Saturday, May 29, 2010

Defining A Generation: Battling the Hipsterati

I am about to do something extremely stupid.

I'm going to try to understand and define the counterculture behind my own generation (those persons born between 1975 and 1990).


In a characteristic bout of irony, you could automatically claim that hipsters are NOT our current subversive nemesis to corporate society. You could laugh and claim I know nothing of this so-called counterculture-- because maybe you believe the people I'm about to discuss don't really (or maybe even have no right to) exist. But then why, after their supposed advent (circa 2001), are we still talking about them ten years later?

I always find it odd that my first introduction to the term "hipster" was rather late in the game. After all, I've been a self-proclaimed artist-of-sorts for years. In the spring of 2009, my Facebook news feed (creepily) featured an interesting conversation between two of my more casual university friends (both of whom were born in 1990). Its main comment of interest: "Sipping your latte and reading obscure novels on the Campus Green, eh? Oh, you're such a hipster!"

For some reason, and I couldn't tell you why, my first reaction was along the lines of: "A hipster? But she's a sweet girl. Don't they know that it's sort of a negative term?"

Then it turned to anger: "Well, if she's a hipster, then what the fuck am I?"

To be honest... I think I was actually jealous. But WHY? I had no idea what a hipster was!

My biggest problem with the term "hipster" isn't so much that its common usage these days refers to a negative stereotype, but rather, it's that we seem too keen in trying to label our current generation's countercultural movement.

Let's face it. It takes decades to properly label the ideology behind a definitive era. Even now, at least within the tenets of art history, historians have huge trouble setting boundaries to and coming up with definitions for specific cultural movements. When did the 20th-century avant-garde end? Should Mannerism be considered a movement or an aesthetic mode? And my personal favorite: "Don't even get me started on that Rococo shit!"

As other bloggers and countless magazine articles (mainly centralized around Brooklyn, NY: Hipster Central) have chosen to point out over the past decade, counterculture is the definition of the history of the American youth. It's the definition of international youth culture-- the age-old trek of rebellion.

Romantic Poets. The Lost Generation. Beats. Hippies. Punks. Grunge.

Are "Hipsters" even qualified to join this list of subversives?

Many people would tell you no. And why? Mostly for the fact that these current twenty-to-thirty-somethings have no ground for rebellion. Hell, they aren't even particularly rebellious at all.

I have often seen my generation called a bunch of passive-aggressive, unenthusiastic, snark-tastic comfort-seekers.

We are. But then, we aren't.

While it's true that we have no Vietnam to protest or much suffrage to yearn for, American youth in our current age do have a curious sense for nostalgia. Maybe we're simply yearning for labels, and in "not really trying"-- we're "trying too hard".

A label, positive or negative, is earned over the course of time.

As Jonny Diamond points out in his recent L Magazine article "What We Talk About When We Talk About Hipsters", hipsters shouldn't be pigeon-holed. They are the "true artists"-- bohemians through and through, who live roughly and honestly (i.e. rebelliously) in an attempt to create something new and beautiful. Art that will eventually (or, rather, hopefully) become mainstream.

In fact, society probably only seeks to define hipsters in the same way it defines most other facets of culture these days: in the realm of mass consumerism and the age of the internet-- too quickly.

Whether hipsters are the new free-loving, anti-war hippies, or merely like the failed punk rockers (who, according to some, never really broke out anyway), one thing is certain: They're here. And they-- are now.

The label of "hipster" is still up to considerable debate today, as it should be. In my eyes, there are actually four types of people living under the hipster label:

1) "True Hipsters": who live dangerously and roughly, under the radar, for the creation of new, interesting art; true bohemians in every sense of the word

2) "Hipster Scum": who live dangerously and roughly, not creating much art of quality as they unwillingly live off of society, and of whom don't plan to make much of themselves for as long as they can

3) "Fauxhemians": Post-art/business/law school young professionals hoping to catch the latest trends, living what they assume to be "a truly bohemian life", before realizing the need to grow up, get a steady job, and settle for the yuppie life

4) And "Mainstream Hipsters": Educated (or not) young people only looking to be consistently trendy (i.e. fakes).

The last three categories are seemingly negative to the view of "The True Hipster". In all honesty, however, the life of a "true artiste" is not glamorous.

Just ask Andy and Edie.

"Fauxhemians" don't seem to be much of a threat to me. I probably am one myself, actually. I have a degree in art history. I'm going to graduate school. I love traveling, good indie music, and obscure German literature and British television. I'm an intellectual. And sometimes, I like to be ironic. But one day, I want a flat, a full-time job, and to start a family in New York City.

What's so wrong with that? Am I not a "hipster" then? Eh. Oh well.

It seems to me that the supreme negative connotation of the hipster is, essentially, one that lives off of the system while consistently being BOTH a menace and a fraud.

My friend who likes to sip lattes and read Kerouac on the Campus Green, she's not a menace. Maybe she's an artist. But in most cases, if she's a college graduate, then she's more like me.

I don't know. What do you think, America? Are we trying too hard to find a label? Or does the fact that we're "trying too hard" just mean that we're "ironically" already creating our newest counterculture?

Maybe we should let time decide.


Edie Sedgwick and Andy Warhol

Sources for Further Reading:

Don't disregard the reader comments on these! Sometimes they give more insight to the hipster phenomenon than these articles ever could.

Jonny Diamond (The L Magazine- May 2010): "What We Talk About When We Talk About Hipsters"

Christian Lorentzen (Time Out New York- June 2007): "Why The Hipster Must Die"

Christian Lorentzen (Time Out New York- August 2008): "Why The Hipster Must Die: The Hipsterati Talks Back"

Mike Conklin (The L Magazine- May 2010): "Unknown Local Wears Terrible Hat, Hates Hipsters"

Jonny Diamond (The L Magazine- May 2010): "Garage Rockers vs. Hipsters, Part 2"

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