#20 Hipsters!

judy garland hipster

At long last, the native species of the small liberal arts college and the invasive species of resistance scenes, including queer camp and black culture…the hipster! If camp was all about ironically flaunting the symbols of a hegemonic heterosexual society (and now also homonormative) in an attempt to tug at its seams, then hipsters have a different, arguably insidious relationship to the irony/sincerity binary, which we will unpack by putting these guys on the examination table, along with some other cultural figures against which the hipster silhouette comes into greatest contrast. As on Tuesday, we’ll do this by dividing up into groups and getting to know our social types one-on-one. You’ll all need to read these three short pieces: Mark Greif, “Positions,” from What as the hipster? (on Moodle); “Coolness” by Daniel Harris; and Christy Wampole, “How to Live without Irony.” And since he’s such an exemplary specimen for us already, everybody watch Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – Thriftstore.

Working in pairs, you’ll pick apart a persona from the short list below and read a short blog post or bit of online journalism, and watch a video or two to talk about with your partner in class.

Normcore – Kevin and Erica
READ: NY Mag – Normcore
The Normcore Manifesto by K-Hole, a mock target-marketing/trend forecasting group.
Zosha also found this piece on transcending normcore (replete with illustrative videos), which we suggest as a supplement to the required reading and viewing.
And this article converging normcore hipsters and Palin-style GOP’ers came out over the weekend on Salon; read it if you want to!
WATCH: Portlandia – Over
(see also “Vintage Clothing Store” below)
LOOK AT: NYT Normcore Fashion Slide Show

Basic Bitches – Katherine and Maddie
READ: NY Mag – The Basic Bitch: Who is She?
WATCH: Portlandia – Vintage Clothing Store
College Humor – How to Tell if You’re a Basic Bitch

The Sexist Hipster – Abby and Kyler
READ: NY Mag – The Age of Hipster Sexism
WATCH: Spike Jonze – Her trailer
Portlandia – Feminist Bookstore
Lena Dunham – Your First Time

The Quirky Hipster – Zosha and Luc
WATCH: Wes Anderson – Moonrise Kingdom trailer
Portlandia – Put a Bird on it

The Racist Hipster -Jonathan and Dan
READ: Jezebel – A Complete Guide to Hipster Racism
(You may also want to check out the Racalicious companion piece here.)
WATCH: Wes Anderson – The Darjeeling Limited trailer
Juno – Abortion Clinic clip
a little dated but worth the watch… Gwen Stefani – Hollaback Girl
especially alongside this past week’s potentially offensive and definitely unoriginal Avril Lavigne video, “Hello Kitty” (see here for critique).


Today we’re going to be talking about a more temporally current aesthetic and style than, perhaps, some of the other manifestations of bad taste we have discussed: the ironic, dirty, and all-too-familiar American hipster. The ‘hipster’ has become something of an abstract idea because of the variety of definitions and interpretations attached to it. Indeed, it is hard to pinpoint an archetypical hipster for two reasons. The first is that the hipster is a creature that evolves constantly. It changes to absorb the styles of societal rejects and slurp up the sludge of trends deemed too reproducible or too accessible for the mainstream. The second, quite bluntly, is that nobody will ever admit to being a hipster, so we can’t really wrestle one down to explain himself or herself.

That said, Mark Greif takes a stab at analyzing the hipster by providing three potential definitions of the word. We can use these definitions as a launching point for discussion and understanding of the ‘hipster affliction’ as a whole:

Definition 1:
The appropriative hipster, who can be seen in her natural habitat bedecked in what she so proclaims as an “authentic Indian war bonnet!!!!” or “super hot bindi.” To her, Coachella is a religious experience. She engages in “humanitarian tourism,” although (low-key) this is done primarily in the interest of procuring photos of her posing with brown children, so as to provide fodder for her Instagram profile.

She is countered with the male appropriative hipster, who enjoys “trucker hats; undershirts called ‘wifebeaters’ worn as outerwear; the aesthetic of basement rec-room pornography, flash-lit Polaroids, fake wood paneling…” The male appropriative hipster is a parody of the low-class, the urban, and the dirty. He festishizes “…the violence, instinctiveness, and rebelliousness of lower-middle-class suburban or country whites.” See: “The White Negro”.

They both appropriate cultures that have been chewed up and spat out by America as she became industrialized and colonially dominated her surroundings.

Definition 2:
“That which belongs to hipster culture.” Greif contextualizes this in the realm of media and the arts, with the most common thread revolves around art that represents the tensions between “knowingness and naïevete, adulthood and a child-centered world- but with a radical or vertiginous alternation between the two.” Think The Royal Tenenbaums, the popularization of the nymphet aesthetic (we see you, Lana Del Rey*). This hipster most represents the trustafarian; the club kid; the comic book collection (paired with the cocaine habit). Hipster juxtaposition resulting from personal privilege and the embrace of a “low” aesthetic. Also see: camp, kitsch, context, adults in footie pajamas holding 40s, teen girl culture as curated by Tavi Gevinson/Rookie

*No disrespect to Lana Del Rey. Born To Die is an incredible album. – Luc

Definition 3:
The hipster as the ‘educated’ consumer. A self-appointed arbiter of taste. A hipster with a conscience of radical chic issues and altruism, if you will. “The hipster is the cultural figure of the person, very possibly, who now understands consumer purchases within the familiar categories of mass consumption (but still restricted from others)- like the right vintage T-shirt, the right jeans, the right foods for that matter- to be a form of art.” This is the curated hipster, the one focused on created the most structured persona through intellectual pursuits, juice cleanses (I feel so DETOXED!) and bespoke-vintage-woven-by-elves items of clothing. This is the hipster who, if you ripped out their intestines through their raw denim jeans, they would be lined with American Spirit butts (sorry, Anastasia) and artisanal bacon. A brief dissection of the cerebellum would reveal an affinity for Catcher in the Rye and Daniel Clowes. This is your classic Williamsburg hipster, who experiences a nostalgia for their rural, antiquated childhood they never had.

Across the board, hipsterdom can be seen as a manifestation of discontent with the status quo: consumerism is evil; television is brainwashing the masses; KWOC (just kidding**); Apple turns us in to robots (but you own an iPhone anyway). At the core of hipsterdom, according to Christy Wampole, lies a fear of risk and vulnerability. It’s much too revealing to be genuine in today’s society––such is the thinking behind what we can call the ‘irony epidemic.’

**Not really kidding.

“Irony is the most self- defensive mode, as it allows a person to dodge responsibility for his or her choices, aesthetic and otherwise. To live ironically is to hide in public. It is flagrantly indirect, a form of subterfuge, which means etymologically to “secretly flee” (subter + fuge). Somehow, directness has become unbearable to us.” (Wampole 2)

This indirectness, or concerted effort to appear detached and disconnected from emotion, can be traced back to quintessential aspects of “coolness,” as defined by Daniel Harris. Coolness (and hipsterdom, which Harris also discusses) highlights an acceptance of the “ugly,” decayed, or perverse: “Cool people actively deride conventional notions of physical beauty, associating wholesome, rosy-cheeked good looks with conformity and devoting themselves instead to the cult of the grotesque––which forms a key part of their attack on the go-getting student-council presidents and smugly virtuous teachers’ pets” (Harris 46).

Perhaps a definition––however broad––can be gleaned from all of this. Hipsters are those who feel (in one of any number of ways) wronged by the mainstream. The status quo, to the hipster, is too fake; too beautiful; too corrupt; too oppressive. Their aesthetic is one of conspicuous difference, and their modus operandi is irony.


One thought on “#20 Hipsters!

  1. Despite my general agreement with criticism of hipsters, I found myself frustrated with Wampole’s article. Unlike some of the more salient critiques that we have read for past classes and for this week (including the n+1 article and the Harris article), it seemed to recycled the tired argument that millennials are defensive, apathetic, and useless without offering any depth or reasoning aside from “life in an Internet age.” Although we may be frustrated with hipsters as well as the behavior of hiding behind irony that even non-hipsters are guilty of, is it possible that certain aspects of present day society have contributed to the blase affect of today’s youth? In other words, is there every any justification for defensive irony?

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