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So that makes you a Square: In defense of ‘The Hipster’

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There has been a lot of dropping of the H-Bomb here lately, whether it be in relation to riots at SXSW, or criticism of The Stone Roses. The word “hipster” has gone from vaguely meaning “poseur” to being a catch all term to describe anyone with different tastes to ourselves. I think it was time I addressed the matter head on. I’m not going to try and define what a “hipster” is here - if you need a crash course, I’ll point you in the direction of the Wikipedia “Hipster (contemporary subculture)” page, which is surprisingly on-point. I don’t even need to prove to you that the term is media fabrication used to hate on the young - though I probably will. No. I just want to say “Enough! If you going to call someone a hipster as an insult, then you should know that makes you a square.”

The first article I ever read on the subject of “hipsters” was Douglas Haddow Adbusters’ piece “Hipster - The Dead End Of Western Civilsation” from 2008. The article’s shrieking headline and hyperbolic tone should be a giveaway to the author’s intentions, but the fourth and fifth parts of the essay really show the hypocrisy involved. Haddow is at a party taking photos, yet manages to complain about both the other photographers at the same party AND the kids who want their photos taken. It’s genius! And herein lies the rub - the people doing the complaining themselves fit into the neat little bracket they have described. We have cultural commentators and arbiters of previously obscure tastes moaning about the now more widespread acceptance of those tastes. We have opinionistas offering up opinions on why we should hate other opinionistas. Photobloggers bitching about other photobloggers. Fixed gear cyclists who tell us only THEY can ride bikes properly.

Using WIki as a guide, it is possible to trace how this meme caught on in the media, and came to be some sort of established fact . It was not the first time the term was used this way, and “hipster” was not completely pejorative when it re-emerged in the last decade, but articles like Tim Walker’s “Meet The Global Scenester” re-inforce the idea that “hipster” was a stick used by cultural commentators to beat a perceived threat to their roles. There was no talk of the positive elements of the emerging youth culture, a culture these articles sought to define. It felt like it was a backlash waiting for an actual scene to happen. For a time in the early ‘90s, the UK music press lumped shoegaze bands together as “The Scene That Celebrates Itself” - anti-hipster chroniclers could now just as easily be labelled “The Scene That Berates Itself”. 

Originally posted on 04/08/11.

After the jump, the relation of irony and authenticity to fashion and music, new media and new cultural norms versus old school cool, and John Peel as the ultimate hipster.

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Leave a comment