Hipsters are amazing.
There, I said it.
I’m not just saying this out of fear.
I was walking down the street in a giant vintage coat and cowboy boots, holding an iced coffee in one hand and my iPhone in the other, when I noticed a sneering mob beginning to form.
Contemptuous murmurs built on either side. “Hipster.” “Bleeping hipster.” “Look at that bleeping hipster.” “I bet she’s active on Instagram.” It was like that scene in “The Elephant Man.”
“No!” I shouted, as they closed in. “I promise you, this is not what it looks like. I’m not a hipster. I’m you! Dunk me into craft beer and I will sink! Stick my hand into a cauldron full of obscure vinyl, and I promise you, I will draw out the one band that everyone has heard of! I didn’t buy this coat at a thrift shop! It was given to me by my actual grandmother! I’m on Instagram, but that’s because I have to use it for work! Please, let me find you a real hipster and I will gladly join you in burning him and his resplendent ironic beard at the stake.”
They readily agreed. We coalesced into a mob. Oddly, every other likely hipster suspect that we alighted on made the same denial. Finally, frustrated, we dispersed to a coffee shop.
Usually when I escape from a hipster-seeking mob, I revert instantly to my old ways. I sneer at those goshforsaken fools in their ironic glasses with their scarves and mustaches and old-fashioned photographic equipment. I sneer, because I am terrified that if I don’t, they will come for me.
Hipsterdom is like alcoholism. An alcoholic, Dylan Thomas famously wrote, is someone you dislike who drinks as much as you do.
That about sums it up. I’m not a hipster. I just love craft beers. As long as there’s one symptom you don’t display, you consider yourself in the clear.
But at the same time that we mock the hipsters, we use their amenities. And do we say thank you? No. We say, “Get off my lawn, and crawl back to your Trader Joe’s.”
It’s time we stopped.
Think about all that the hipsters have given us.
Independent coffee shops? Yes, please. Sure, I’m theoretically disgusted that you obtained your beans by sending an overzealous bearded guy in a knit poncho to climb a hill and play “The Shins” to them and put blankets on them at night and give them individual names, but the result is delicious.
Vinyl? Lay it on me! Can anyone who has ever had to open a shrink-wrapped jewel case and squint at some tiny lyrics on a booklet the size of a well-fed Post-it note possibly maintain that a return to vinyl as the Physical Form Of Music is a bad thing? No. If you have to have physical music, make it large and glamorous and force me to play it on a big wheel.
And while we’re on the subject of music, what’s so wrong with accordions and large groups of people walking around clapping their hands? What’s wrong with Lorde and Macklemore? They seem amiable enough.
Yes, all the irony can get exhausting. But the net result of a lot of this hipster nonsense is that Something Tasty And/Or Fun Is Available That Wasn’t Before.
If you’re the person who decides to create a bar where there is gin and tonic ON TAP, literally ON TAP, why do we hate you and revile you and mutter all kinds of evil against you falsely?
“reasons i hate hipsters: -they use old or new technology -they drink coffee” tweeted @neonwario. “sometimes they listen to music, some of which is good and some not,” @michaelleung tweeted in reply. That’s about it. If we don’t have something more cogent to say, maybe we need to cool our jets a little. Maybe we need to apologize.
I’m not saying there aren’t principled cases to be made about appropriation or gentrification. Just that all the Ugggggh-ing and hipster-baiting needs to stop.
Take a straw-man hipster, the Grotesquely Absurd Outfit-Wearing Devotee of Bands That Don’t Exist Yet. “Ugggggh,” you said, picturing this person. To fill in the details, here’s a ChaCha list of “things hipsters pretend to know all about”:
Coffee, hair, scarves, shoes, accessories, vinyl, social networks, notebooks, beer, bicycles, Etsy, vintage, Lo-fi photography, tattoos. HOW DARE THEY!
They’re defined by the attempt to cultivate taste.
That’s the hipster’s calling card. What is so bothersome about hipsters is that they insist they have better taste than you. Sometimes, even more irritatingly, they are right. And hipsters have developed taste only in areas that are pretty accessible to everyone. Music, beer, coffee, vintage clothes. These are things that you can have good taste in without having to have expensive taste. In theory there is no hipster bar to entry. People with good taste in beer don’t have to pay the kind of obscene amounts that people who cultivate taste in say, wine, or scotch do. To be a hipster, you just have to be willing to put in the effort. “You can keep your labels,” hipsters say. “I have my Taste, and no one can take it from me.” It’s, you could argue, the democratization of taste. Why wait until you are a billionaire to eat and dress better than fast-food and big-box retailers suggest you should?
This can be a little much. Difficulty and obscurity can become substitutes for quality. But the end result is not something HORRIBLE.
When a critical mass of hipsters converge on something, it is generally not because the thing is just obscure. It’s because it is both obscure and good. And then it becomes mainstream and the hipsters have to start looking all over again.
And for this, we punish them? Hipsters go out and find us nice music and nice plaids and nice restaurants and sturdy shoes, and then we take up listening to it and wearing them and eating there, and they have to move farther out and look for something else, and whenever we see them we roll our eyes and boo and post unflattering pictures of them on Tumblr.
I know what you’re going to say. There’s something almost pathetic about alternative culture after 2000 or so, in the sense that it is mainly an attempt by people who never experienced what it was like to have anything but a Starbucks on every corner and mostly instant access to everything you could possibly want, mass-produced for your convenience, boxed, shrink-wrapped and whisked to your door at a second’s whim, to replicate what they imagine life was like Before, when you had to trek long distances and tailor your own clothing and grind your own coffee by hand with a pestle. “What’s the matter with mass culture?” our elders ask, baffled. “We didn’t stagger and bicycle through centuries of history so you could go trekking off on your fixie bicycle to buy vintage coats in a thrift shop. We have gears now, you realize? You can use them!” At its absolute worst, hipsterdom is a weird reenactment of the ’60s by people who weren’t there.
But there’s an appeal to difficulty. The one rarity these days is Things That Aren’t Readily Available. That used to be the only kind of thing there was. People fought long and hard so that would not be so. But maybe something got lost in the shuffle.
Yes, popular culture is good now. It’s almost too good. It’s tailored. It knows what we want before we want it, and it gives it to us, and we don’t have to lift a finger. But there’s no thrill of discovery. And sometimes it misses a spot. Sometimes we like things we didn’t know we’d like. And thanks to the Internet, if you find something obscure and good, it can spread rapidly, like wildfire, or Starbucks.
Leaving aside the usual debate about what happens when people move into a place and insist on stuffing it chock-full of coffee shops, because Times trend writers have to have something to make their own, can we lay off?
Look at food trucks. Look at coffee shops. Look at mustaches! Are we going to sit here and say that some of these things are not net boons?
We should thank the people who have given us so much.
Thank you, Hipsters.
Thank you hipsters for all that you do. I won’t say “ugh” to you any more.