I Want to Know: What the Hell is a Hipster?

I just accidentally followed my own blog. Can I have a #facepalm, please?

On to the point at hand…

What the hell is a hipster?

My daughter tells me that a hipster is basically someone who is anti-anything that is considered cool by the culture at large. They include old hippies, young, under-employed urbanites, and people who drive rusting, authentically uncool cars that have cache (a woody? a Pacer? what?). People who don’t bathe very often. They apparently try to appear like they’re not trying. But they’re definitely not preppy people. Do I have that right?

I just saw a Pinterest  pic of a sweet little girl with the caption: “AH! hipster bangs!” What can this mean? The child’s bangs are quirky and appealing, and not overstyled. Yet they are somewhat styled. Her tiny shirt has a pseudo-vintage look. I can’t recall any fashion time period when a child would have worn something similar. Ruffles, yes. Waffle weave, no. Maybe pseudo-vintage is the key phrase here. I see nostalgia. I see charm. I see simplicity. Perhaps we are all craving simpler times–times which, ironically enough, probably never existed.

When I imagine a hipster, why do I keep thinking of Mother In Law #2, who had scads of money and a lovely house, but always went to the laundromat to do the family laundry? She also wore canvas shoes and an unruly, but sensible haircut.

Would Beatrix Potter have been a Victorian hipster? How long before we see a Beatrix Potter steampunk novel or film? Really, she would be perfect. Animals would all be mechanical. (I call dibs on this idea, right here, right now!)

Trying to figure this out makes my brain hurt.

On to Google.

Here’s a link to something called The Hipster Handbook. It suggests that hipsters are young urbanites who disdain the mainstream. But it was released way back in 2003. Really? Have I been completely asleep for eight years? (As a parent of a teen and an eleven year-old, I haven’t slept well in years. Maybe I was just distracted.)  A more relevant exemplar might be the book, Stuff Hipsters Hate, which came out in 2010.  There’s also a blog of the same name. Its tag line is “Because it’s cool to be a hater.” (I’m starting to get it now, I think. The Stuff Hipsters Hate blog is on tumblr. How very hipster of it.)

A few things hipsters hate (from the Amazon blurb): monogamy, muscles, being asked about their tattoos, knowing their bank balance, enthusiasm.

My daughter also told me that they drink PBR. PBR? I have to add a WTH? Gross. Back in the day, the only time we would drink PBR was when we couldn’t get a keg of something more expensive, or those cute little Miller bottles. Now I can’t bear Miller, either. Must be all those years I worked for Anheuser-Busch. I’d rather drink Busch Beer–and that’s saying something. Never did like beer made from corn. When we got Busch for our monthly case of beer allotment, mine always went straight to the guys who worked on my wrecked Chevette, which I drove, wrecked, for almost three years. Couldn’t get into the front passenger door at all. I wonder what that says about me. Was I an early hipster? Probably not. I’m an obsessive hair-washer, and I have a deep and abiding loathing of dirty feet.

One thing I did see on the Stuff Hipsters Hate blog was a reference to Peter, Bjorn & John, a band whose music I heard on WFPL as I drove through Louisville. They kind of reminded me of Belle & Sebastian, one of my favorite bands. Though I think the blog spoke favorably of them. But would it be hipster-ish to like a band? I think not.

My shallow bit of research leads me to the conclusion that a distinct lack of enthusiasm for anything is a hallmark of hipsterdom. I’m thinking that hipsters are simply the counter-culture flavor of the recent decade. They were the early hippies of the sixties, the Beats of the fifties, the Bohemians of the twenties and thirties. The stuff they hate changes in direct relation to what the culture likes.  

I couldn’t be a hipster if I tried. I’m too old, too well-upholstered, too (to my surprise) mainstream. I like soap. And cars that aren’t rusted or wrecked. I think decent, expensive beer is deck.

How do my conclusions sound to you? Have I misidentified the hipster vibe?  Enlighten me, please!

8 thoughts on “I Want to Know: What the Hell is a Hipster?”

  1. carmar76 says:

    IDK about the hipster thing, but the PBR made me laugh! took me back to their commercials when i was a kid. all i remember is the label!

  2. Stef says:

    Ohhhh Ms. Benedict… twas a valiant effort! As a 26-year-old infrequent bather & former resident of Williamsburg, I feel somewhat the resident expert on this matter.

    The one point which I feel an overwhelming need to correct is: “But would it be hipster-ish to like a band? I think not.” On this point, you are incredibly off base.

    Hipsters LOVE music. All music, but especially indie music, and most definitely NOT anything that has been in the Top 40 (unless you like it ironically, and/or the song is at least ~20 years old, and/or sometimes if it’s by Lady Gaga). As you mentioned, anything the mainstream embraces is pretty much shunned.

    Peter, Bjorn & John are awesome – but if you’re a hipster, you probably discovered them circa 2005 and were already a big fan when Writer’s Block came out in February 2007. You remember when all your favorite records came out, and you probably own them… on vinyl. You don’t discover any new bands by listening to the radio, unless it’s a college station, and you are probably already familiar with most of their rotation. You probably worked for your alma mater’s own station when you were in college (guilty).

    And, most importantly, you never refer to yourself as a hipster.
    Hope this helps! xx

    1. Edward says:

      I once had a conversation with a hipster who was convinced that she was an expert on all things music. Her reasoning was textbook. “If it’s popular it can’t be good, and if it’s good I’ve probably already heard it” was her basic premise. Then she had the audacity to say “I’m basically a music snob”.

      “No you’re not”, I abruptly replied.
      “Oh really, so why am I NOT a snob”.
      “Because if you were a snob, we’d be having a completely different conversation,” I stated.
      “About What?” she inquired.
      “Well, we’d begin by not even discussing any type of music written after 1950. We definitely wouldn’t be talking about your Beach House or Alt-J. In fact we’d probably talk about Italian Opera and the influence it had upon Johann Sebastian Bach’s ‘St. Matthew’s Passion’, or we’d be discussing the differences in music theory pre- and post Ludwig Van Beethoven, or possibly even have a discussion on the innovations of Paganini’s violin techniques and compositions. Believe me when I say, you’re not a music snob. I’ve seen music snobs, and you’re not even close. In fact, our entire conversation has been about what’s cool and what’s not, and so far nothing has been said about music itself.”

      “How do you know so much about this?” she asked.

      “I have a Master’s Degree in Music theory and composition, and I’m currently working on my PH.D.”

      In the end, the hipster movement is like all other cultural crazes. It’s about image and style – no substance.

  3. Carrie–Glad we can learn about the hipster thing together!

    Stef–You win the Interwebs today, Stef! I feel so honored that you weighed in. I should have realized that music is at the very core of hipsterdom. Love your character sketch of the hipster’s music personality. Thanks!

  4. Liana Brooks says:

    Hipster is the modern term for pot-head. It’s the kids who couldn’t care enough to keep their enthusiasm past kindergarten. They act cynical because understanding anything would require brain power they don’t have,

    Point and laugh as you pass.

  5. Liana–Thanks for coming by! If I’d been able to share a smoke w/ MIL #2, that whole marriage might have gone a different way. Guess she wouldn’t qualify. Bummer.

  6. Stef says:

    Oh my my, Ms. Liana… sounds like you had one negative interaction with someone you decided was a hipster and consequently labeled a whole sub-culture of society. How very (stereo)typical of you.

    In defense of the genre: I paid my own way through a top-10 U.S. university, graduated summa cum laude and now pull in a 6-figure salary. But, according to you, because (in my free time) I like to dress a certain way, have a couple extra facial piercings, and know more about music than the average person knows about anything, that must mean I have no ambition, intelligence or enthusiasm. Thanks for putting me in my place.

  7. Anonymous says:

    The people I think of as hipsters are what you may have thought of in the past as an artsy yuppie. No – that’s not right. But they are smart, sarcastic, music-loving, eclectic-dressing, independent-minded people. With awesome hats.

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