Thursday, August 28, 2008

Hipsters and the End of Civilization

My friend Jenny introduced me to this fantastic article:

I realized that this is the type of stuff I'd love to write if given the chance, a sort of quasi-Gonzo journalism. I occasionally read something that reawakens my high school love of journalism (unfortunately squashed by ivy league pretentiousness).

About hipsters in general: I don't really buy the somewhat melodramatic statement that hipsters are somehow the "end of western civilization" and the "end of cool." What the article talks about is more or less the "scene" of hip-ness right now, which is one brand of hipster, but does not acknowledge the softer side, the part that swept, sans-irony, into the urban mainstream.

Perhaps I'm being a bit defensive. Many hipsters are self-denying about their hipster-ness in general, and get defensive if somebody insults them with the statement. This, I think, is where the journalist went wrong. He was overwhelmingly accusatory. But one has to wonder: why is the very word "hipster" insulting? Punks do not find their label insulting. Even bougie (my Louis's shortened form of bourgeois) hippies aren't necessarily insulted in the way hipsters are. I remember a day at Columbia, sitting on the lawn with several kids who, though probably not the hipsters described in the article, still had a bit of the "look" described in it. One girl pointed to a kid in a purple hoodie and an ironic mustache, giggling and motioning to the other that she found him attractive. The other girl smirked and made fun of him for being "such a hipster."

Ah, the irony, the self-denial! There's something fascinating in it. What used to be working-class is now adopted into the chic elite. Even Mary-Kate Olsen and the like are molding and being molded by the trends of Williamsburg, Brooklyn and the lower East side.

A few of my hometown non-Columbia friends are a little confused by the denomination "hipster." So here's a short list I've compiled of things that, though not exactly making you a hipster by default (coke use = drug addict, not hipster; PBR = poor construction worker OR hipster), are being cycled in the hipster "trend":

1. Pabst Blue Ribbon beer
2. Parliament cigarettes
3. coke (the drug, not the brand)
4. colorful, enormous ray ban sunglasses, or the cheap Walgreens variety
5. "ugly chic" a la American Apparel
6. messy do-it-yourself hairdos/cuts
7. extreme skinniness
8. irony of all shapes and sizes
9. skinny pants
10. Reeboks over said skinny pants
11. ironic mustaches/ironic facial hair in general
12. Buddy Holly-esque glasses (often non-prescription)
13. colorful hoodies
14. blogging

Yet there's another element of hipster-dom ignored by "Hipster: The Dead End of Western Civilization." The aforementioned 14 are more or less part of the "scene," yet numerous people who don't give a damn about artsy parties, irony, or ugly things in general are lumped into another category: indie. Indie culture sparked from independent music and film, from a complete disavowal of all things expensive, trendy, or cool. Indie clothing-- to me, anyway-- is simply pretty, and often inspired. Here's a list of things that define things as "indie":

1. vintage and secondhand clothing
2. clothing inspired by various decades long past, like the '20s, '40s, or '60s (or, if you're me, the women in Godard movies from the '60s and '70s)
3. indie music, especially baroque/chamber pop (
4. scarves and keffiyehs (worn non-ironically)
5. flats
6. Converse shoes (also a trend with the pop punk, punk, and emo movements)
7. bangs (guilty as charged)
8. overlapping patterns
9. Rivers-Cuomo-from-Weezer glasses (as opposed to the more scenester Buddy Holly variety mentioned above, these are simpler and quieter, neither yelling for attention nor making a "statement" of any sort)
10. nerd culture (comic books, video games, etc)
11. vegan/vegetarianism
12. social awareness (including an interest in politics)
13. obsession with organic and free-trade things, a la Trader Joe's or your local farmer's market
14. classic rock (this is why the neighborhood Wicker Park in Chicago, extremely "hip" and unfortunately gentrified, was described by a friend of mine as "where all the hipsters hang out to play acoustic guitar on their porches and listen to Bob Dylan."

I'm not sure if I'm alone in distinguishing these two breeds of hipster, but I'm more than confident that a delineation exists. Or maybe it's just to make myself feel less guilty about blogging profusely, being obsessed with my mom's old Soviet clothing, and digging the French New Wave.

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