The term ‘hipster’ has been thrown around quite a bit since its inception. Originally referring to hipsters as hepcats, the descriptive usage of the term has been in play since the early-to-mid 1940s; usually particularly referring to learned elements of the bebop scene. However, this original aspect of the movement was very similar today with some alterations. During the turbulent period of the early 1940s, in the heights of World War II, the popularity of jazz was on the rise in the black community. Being the racial community that created the genre, this was obviously to be expected. However, just as most forms of music, eventually the style, attitude and vibe of the music and associated culture would attract many others of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. Since the demonizing of jazz music by white government officials as early as the 1920s, the American population as a whole was generally steered away from the jazz scene, but this didn’t stop the baby-boomers’ curiosity.
When white teens began to frequent African-American communities for their music and (especially) their dancing stylization (swing, jazz tap), their embracement of racial diversity and a open willingness to explore sexual and mind-altering habits prompted the birth of one of the first major counter-culture movements. This is where things already start to fall apart however. Unlike similar movements at the time (most namely the Beatniks), there was one fundamental flaw with the birth of the hipster: lack of central philosophy.
The Beat Generation (led by Ginsberg, Kerouac and Burroughs) possesses many elements of their lifestyle heavily influenced by the 1940s hipsters. The beatnik rejection of common standards of living, heavy experimentation with drugs, music and taboo sexual preferences were all right along in the line of the early hipsters. And if it ended just at those characteristics, then there would be nothing that separated the Beats from the hepcats. However, the Beats pushed the boundaries of social understanding, created new forms of musical and literary styles that influenced the world over and adopted many aspects of Eastern philosophies into their modes of living (Taoism and Buddhism most prominently).
Ironically enough, there is strong support to suggest that in their youth, Kerouac and Ginsberg constantly would enter and exit the lifestyle of the hipsters until their introduction to Burroughs in the early-1950s. And just as their attachment to the movement was superficial and an aspect of convenience and bored interest more than a literal devotion to the principles of a movement, it reflects the truth that hipsters were an amorphous collective without ideology. It was only skin-deep.
Marty Jezer accurately states that they were “more a pose than an attitude; a way of “being” without attempting to explain why.” And this brings the world into the present, where the term hipster is still utilized to describe a specific aspect of an American postmodern subculture that primarily consists of middle-class adults and teens that re-embraced the brand in the late 1990s. Though modern hipsters would claim (if they actually admit to being so, usually this isn’t the case) that they are driven by a fascination of underground or obscure independent music, a varied and eclectic fashion sensibility, progressive politics and alternative lifestyles, this really is a load of nothing.
Speaking from a personal standpoint, there are no actual hipsters remaining, even if there were any ‘genuine’ ones to begin with. Time wrote in 2009, “Hipsters are the friends who sneer when you cop to liking Coldplay. They’re the people who wear t-shirts silk-screened with quotes from movies you’ve never heard of and the only ones in America who still think Pabst Blue Ribbon is a good beer. They sport cowboy hats and berets and think Kanye West stole their sunglasses. Everything about them is exactingly constructed to give off the vibe that they just don’t care.”
Everything about this statement exactly describes the bulk of the identifying hipsters in modern youth, and that is all the more angering about the falsity of the whole subculture. It is an open desire to be so different than mainstream culture, that even if nothing in which they are actually claiming to support or like is actually genuine, they will present themselves as champions anyhow due to the attention and attitude it generates. There are so few individuals out in the country at this point who claim constantly that they do not care for the opinions and effects of others on their person (additionally claiming to be against the mainstream) who actually are as such. The modern hipster movement (for the most part) contains some of the most insecure, shallow and fickle youths that happen to be alive today. Their attraction to the unknown and the obscure is only a ploy to show how ‘cultured and deep’ they are. It is nothing more than a half-assed attempt to be unique.
For example, when MySpace was introduced in 2003, this became a beacon to those of the hipster breed; the customizable layouts and hollow social interactions the site generated was the breeding ground for the incompetent mobs of kids trying harder than they should to ‘be different’. As soon as bands such as System of a Down or The Black Keys went on to gain mainstream success, hipsters would dismiss and disown them, claiming they had ‘sold out’. For true any fans of either band, this never would be uttered. Besides their audience and acclaim growing exponentially, nothing involving their music drastically changed from when they had started. This attachment to things only in the obscure is what truly drives the movement. With iconic fashion such as Steampunk and a dedication to vintage stores, hipsters look for what looks the most outrageous or offset and claim it as their own, when they may even sacrifice all forms of comfort for the sake of the style.
Hipsters have claimed to embrace the writing and art by the Beats, pop artists, hippies and radicals throughout history in many forms, though it is for exactly the same reasons as music or fashion. If a hipster claims to be a communist or socialist or progressive, and that they follow the ideology of Che Guevara, Karl Marx, Lao Tsu or Timothy Leary (or really any prominent counterculture theorists throughout history), chances are it’s for shock value and to appear (once again) against the main flow of American social norms and politics. Hipsters are rarely actual radical progressives or “revolutionaries”, as was discovered by many people frequenting the Occupy Wall Street Movement, where multiple personal experiences at these rallies and marches in Philadelphia, New York, Baltimore and Washington DC simply revealed these so-called forward thinking individuals as objects of fashion (OWS was considered the ‘in thing’) rather than actually being there out of political or social necessity.
That brings the whole of this particular tirade to what really ties all of these idiosyncrasies together, and it is what really separates hipsters as a whole from any actual movement of any worth or value: money. Nine times out of ten, hipsters are middle-class to upper middle-class teens seeking to be against the mold and in the thick of the bohemian lifestyle, but still require mommy and daddy to pay for all of their ridiculous haircuts, overused makeup and ‘vintage’ clothing from Target. Their angst at the world stems from their fascination with materialism and chemical drugs fusing with aspects of their sheltered and (sometimes) privileged lives. Their constant claiming of being bisexual or even as far as suggesting omnisexuality is again for shock and awe with others of their sorted little groups. This is not to say that these sexual preferences are not legitimate, for they are, however, with the majority of hipsters it is a fashion statement rather than actual taste.
The falseness of modern hipsters (which are still growing in number at an alarming rate) really can contribute is bringing the poor drive and education many of these middle-class white teens (though racial identifications of all types are found in hipsterism, just as everything else), focusing more on being fashionably ironic in both form and mind than actually trying to have an expanded view of the world and propelling an interest its many diverse cultures. Ask any hipster claiming to be a Marxist if they have even read The Communist Manifesto, or a hipster anarchist if they understand anything Max Stirner is proposing in their basement bookstore hardback copy of The Ego and Its Own. A real bohemian ‘hipster’ (or a modern Beat or hippie) is more than owning an Andy Warhol replicated print, a collection of Che T-shirts and living in a studio apartment in Soho that is paid for by your trust fund. It is not something that is aiming to be fashionable, it is something that you are by nature, or you are not.