by Gerry Mak in New Trends on Thursday 23 July 2009

From the various responses I got from my previous post about hipster hate being misguided, most people defined a hipster as people who are very young (let’s say below 25), live off of their parents, and don’t contribute to the scene they glom onto. The problem I have with this is that in my personal experience, this is not how most people define hipsters.

Vice Magazine is usually derided as being a magazine made for and by obnoxious, overly irreverent hipsters, yet one cannot deny that they embody a certain scene altogether, and indeed contribute to the contemporary cultural landscape via their record label, their promotion of certain artists, and their video blogs covering everything from the Beijing rock scene and heavy metal in Iraq to sex tourism in Japan and the gigantic island of discarded plastic floating in the Pacific.

Indeed, Vice darlings Terry Richardson and the recently deceased Dash Snow are seen as the epitome of hipsterdom, yet Richardson is well into his 40s and both he and Snow are/were prolific photographers that most certainly were capable of paying their own rents in addition to supporting their massive drug habits. Many of the prolific artists in Baltimore, where I am, would be described as hipsters, regardless of how well they support themselves or the earnestness of their art, merely because they have mullets and child-molester glasses.

Still others who responded to my post suggested that irony was integral to the definition of a hipster, yet hip-hop kids today wear non-prescription nerd glasses, punks in the 70s wore torn school uniforms and swastikas, and peace-loving hippies before them wore army jackets, all as a sort of ironic inversion of what those cultural signifiers originally meant. When Kurt Cobain began the song Territorial Pissings with a line from The Youngbloods’ Get Together, he did it sarcastically.

A tattoo of Elmo may be retarded and intended as ironic, but had Sid Vicious grown up with Sesame Street, he too may well have gotten a similar image etched into his skin. That today’s 20- and 30-somethings have grown up more saturated with self-referential pop culture than any generation before is not their fault, and the sentiment behind a silly mustache may not be too far off from David Bowie wearing women’s boots, even if it is less classy.

Finally, I should qualify what I meant when I said that hatred towards hipsters was dangerously close to hatred towards immigrants – I didn’t mean to equate the two in terms of racial bigotry, but in both cases, people draw a line between who they consider insiders and who they consider outsiders. This line depends on a lot of stereotypes, generalizations, and assumptions that while not as virulent as ethnic hatred, are still on the same spectrum of reactionary prejudice.