In Defense of Hipsters

In Defense of Hipsters March 7, 2013

A few years ago, I needed a new pair of eyeglasses. I had heard about this company that makes designer lenses at an affordable price, and I decided to check them out. I loved what I found and ordered the Coltons. Customers at the coffeehouse where I work regularly ask me if my glasses are “real” because apparently they’re hipster. Yes, they are real, and no, I’m not offended. I’d like to tell you why I take no offense but before I do, let’s review what it is about the hipster image that evokes such questioning.

Back in November, this article was published at The New York Times detailing the lives of hipsters as sadly ironic. I didn’t see Christy Wampole’s view as an entirely right perspective of the hipster way of life. It didn’t seem fair, complete, or kind in thought. To quote part of Wampole’s argument:

“The hipster haunts every city street and university town. Manifesting a nostalgia for times he never lived himself, this contemporary urban harlequin appropriates outmoded fashions (the mustache, the tiny shorts), mechanisms (fixed-gear bicycles, portable record players) and hobbies (home brewing, playing trombone). He harvests awkwardness and self-consciousness. Before he makes any choice, he has proceeded through several stages of self-scrutiny. The hipster is a scholar of social forms, a student of cool. He studies relentlessly, foraging for what has yet to be found by the mainstream. He is a walking citation; his clothes refer to much more than themselves. He tries to negotiate the age-old problem of individuality, not with concepts, but with material things.”

Toward the end of the article, Wampole admits to her own distaste for hipsters. And then this article by Jonathan Fitzgerald served as response to Wampole. Here’s a bit of Fitzgerald’s take:

“All across the pop culture spectrum, the emphasis on sincerity and authenticity that has arisen has made it un-ironically cool to care about spirituality, family, neighbors, the environment, and the country. And pollsters find this same trend in the up-and-coming generation from which Wampole culls her hipsters, Millennials. A recent Knights of Columbus-Marist Poll survey found that among Millennials, six out of 10 prioritized being close to God and having a good family life above anything else. For those in Generation X, family was still important, but the second priority was not spirituality—it was making a lot of money. Clearly, a change has been underway.”

Both Fitgerald and Wampole are aiming to help so-called non-hipsters understand hipsters. Wampole thinks they are ironic. Fitzgerald thinks they’re sincere. The conversation has continued, and since everyone loves to talk about and poke fun at hipsters, here’s a video highlighting a “cure” for this state of being:

I must admit, when I first saw this video I laughed at its definition: If someone is experiencing symptoms of irony, wearing v-necks and skinny jeans, then that person may be suffering from what the commercial dubs hyper-involuntary-panic-stress-tension-elevation-response, also known as hipster. The hipster is a scarf-wearing, blogging, fair-trade buying 20-something who likes to ride fixed-gear bikes and drink PBR. Hipsters are many things, but they are not real people.

Have no fear, though, the medicine from the commercial can help you become a real person again. Whatever the preferred flavor—PBR, Nappy Light, or soy—Unpretentiousil is the cure for hipster.

I laugh because I’m the type of person this video is about. If you take one look at me, you’d call me a hipster, no doubt. I wear thick-rimmed glasses, and my nose is pierced. I like to shop at Whole Foods when the budget lets me, and I love getting local produce from the farmer’s market on the weekends. 

Nowadays, it’s hip to buy organic and it’s hip to buy fair-trade. The video for Unpretentiousil makes hipsters out to be less-than real people, somehow not living as individuals. A hipster’s own attempt at looking like an individual somehow causes a chain reaction where everyone else who is a hipster looks and acts the same way.

But if it’s “hip” to listen to Arcade Fire and ride a fixed-gear bike, does that make it wrong? Must we be so cynical of everything? I’m wearing my Bob Dylan tee today not because it’s cool but because Dylan is my favorite musician and I felt like wearing this shirt.

The foods that we eat, the clothes that we wear, and the hobbies that we keep all say something about us as individuals. As Christians, these things are best seen as good gifts from God, ways that he enables us to enjoy life and his creation. The so-called hipster way of life may, from the outside, look like a group of mirror-images. Ironic or sincere, the hipster you are thinking of right now is still an individual created in God’s image, and we should be wary of judging anyone too harshly.

Yes, I’m a scarf-wearing, vinyl-buying, vegan-eating woman. And I don’t mind being called a hipster one bit.

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