Kate Bradley examines the rise of the hipster cult
Over the last few decades, inundated by changing fashions and passing fads, Britain’s cultural scene has become a centre of nihilistic skepticism and cynical snobbery towards anything that takes itself too seriously – or, indeed, anything that is too ironic. Passion is pitiable and integrity unfashionable, and to prove it, we’ve developed an insult much more offensive than any old four-lettered faithful. It’s an insult that music listeners shudder to hear. Dread the label Hipster. You’re now so cool, it’s officially uncool.
Like criticising good-looking people, hating the hipster doesn’t seem all that bad. After all, they’re the oppressors, the ones we’re told we should want to be, the ones to react against. ‘Hipster’ is a category you choose to put yourself into, an elitist group which excludes those who don’t listen to the ‘right’ music, so it’s fair game for vitriol. Like the Americans, we’re certain – this is definitely a defensive war – and, like ‘terrorist’, ‘hipster’ is not a term people choose for themselves; that’s what’s so unfair about it.
Hipster behaviours are rarely unified into a single Chino-donning, mainstream-hating, pretentiously vacuous human-being; people are usually deemed ‘hipsters’ for one particularly irritating self-righteous trait. Perhaps the true, pure hipster is somewhere out there, a monolithic self-designated indie archetype, but usually, ‘hipster’ is an identification conferred on people from the outside. It’s pretty common for whole fan-groups to be called ‘hipsters’ – anyone who likes Radiohead, for example, can be written off by anyone who doesn’t like Radiohead with one dismissive line – “Radiohead fans are hipsters”. Or, as the ironically ironic website Hipster Runoff put it: “Radiohead is a conceptual band that ppl like to think is kewl because u can do drugs and get deep 2 their music.” But if Radiohead listeners are hipsters, then it’s hardly an exclusive inner sanctum.
Sure, the writer of that joke would probably say, “Not all Radiohead fans! Just, y’know the type. The ones that also listen to Animal Collective and Death Cab for Cutie”. And yes, I do know the ones, and I also know that the stereotype doesn’t really hold. It’s a bit of fun, a bit of ‘self’ and ‘other’ demarcation. But the label is important. The non-hipsters have given themselves the right to look down on huge numbers of people, simply because those people look down on them.
Urban Dictionary defines a hipster as someone who “walks among the masses in daily life but is not a part of them” – yet isn’t that what we all feel about ourselves? This isn’t about fighting exclusivity. It’s about claiming it for yourself.
I’m not saying that mocking hipsters isn’t hilarious – The Onion proves it about once a week. I’m just saying that when people make a denigrating comment about an indie kid, saying they’re standing up for the mainstream, the popular voice, they’re being just as wanky as the hipsters – they’re just doing it in different clothing.