It Might Finally Be Time To Change How We Talk About Hipsters
The anti-hipster meme is eating itself, this week in the form of DieHipster.com. I dislike hipsters much as the next guy who doesn’t think he’s a hipster, but:
a) as a friend of mine pointed out the other day, at this point we’re keeping hipsters alive by bitching about them, in what’s starting to look more like a default complaint than a meaningful one, and
b) sites like this remind me why hipsters adopted irony and ambivalence as aesthetic modes in the first place. Yes, it’s awful how hipsters appropriate the cultural codes of marginalized groups and turn them into meaningless (or at least ambivalent) masks, but at least they’re not dividing up the world according to some dumb, brute binary, with True, Right People on one side and Bad, Wrong People on the other. From my cursory scan of DieHipster.com, the author seems to long for the days when you could tell a person’s character by which deli they went to:
It really amazes me how these hipsters and yupsters want to erase anything and everything that made Brooklyn and other parts of New York what they are. Everything they participate in, patronize, and put out there in their own media bubble is Anti-Real Brooklyn.
That’s cute and all, but back in the day (and still today) which deli/bar/park/church etc. you went to was as defined as much by socioeconomic status, from class to race to gender and everything in between, as it was by any sort of volition.* This compartmentalization is exactly what the hipster’s appropriation of lower class status symbols was meant to eradicate: by confusing the cultural codes, you couldn’t tell who was rich and who was poor. On the one side, this leads to the lack of sincerity and authenticity that DieHipster.com is bitching about; but on the other it weakens the barriers between categories, and exposes those categories as the deleterious constructs that they are. The first part of that complex is problematic, but I don’t see how it necessarily cancels out the value of the second.
The author of DieHipster.com clearly wants to throw some barriers back up as fast as possible, replacing “real” and “phony” for former criteria. You don’t need to scroll very far down to find the consequences of Us v. Themism. Here’s an anti-hipster rant from Los Angeles, reposted on the site:
I used to have crushes on arty girls, like those that are in abundance in Silverlake and Echo Park. Those girls with their slender, tomboyish figures. Until realizing that this subgroup I refer to as “indie kids” are not like the people I met in college at all.
The full-length post buzzes with anxiety over having discovered a group of people who weren’t like the people the author already knew and approved of; the scribe’s problems with hipsters are less substantive objections than discomfort with the fact that they didn’t match the author’s preconception of them. Sorry if I’m hitting this on the nose or anything, but isn’t that exactly what hipsters are going for?
A counterexample to all this moral polarity came in the form of The Story of Jess and Russ, an atrociously precious wedding site, linked to on HipsterDie.com but first discovered by Drew Magary at Gawker. I gleefully shared the initial Gawker article, which was a feast of savory cynicism, but then something interesting happened: Jessica Hische, the “Jess” of the equation, slapped Gawker right back into place with a smart and earnest response, to the point that the site backed quietly out the room. It turned out there was no right or wrong way to put up a wedding website, and the person who was supposed to have the embodiment of hipster tweeness gave everybody a lesson in class. The hipster label, and the moral binary it was supposed to represent, failed.
DieHipster.com never posted the would-be retraction that Gawker did, because it’s dedicated to that binary, whether the hipster label fits or not. You could find a million real-world rebuttals to its template of the Bad Hipster, and DieHipster.com would ignore them until it found an example that matched, and then would angrily post that example as a justification for the template. Again, I hate hipsters as much as the next guy, but I guess, in the end, I prefer them to close-mindedness. There’s no point in making the anti-hipster meme worse than hipsters themselves.
* Obviously, hipsters, especially of the type that are gentrifying areas in Brooklyn and elsewhere, are creating new problems of socioeconomic segregation, and I don’t mean to imply that there aren’t serious issues created by a largely upper-class aesthetic movement. Sure enough, DieHipster.com is at its best when it focuses solely on issues of gentrification, and how the uneasy tradeoff between the original residents of, say, Fort Greene and the newbies, is elided in press celebrating the opening of a new cocktail bar. But it’s easy—real easy—to bitch about gentrification. It’s much harder to come up with substantive solutions. DieHipster.com doesn’t even try.
Addendum: Do hipsters have labels and enact barriers of their own? Ohhhh yeah. This post ain’t a defense of hipsters.
Addendum 2: There’s a whole separate post to be written about DieHipster.com’s eye-rolling use of the “Decline and Fall” narrative. Somebody should get on that.