In defense of, …oh, nevermind

I’m confused. It seems no one likes the word hipster, and many people argue it should be exiled. Hamilton Nolan at Gawker is not a fan. Foster Kamer at the Village Voice thinks it’ silly. Bucky Turco of ANIMAL definitely wishes the word would go away forever and never come back.
Maybe people are using the word wrong, and that rankles people. But it does have a use, and it does apply to certain people. Kamer brushed against it’s true meaning when he wrote that “maybe” it applies to an “enclave in whatever part of your town is being gentrified by the moneyed children of baby boomers.” Not maybe. Most likely. Particularly if, in your efforts to distance yourself from the class you belong to, you appropriate the culture and norms of those less fortunate with no desire or attempt made to truly be a part of that community. That’s a fucking hipster. The word is derogatory. It does have meaning. And it should be used.

So maybe it is an appropriate epithet and a deserved one for these “trustafarians” or whatever other vapid term we’ve tried to replace hipsssssster with. But the argument against it is that it’s inexact? Sure, yes — party kids are different from bike kids are different from band kids are different from vegan kids. We all have our issues, and I mean that in every which way.

But, just for a second, let me take issue with this blanket “I hate young city-dwellers that value irony and rip off poor people” and Foster’s The Two Truths of Hipsterism:

1. Hipsters don’t like being called Hipsters.
2. Hipsters don’t self-identify as Hipsters.
This operates much in the same manner that any supposed youth movement or artless categorization of something does. It’s the same way Bob Dylan didn’t like being called a protest singer

Bob Dylan was a protest singer. He knows, like you do, and he did then as well. But his whole self-awareness sham was different than the “plight” of the urban twentysomething. Most kids know, too, what subculture they belong to, but many more of them would actually over-identify. They’re poseurs, maybe, to bring back another of these overdetermined terms bled dry of their meaning.

But you’d be wrong, or at least a little bit old, to say there’s no one self-identifying. What Hipsters don’t like is people referring to them ignorantly as a blanket statement (or worse, using it as an adjective, as in, “That’s so HIPSTER.”) for anything alternative. In the ’90s, every white kid who wasn’t preppy (here we go again) was goth, punk or emo. Now, they’re hipsters. Why? Michael Cera? The other problem is that “they” don’t want to be grouped in with the all of the trash on Bedford or in McKibbon or the target demo for Juno, because it’s not about your beard or grunginess or beer or soundtrack. It’s not about appropriating poor for the ones worth their oxygen; appropriation is part of it, sometimes, but it’s supposed to be a tad more artful… subtle and respectful and unique and deliberate. Do it, own it and be ready to explain it, y’know?

So there is a small subset of the group, at least in New York City, who would be happy to reclaim the term for ultra-self-aware kids who:

…are abreast of social and political issues, but are not SDS-biting, faux-nostalgia activists;

…value style, but don’t need and in fact refuse to have it packaged and sold back to them a la Urban Outfitters or Vans;

…moved to an urban area to escape their parents’ suburan lives and dearth of culture, usually with creative aspirations;

…know, like really know, what shoegaze is (once suggested as a litmus test, but jk …sort of!);

…appreciate and utilize their city’s vastness, diversity and history;

…are well-verse in both alternative and popular culture, speaking intellectually about both (that is, knowing what they like and being able to articulate why, perhaps with some of the cultural studies they learned at university);

It’s not Wes Anderson and it’s not Wayfarers and it’s not even skinnies. It probably is socio-economic, in so far as it’s tied to going to college (that makes these things, and much else, easier). But the self-identifiers will probably grow up to subscribe to The New Yorker, for whatever that’s worth. So, yeah, aspirational in some regards. You get it: bright, ambitious, creative, analytical, self-aware, (image) conscious, reverent (sometimes) and young. Hipsters! Or what? “People I’d want to converse and/or hang out with” is bulky. We could not label people, I guess. That’s boring. But maybe hipster should be something you have to earn?


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