Hipstercritical: The First Completely Counterculture, Neo-Bohemian Introspective Analysis of
Thrift Shop Paraphernalia, Belle and Sebastian, and Pabst Blue Ribbon
READER’S NOTE: Let it be known that this is the first manifesto of its kind. What I have done with this postmodern literary companion is completely original, unique, and non-ubiquitous. I am, by definition, a hipster, and therefore I did it first. However, if this report becomes popular at any level beyond the underground frontier, please destroy it and extinguish any traces of its ideas, insights, and most importantly, its creator, who did it first.
Sure, I could shop at the mall with the masses of uncultured, shallow suburbanites, but why? I’m different. I’m individual. I’m unique. I do what I want, and I like what I like. I’m not going to spend $30 on a sell-out surf-shop brand t-shirt at The Buckle when I could buy a perfectly ironic, undersized, three dollar t-shirt at the Goodwill on “O” Street that says, “Welcome to Wonderful Wisconsin!” and was made in 1984. No, man, I wear what I want, I listen to what I want, and I watch what I want. For me, it’s all about Wes Anderson, Weezer’s blue and Pinkerton albums (definitely not their new radio-friendly, corporate trash), and green Chuck Taylors, size 9 ½. For me, it’s all about Jim Jarmusch, Neutral Milk Hotel, and bold, dark-framed, Buddy Holly-esque glasses. For me, it’s all about Michel Gondry, Of Montreal, and 100% sweatshop-free American Apparel. For me, and every single other hipster, that’s what it’s all about.
What I am about to admit completely undermines hipster law and surely cuts my street cred in half, but please bear with me. I am a hipster. There. I said it. I know “real” hipsters aren’t supposed to submit to such a degrading label, but the truth must be told. I am precisely what they say I am. I generally listen to indie rock (at this very moment: Rilo Kiley), hang out in coffee shops (at this very moment: The Mill in Lincoln, NE), shop at thrift stores and talk about things like books, music, films, and art (Urban Dictionary). I am a hipster.
Although my counterculture instincts would lead me to write this argument in a very unorganized, haphazard style, and the Wes Anderson in me would drive me to fill it with quirky irony and loose ends, I am going to lay this out in terms that everyone can understand, be it Pabst Blue Ribbon drinkers or Busch Light drinkers, fans of Weezer’s blue album or fans of the green album, Connor Oberst or Jason Mraz. Individualism, eccentricity and eclecticism are to be praised. Elitism, pretentiousness and American bands that pretend to be British (The Killers, Kings of Leon, etc.) are not.
The definition of “hipster” differs dramatically and varies widely between those living socially above ground and those denying their hipster-centricity—us. To those looking from the outside in, the definition of “hipster” takes on a more negative connotation: “Someone who thinks they’re being ‘special’ and ‘unique’ for liking some underground bullshit no one else cares about” (Urban Dictionary). Some even go so far as to say that, “Hip is a convenient excuse for fu**ups” (Leland). In contrast, we hipsters, although rarely acknowledging the title, hold the term in a much more fashionable esteem: “Our generation’s aristocrats of taste” (Henry M. Bowles). Either way, it is undisputable that “hip” as we know it today is occupied by a select cultural subdivision, which neither admits to being normal nor admits to following the trends that engulf the hipster culture. This is who we are, and frankly, I’m sick of denying it.
I’ve had it with pretending that I’m not different, because I am. We are. And we like it that way. Henry M. Bowles, a columnist for the Daily Northwestern at Northwestern University, has described hipsters as being “driven by a total lack of self-confidence, in an age of social anxiety, to overdose on irony” (Daily Northwestern). I can’t help but think this is mostly true. We have developed an image, but we do not defend it. We delight in the niche, but we deny it when called upon by the conventional majority. As David Cross tells us in an interview with Entertainment Weekly (I swear I thought I was reading Paste Magazine), if you want to fake being a hipster like him, you should, “get one electroclash CD, whatever it is, then pretend you don’t listen to it anymore and you hate it.” And worst of all, we have failed to act contradictory to our beliefs well enough for anyone to believe us. We’ve neither stood up for our beliefs, nor constructed an effective masquerade to hide them. We’ve become the shy kid in class who only raises his hand halfway; high enough for a select few to notice he has something to say, but not high enough to get called on. The following article taken from The Onion, titled “Two Hipsters Angrily Call Each Other ‘Hipster,’” accurately satirizes our community’s lack of self-confidence:
Austin, TX—An argument between local hipsters Dan Walters and Brian Guterman has devolved to the point where each is angrily calling the other “hipster,” those close to the pair reported Monday. “Hey, hipster! Here’s 12 bucks—why don’t you go get yourself a bucket of PBRs at the Gold Mine?” Walters, 22, is said to have told Guterman, 22, invoking the name of a local bar known for its “poseur” clientele. “Whatever you say, scenester,” Guterman allegedly replied. “Don’t you have a Death Cab For Cutie show to be at right now?” Acquaintances of Guterman and Walters trace the long-running conflict back to high school, when they reportedly threw pencils at each other and argued about who was more “emo.”
If this is who we are and these are the things we like, why are we denying it? I’m not saying that we need to hold a hipster pride parade, but there’s no reason not to own up to the title. If we’re going to do this, let’s do this right.
In my hipsterstentialist voyage for a deeper understanding of our purpose in life, which obviously took place completely subterranean, I stumbled upon a disturbing and humbling website called hipstersareannoying.com. This is what it told me: “Hipsters have lost all context of reality” (hipstersareannoying.com). Dear Lord, I can actually hear my street cred decreasing now. But dare I say it’s right? Again, I think the use of the term “all” slightly exaggerates the point, but the idea should not be overlooked. Due to our hesitancy towards self-recognition, our ideology is being ignored. We are catering to ourselves, and maybe we like that. Maybe that is how we want it to remain. But we’re the ones who seem to have the strongest opinions. We’re the ones who seem to have a critique for everything. Ultimately, it is those who speak up who make the real difference, and if we really care about what we’re talking about, if we really care about global warming and deforestation and the monster that is Wal-Mart and the war in Iraq, we need to start doing the same. John Leland, author of Hip, The History, explains:
The word “hip” is commonly used in approval, but this glosses its many limitations. Though it likes a revolutionary pose, hip is ill equipped to organize for a cause. No one will ever reform campaign finance laws under hip’s banner, nor save the environment. A hipper foreign policy will not get us out of this fix. Hip steps back.
We can chill like roadies all day long, but until we start our own band, we’re never going to get recognized, and we’re surely not going to change any of the problems we love to complain about. Our passivity is only patronizing our ideology.
What we are not, on the other hand, is superior because we take the road less traveled by the mainstream. As one South Park episode portrays with a group of emo/goth children, by striving to be so dissimilar to everything and everyone mainstream, we are actually harboring our own demise (“You Got F*cked”). Due to the fact that all the other Goth kids refused to join Stan’s dance troupe because, “being in a dance troupe is totally conformist,” the last Goth kid agrees to do so because, “I’m such a nonconformist, that I’m not going to conform to the rest of you.” Just like those who listen to Fall Out Boy, watch War of the Worlds, and read John Grisham books because they are popular, most of us listen to Tilly and the Wall, watch Broken Flowers, and read throwback classics like those written by Kurt Vonnegut and Franz Kafka because they are not (or not anymore.) Essentially, we are different in our tastes, but we are very similar in our philosophical attack. The mainstream does things because everyone else is. We do things because everyone else isn’t. Hipsters are trying so hard today to distance themselves from the majority that we’re all becoming the same. According to futurist Faith Popcorn, as quoted by Maclean’s, “It’s like everybody’s hip now. It’s exhausting. There’s no discovery. It’s not original.” Save for maybe Michael Bolton (or John Bolton for that matter), this isn’t far from the truth. Our misguided quest for individuality is leading straight to social conformity.
Not only do we denounce popularity, but far too many of us see our interests as better. This, my fellow cohorts, is flat out wrong. No certain interests are better than others, unless we’re comparing Alan Jackson to Ben Gibbard. Of course we have reasons to believe that supporting local, anti-corporate, organic coffee shops serves a better cause than sipping coffee at a commercially driven Starbucks. And it does. But we fall into the practice of stereotyping when we assume that because the mainstream supports Starbucks they surely don’t appreciate Stephen Malkmus or Pavement, or vice versa. Our support for certain causes is awesome. But we also support many aspects of art and culture simply because we like them. Things we like are not better than things other people like. As John Leland explains in Hip, The History, “Hip is not genius, though it is often mistaken for such by people who ought to know better.” This idea is further recognized by Steve Sherman, in his column headlined “Fake Divide,” which shows just how ridiculous our platform can sometimes appear:
My grandpa Charlie is a rather fashionable dude, and I don’t think he knows it. Boot-cut Levi’s, tight cowboy shirt, mesh seed cap, aviator sunglasses, and a Carhartt jacket – you could spot that same ensemble donned by the hundreds at a Blonde Redhead show in hipster-infested Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
We are not better. It is not our interest in niche culture that gives hipsters a bad name, nor is it our underlying desire to halt deforestation and pollution; it is the pretentious attitude that we all too often adopt. It is the attitude exemplified by Jeff Daniels as Bernard Berkman in the following scene from Noah Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale:
Bernard Berkman: Ivan is fine but he’s not a serious guy, he’s a philistine.
Frank Berkman: What’s a philistine?
Bernard Berkman: It’s a guy who doesn’t care about books and interesting films and things.
Bernard Berkman: Your mother’s brother Ned is also a philistine.
Frank Berkman: Then I’m a philistine.
Bernard Berkman: No, you’re interested in books and things.
Just as I am justified in listening to Sufjan Stevens, my friend is justified in listening to Garth Brooks. Culture as concerned with art is meant to be enjoyed. If someone does not like the film The Science of Sleep but likes Mission Impossible 3, why wouldn’t they watch the one that will give them more pleasure? It is time we step down from our pedestal of hipster pompousness and start conforming to the ideals of an individual who is respected by all. We may carry on with our own interests and remain truly individual while simultaneously accepting the fact that mainstream culture also possesses some quality.
By shunning everything pop culture-produced, we are acting contradictory, or dare I say “hipstercritical,” to the very foundation of our way of life, that of complete open-mindedness. As hipsters we root for the underdog because we understand that the minority has just as much to say as the majority, and probably more. We know that those on a ramen noodles budget have an equally as interesting story to tell as those living off their papa’s Fortune 500 company. Yet by ostracizing all that is popular, by turning an elitist cold-shoulder towards “the crowd,” we are just as guilty of the very same crime: refusing to open our minds to those ideas that are distant from our own. The reality is that the American society is fueled by its social norms. We have lost a great deal of context with this reality both because we refuse to allow our ideas to develop beyond our own environment and because we fail to give an equal chance to those ideas of culture sitting above ground as to those nestled below.
I think we could all learn a lesson or two from Bill Murray, whether we sport cardigans as youth or not. As Dr. Peter Venkman, Bill Murray starred in two of the most popular movies of the 1980s, films now firmly rooted in mainstream America, Ghostbusters I and II. He also starred in a number of films both before and after Ghostbusters I and II that were highly praised by all that is the American majority, including Caddyshack, Groundhog Day, and Kingpin. However, as popular as Bill Murray may be with the conventional America, Bill Murray has also become a star and hero for independent films, playing Herman Blume in Rushmore, Raleigh St. Clair in The Royal Tenenbaums, Bob Harris in Lost in Translation, Steve Zizzou in The Life Aquatic, and Don Johnston in Broken Flowers. Bill Murray has managed to grasp what many of us have not: that it is okay to enjoy multiple sides of culture. Sadly, he has yet to grasp an Oscar.
Seinfeld, arguably television’s most popular sitcom, was hysterical. STYX? Well dude, say what you want, but they rock (Seriously. Go to their live show. You’ll be surprised.) The blockbuster hit The Day After Tomorrow may have presented some sub-par acting, but it was a theatrical ride. I love The Family Guy, but a show can’t get much shallower. I like Bright Eyes, but there’s no denying the genius behind the moniker is whiney as hell. I loved Broken Flowers and The Squid and the Whale, but what happened to the conclusions? My point is that there’s shit on both sides of the divide. But equally as important to notice is the fact that there are also some of our generation’s finest ideas both in the world of Pitchforkmedia.com and in the world of MTV.com.
To be truly indie, we need to quit lying to ourselves. We don’t like Wolf Eyes. We enjoy singing along to Fall Out Boy’s “Sugar, We’re Going Down.” We are extremely uncomfortable wearing such tight clothes. The guy wearing the loose fit American Eagle jeans looks comfortable. In no way am I suggesting that we denounce our passion for Harvey Pekar and American Splendor, The Fiery Furnaces or Donnie Darko, nor do I believe that mainstream culture has done nearly enough to hit a healthy balance between what is Tom Cruise and what is Jason Schwartzman. What I am suggesting is that we allow ourselves to step beyond the confines of hipsterdom, and acknowledge that those who don’t indulge in the hipster lifestyle may have a few redeeming values.
“Those who enjoy success in the struggle to be recognized as cool know that whatever strategy they use, it must consist in distancing themselves (in the appropriate way) from what is considered ‘mainstream society,’” explains Forrest Perry in his essay Why Hipsters Aren’t All That Hip. As a hipster who doesn’t follow what’s “cool,” I’m going to snuggle as close to the mainstream as I feel comfortable with.
Mötley Crüe and Jack Johnson still suck.