Philosophy, Society

On Hipsterism

Today I realized I had to read up on Hipsterdom, get this phenomenon straight for me. So I headed to Wikipedia (“middle class adults and older teenagers with interests in non-mainstream fashion and culture, particularly alternative music, indie rock, independent film”) and grabbed the article’s first three References. Here are my sources, my mashing them up (note: I’m not sure I necessarily agree with everything being quoted) and in the end my personal conclusion.

The Independent – Meet the global scenester

link, 14. August 2008

“There always used to be a particular city that was the centre of cool at a particular point in time. But now there’s no longer a place where it’s ‘at’; there’s no longer any centre of the world’s popular cultural universe. … The further [American Apparel’s] global reach stretches, the more easily the company can study and copy street style, before repackaging it and selling it back to the originators of that style, with an American Apparel label attached. … It’s no coincidence that American Apparel’s often controversial advertising campaigns imitate the Vice look [example], … His style has countless amateur copycats worldwide, whose photos have found a home on fast-growing photo-sharing websites such as Flickr and MySpace. … Making fun of the global scenesters is futile, for they love nothing more than to mock themselves. Everything a scenester does is rendered in air quotes: ironic moustaches, ironic trucker caps, faux-offensive Urban Outfitters T-shirts, white guys with afros, or musical acts with names like Does It Offend You, Yeah?… the internet has been a key factor in the globalisation of hip. … You once had a series of gatekeepers in the adoption of a trend: the innovator, the early adopter, the late adopter, the early mainstream, the late mainstream, and finally the conservative. But now it goes straight from the innovator to the mainstream. … the only prevailing trend is that there are no prevailing trends … the result is that same brand of individuality is sold, worn and celebrated the world over, simultaneously. … ‘What’s the next big thing?’ but there will never again be a next big thing. The future of fashion is that all of these places will participate. There will never ever again be one ‘the place’.”

Time Out New York – Why the hipster must die

link, Juni 2007 by Christian Lorentzen

– funny text, but almost as quote < oxymoronic as the “mainstream hipster” > end quote, i.e. self-contradictory.

“Yes, the assassins of cool still walk our streets: Any night of the week finds the East Village, the Lower East Side and Williamsburg teeming with youth—a pageant of the bohemian undead. These hipster zombies—now more likely to be brokers or lawyers than art-school dropouts—are the idols of the style pages, the darlings of viral marketers and the marks of predatory real-estate agents. And they must be buried for cool to be reborn. … Under the guise of “irony,” hipsterism fetishizes the authentic and regurgitates it with a winking inauthenticity. Those 18-to-34-year-olds called hipsters have defanged, skinned and consumed the fringe movements of the postwar era—Beat, hippie, punk, even grunge. … I propose that the only hope for a reanimated bohemia, if not a dezombified hipsterdom, is civil war. … We know that there are Sweet hipsters, who practice the sort of irony you can take home to meet the parents, and there are those Vicious hipsters, who practice the form of not-quite-passive aggression called snark. … On the Sweet end of the spectrum, The Believer lavishes its literary and pop-culture idols with a uniform layer of affection that renders it near impossible to distinguish the great from the mediocre. … Meanwhile, among those who adopt the Vicious pose, a lighthearted scorn perfected by Gawker is roundly applied to the objects of pop celebrity, both talented and (mostly) otherwise.”

– So what he’s saying is that Sweet hipsters and Vicious hipsters are supposed to kill each other and make way for a dezombified hipsterdom? Guess how long after that hipsterdom would become zombified once more…

Adbusters – Hipster: The Dead End of Western Civilization

link, 29. Juli 2008 by Douglas Haddow

‘Now, one mutating, trans-Atlantic melting pot of styles, tastes and behavior has come to define the generally indefinable idea of the “Hipster.” … initially sported by Jewish students and Western protesters to express solidarity with Palestinians, the keffiyeh has become a completely meaningless hipster cliché fashion accessory. … of a class of individuals that seek to escape their own wealth and privilege by immersing themselves in the aesthetic of the working class. … With nothing to defend, uphold or even embrace, the idea of “hipsterdom” is left wide open for attack. And yet, it is this ironic lack of authenticity that has allowed hipsterdom to grow into a global phenomenon that is set to consume the very core of Western counterculture. Most critics make a point of attacking the hipster’s lack of individuality, but it is this stubborn obfuscation that distinguishes them from their predecessors, while allowing hipsterdom to easily blend in and mutate other social movements, sub-cultures and lifestyles. … it is rare, if not impossible, to find an individual who will proclaim themself a proud hipster. It’s an odd dance of self-identity – adamantly denying your existence while wearing clearly defined symbols that proclaims it. … “cool-hunters” will also be skulking the same [web]sites, taking note of how they dress and what they consume. … get paid to co-opt youth culture and then re-sell it back at a profit. … Hipsterdom is the first “counterculture” to be born under the advertising industry’s microscope, leaving it open to constant manipulation but also forcing its participants to continually shift their interests and affiliations. Less a subculture, the hipster is a consumer group – using their capital to purchase empty authenticity and rebellion. But the moment a trend, band, sound, style or feeling gains too much exposure, it is suddenly looked upon with disdain. Hipsters cannot afford to maintain any cultural loyalties or affiliations for fear they will lose relevance.

The cultural zeitgeists of the past have always been sparked by furious indignation and are reactionary movements. But the hipster’s self-involved and isolated maintenance does nothing to feed cultural evolution. … We are a lost generation, desperately clinging to anything that feels real, but too afraid to become it ourselves. We are a defeated generation, resigned to the hypocrisy of those before us, who once sang songs of rebellion and now sell them back to us. We are the last generation, a culmination of all previous things, destroyed by the vapidity that surrounds us. The hipster represents the end of Western civilization – a culture so detached and disconnected that it has stopped giving birth to anything new.’

Defining the modern-day San Francisco hipster

link, 20. March 2010 by Andrew Leonard

‘a group of individuals who want to be different, but in the end form cliques because so many others strive to do the same. … redefining style by taking vintage clothes and embellishing them to their own tastes. … if someone asks you if you’re a hipster, and someone says [you say] ‘no, I’m not a hipster!,’ it kinda means you’re a hipster.”… That circle has been described as “exclusive” and even elusive. … the level of acceptance she’s seen hipsters project “depends on the club or group of hipsters.”’

– Hipsters, so it seems, don’t form a group of people that identify with each other and have a common goal. They are just everybody that doesn’t want to be mainstream (that’s practically everyone today) and tries to take refuge in irony.


Since the beginning of the 19th century there has been a word for people that were (perceived to be) different: bohemian. What is changed today is that through the total victory of capitalism and consumerism the commercialization of everything is a reality now. We can trust nothing and nobody to be what it/(s)he claims to be. In fact, we know that ads are fake and that most music advertised is less a product of musicians and more a product of deliberately calculating marketers. Thus we crave for authenticity and that’s why today more people want to be non-mainstream, independent or hip than ever before.

But because there are so many people trying to be different they inevitable end up forming a huge group or a demographic themselves. To their resentment, they discover soon that they are not different any more. So they need to change again. At the same time, they want to change into what’s the new hip, clinching to everything that is not mainstream. Through globalization, the internet and cheap digital cameras this has become a cat-and-mouse game with amazing speed. What’s even worse, not only will other hipsters quickly catch up on a new thing to do, but all the marketers will constantly analyse the internet and the streets of the world for the latest trends, update their products and sell the hipsters their own ideas back at a healthy profit. And when a successful marketing campaign has at last pushed something into mainstream it’s definitely not hip any more.

In this perspective the phenomenon and especially its causes are quite tragic. I’m not against a global umbrella culture, I’m even for a certain kind of global identity, but there needs to be space for smaller groups of people to come together and define themselves as a community, which always includes defining who is different. I applaud hipsters all over the world for their attempts to make past and present mainstream cultures their own, by mashing them together, dragging symbols out of context and into irony and thus changing their meaning. But sadly, more often than not there is no new meaning created, no new idea proposed, that is, besides the omnipresent one: “mainstream is dead”. Sure, as everything gaining momentum, also a critique of hipsters is dragged into irony by them, but that doesn’t change facts. So maybe the articles cited above and blogs like Look at this Fucking Hipster and Unhappy Hipsters are signs of the imminent death of hipsterdom as we know it. But as long as corporate- and profit-driven globalisation is a reality the idea will live on. People always wanted and always will want to be different than most, while at the same time be similar to a few they know and value.

P.S. Wikipedia quotes from Jazz by Frank Tirro where the 1940s (jazz-) hipster was described with: “an underground man. He is to the Second World War what the dadaist was to the first.” From a historical perspective, Dadaism was a protest-movement against WWI and the 1940s hipsters denounced the white establishment of post-WWII America. Both movements explicitly refused to formulate a reasoning for their respective philosophies, instead they focused on art or a certain lifestyle to demonstrate the absurdity of the then-current orthodoxy. One could argue that the 1990s-2000s hipster does exactly the same, this time rebelling against mainstream consumerism with absurdity and irony. But while both Dadaism and the 40s hipsters were conscious of solutions (pacifism and a more relaxed lifestyle resp.) to the respectitive grievances, the contemporary hipsters don’t seem to have any perspective on alternatives. If they had, they wouldn’t be hipsters but hippies. Then hipsterism is the manifestation of the widespread hatred of mainstream consumerism, coupled with the realization that the ideas of 1968 failed to realize and the perception that no new or viable alternatives are in sight. This is the real tragedy of which hipsters are only a symtom. All hipster (can) do is touch on that sore spot of our society and that’s probably why hipsters are so often despised.


3 thoughts on “On Hipsterism

  1. Pingback: The Observer Hires "Anti-Hipster" Christian Lorentzen | Blog News

  2. miss food-for-thought says:

    i’ve been wanting to post this for a long time, i think it fits into haddows “the dead end of western civilization” theory quite well.
    interestingly enough, this song already came out in 2003 (and is of course very popular with hipsters) it’s a slow and painful death.

    i know, i know you try to change this.

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