by Gerry Mak in New Trends on Monday 13 July 2009

I’m sick of people deriding hipsters. It seems to me, the people most vehemently anti-hipster doth protest too much. What exactly makes us so uneasy about everything the term ‘hipster’ embodies? Many people will spout off some drivel about class, gentrification, and such. But at best, most of these explanations seem like after-the-fact, cobbled-together excuses to maintain an irrational prejudice.

Everyone who lives in and loves Oakland, Williamsburg, Wicker Park, South Philly, or even uptown Minneapolis would like to claim it as their own — that their neighborhoods are so desirable makes them feel threatened by a constant influx of young people mostly of the creative class. I understand the resentment towards people who seem superficial, people who come en masse and change the culture of a place, but the term hipster itself — a term with an ephemeral definition at best — seems dangerously close to slurs thrown at immigrants. It assumes that one culture is authentic and one is not, a line of thinking not too far off from far-right groups that believe in a “real America.”

The commonly understood narrative of gentrification is that a cheap neighborhood populated mainly by working class and underprivileged people attracts artists and musicians looking for low rents. Their presence makes the area more palatable for more affluent people, who then begin moving in and inviting certain types of businesses, jacking up rents, and eventually the initial residents are priced out. A lot of hatred then is directed at those original artists and musicians that moved in. They are hipsters, the vanguard of an invading force. Yet this hatred is misguided.

Firstly, one of the reasons why affluent people are competing for these spaces is that across America, people are finding it easier and more economical to live in the city rather than move out to the suburbs once they reach a certain station in life. The LES was cool and cheap in the 80s and early ’90s because the investment bankers all aspired to move to the burbs. These days, the bankers that still have jobs are happy to stay in Manhattan. Secondly, where would those creative types looking for cheap rent go if they didn’t go where the rent is cheap?

My answer to the last question is to move to a smaller city, where the affluent, the creative, and the working classes are not yet fighting so intensely over their tiny territories, where people don’t necessarily hate you merely for wearing skinny jeans or big glasses, and where one can make music and art without the constant fear that doing so makes one a hipster.