to uncover. This is a great discussion I wish we could have in person.
    Great article Gia, I actually didn’t get through the whole thing yet. But I enjoy the discussion it has stirred.

  9. Peter Schmid permalink
    July 8, 2010 10:54 pm

    i hate to be the bad guy here, but i really support the “hipster” types. people who enjoy indie-pop culture (whether it be art, literature, music or films) really help fund the works of those artists who aren’t as well known. if there were no interest in hipster works, there would be absolutely no interest in more avant-garde works, and i would defend that statement to the death. indie-pop is a gateway into showing people that there are creative and enjoyable art forms that don’t necessarily fit on radio shows or broadcast television.

    to the untrained eye or ear, the works that many elistists hold so dear would seem abrasive, unnecessary, and silly. hipster culture is a great way to introduce newcomers to new creative works. in a sense, the hipsters are even better at expressing art than most elitists, since they connect with the common people as well as the high-brow community. you can easily say that art will only be appreciated by those who deserve it, but without some way of getting others to witness it, you will be missing out on a great deal of people who could really enjoy it.

  10. July 9, 2010 7:20 am

    And in the left corner, there’s Peter with the counter-point!

    And a damn good one at that…

    What say ye, other commenters!?

  11. Feebs permalink
    July 12, 2010 3:00 am

    I’m going to burn down Rosamunde and El Farlito one of these days…….

  12. July 12, 2010 12:32 pm

    Tower of Power asked this question back in 1973 with what is likely their most enduring song. Sorry, I have to do this.

    So you wanna dump out yo trick bag,
    Ease on into a hip bag.
    But you ain’t just exactly sure what’s hip.

    So you start to let your hair grow.
    Spent big bucks on your wardrobe.
    But somehow you know there’s much more to the trip.

    What is hip? Tell me tell me, if you think ya know.
    What is hip? And if you’re really hip, the passing years will show,
    That you into a hip trip, maybe hipper than hip.
    But what is hip?

    So you became part of the new breed.
    Been smoking only the best weed.
    Hanging out with so-called hippest set.
    Been seen in all the right places,
    Seen with just the right faces.
    You should be satisfied,
    But still it ain’t quite right.

    What is hip? Tell me tell me if you think you know.
    What is hip? And if you’re really hip.
    The passing years would show,
    That you into a hip trip, maybe hipper than hip.
    What is hip?

    Hipness is what it is!
    Sometimes hipness is what it ain’t!

    You done went and found you a guru,
    In an effort to find you a new you.
    And maybe even managed to raise your conscience level.

    As you’re striving to find the right road,
    There’s one thing you should know:
    What’s hip today might become passe’.

    What is hip? Tell me tell me if you think you know.
    What is hip? And if you’re really hip, the passing years would show
    That you into a hip trip. Maybe hipper than hip.
    WHAT IS HIP? </em?

  13. July 15, 2010 8:42 pm

    I just want to see hipsters care about more than what music is in, and whats the hottest new trends coming out from urban outfitters.

  14. Peter Schmid permalink
    July 15, 2010 11:18 pm

    the music that is “in” is pop music. it’s artists such as ke$ha, drake, lady gaga, miley cyrus and justin bieber. there’s absolutely no denying that the album sales and the concert attendees by those artists and similar ones outsell any “indie” artist by a considerable amount.

    what you’re failing to realize is that hipster culture isn’t out to destroy and assimilate artists into mass-appeal popular products. hipsters are people who enjoy unusual music and want to tell others about it (even if it is bragging). in contrast, elitists who want to keep their music secretive will never have the ability to spread their creative works if nobody wants to share it.

  15. July 16, 2010 1:06 am

    I never suggested hipster culture is out to destroy or assimilate anything. They are out to consume what is fed to them within their illusion of “indie” and “unusual”. I think a lot of people(including myself) have a little hipster in us and it’s not all a bad thing. And I’m all for sharing music, everyone should be. But what you are failing to realize is that hipsters are really no different than the kids who consume kesha, drake etc. They aren’t really that creative or unique, they just accept a different kind of consumption than the main stream. Brands like Urban Outfitters and America Apparel have worked really hard to cater this product driven counter culture and they have been successful. Hipsters are like most Americans: self-centered, hyper-individuals, who care more about their image than any art and music that actually surrounds their culture, not to mention their fellow man.

    I would just like to see the youth in this country both main stream and indie, both twilighters and hipsters too really be active in their communities and in their country. Instead I see a youth culture more interested in getting wasted and buying cool instead of creating their own version of what cool can be or trying to make a difference for someone other than themselves.

    In the end I am generalizing a culture stereotype, not all hipster types are this way, I think anyone involved with art/music/culture is going to be a little hipster, I get that. But I am still convinced that the pure hipster stereotype is the icon for a self-indulged generation apathetic to the dire situation this country exists in….. I hope hipsters everywhere can prove me wrong.

  16. Peter Schmid permalink
    July 16, 2010 11:45 am

    you’re right in saying that hipsters are consumers, but so is everyone else in american society. i’d argue that they are more sympathetic to humanitarian causes than most other culture stereotypes though.

    take the “dark was the night” album for example. with bands like bon iver, feist, arcade fire and iron and wine, it was definitely geared toward the hipster crowd. sales from that album ended up raising over $650,000 dollars towards HIV and AIDS research. TOMS brand shoes (a hipster oriented company) has donated thousands, if not millions of pairs of shoes to impoverished people in third-world countries. shepard fairey and his OBEY brand have donated money to help survivors of the haiti earthquake, as well as raise awareness about the genocide in darfur. american apparel has taken a stance on the side of human rights as well, with their “legalize” product lines.

  17. July 16, 2010 12:15 pm

    Sympathetic perhaps, but still not active, but there is still an argument to be made about the priorities of the hipster culture . But you do bring up good examples of corporations/institutions wanting to give a little back from the profits they have garnered from the culture. TOMS to me seems the most legitimate of all.

  18. Chris permalink
    July 27, 2010 9:50 pm

    There is nothing counterculture about today’s hipsters. They are merely a subculture.

    When hippies emerged, they partook in a collective idea that countered government initiatives, such as the Viet Nam War. (There were other counter culture agendas, but we all took our high school history courses, so Viet Nam is sufficient for this conversation.)

    America, such as it is today, will never inspire nationwide counterculture like it did in the 60s — there are far too many subcultures.

    Hipsters just merely represent one.

    And the problem most people have with hipsters is (and this was also the case during the 60s) is that the general population is annoyed with how they dress. As stupid as that sounds, most people I’ve spoken despise hipsters not for their music tastes, perceived elitism or political views, but for their fashion sense.

    That’s the first thing that ever comes up. Not, “Oh, I bet that guy is vegan” or “I bet that girl loves Crystal Castles,” but “Jesus H, what a stupid headband.”

    And, you know, I agree with them for the most part. Take off the fedora, put on a shirt with a decent thread count and trim the embarrassing mustache…like the rest of us.

    By all means, do you what you do. Help the art scene grow in Santa Clarita, appreciate good music, read emerging authors, ride your 10-speed. I do all those things. Those are supposedly things hipsters do, but I do those things and I’ve never been called a hipster.

    Seriously, ditch the intentionally low, high, ironic or whatever-the-hell-you-want-to-call-it fashion and watch the label disappear. When you have good taste in art and refuse to be an eye sore, you’re just a pleasant member of society.

  19. Peter Schmid permalink
    July 27, 2010 10:22 pm

    i hate to sound like an internet troll here, but all i’m picking up is “i dun’t like dem clothes.” aside from having a differing taste in clothes, why is everyone so negative towards the hipster types? hipsters ride road bikes, which cuts down on fossil fuel emissions. hipsters choose to read books, which helps keep publishers in business (and therefore allow more prominent authors to produce and distribute their work). hipsters buy vinyl records, attend shows, shell out money on iTunes downloads, and buy cheesy merchandise, which allows record labels and music stores to put out more great, individualistic music instead of bland, overly-compressed and otherwise simple tunes.

    we live in a society now that is immersed with commercialism. we don’t live in your mother and father’s cold war era world, which birthed the nuke-fearing hippies and beats. we should be thankful that there is at least one “sub-culture” that recognizes a need for art and tries to preserve it in some fashion.

  20. Mike M permalink
    July 27, 2010 11:15 pm

    The only thing more pointless than a label is a person who really wants to identify with a label. Enjoy what you enjoy – whether indie or mainstream. If you genuinely like PBR, I’m going to think you’re an idiot, but that’s your business – you should drink it. If you pay $3 for a can of PBR so you can fit in with the rest of the kids in 70’s sport coats and shaggy hair at the Thursday gallery openings at CalArts, then you’re not creative – you’re derivative.

    My dislike of hipsters is the desire to revel in the inept as an attempt to prove you’re better than someone or something else. If you simply like to listen to indie music or read new authors, you’re not a hipster, you just have a taste for that type of thing. Be who you are – enjoy what you like, and don’t worry about it.

    FYI, Peter – mainstream artists raised far more money for Haiti than indie artists did. Does that make them more valid? No – good comes in all forms.

    I say it again – enjoy what you enjoy. Support art, whether it’s avant garde or mainstream. We don’t need “subculture” – we need culture.

  21. Chris permalink
    July 28, 2010 9:56 am

    Peter –

    You should read my post again, as you’re trying to squeeze out a negative tone that I wasn’t trying to convey. The substance of your post actually is in line with my views.

    The point of my post was to say that people in general despise hipsters simply because of the way the dress. While I think that’s dumb, it’s also made me realize that people don’t actually look down upon hipsters for their taste in art or their dietary habits — they just hate the ill-conceived neu-bohemian fashion sense.

    And I hate it too, but don’t look at them unfavorably as individuals. As far as art, music and political viewpoints go, I share many of the same tastes with hipsters. It’s just so happened that most people think hipsters care more about fashion than those other things. And I tend to agree with that.

    And don’t think “subculture” relates to “subhumans.” Hipsters are a subculture just like motorcyclists, sports fans, vegans, environmentalists, etc. I didn’t mean it negatively.

    As far as my “Cold War era World,” I’m 24. I mean, I’ve read “The Watchmen,” but Reagan is just a name to me.

    So calm down.

  22. November 16, 2010 11:17 am

    Wow, interesting. I just wrote on my blog on the same matter – in swedish though. I feel the same way, I think I was a “hipster” before you could label yourself a hipster. It’s kind of disturbing, since I somtetimes love hipsterish things, but still hate the emptiness of hipsterness. I totally agree with you that hipsters are a product of postmodernism, and therefore don’t have a sense of meaning at all. But I mean, it’s not there fault… this is happening in the whole society – that is why I can’t decide if I love them or not. Everything is empty, there are no metanarratives anymore… no thruths, no nothing!!

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