No one can agree what the word means, which might explain why everyone insists they’re not one.
Hipsters are everywhere these days—and so are the people who make fun of them. Websites like Unhappy Hipsters and Look at This Fucking Hipster attract hordes of finger-pointers, especially at guys like this, with crayons in his beard.
People love to make fun of hipster glasses, ridiculous facial hair, inappropriate hatwear, and other signs of being too cool for school and the rest of the planet. But why does hipster humour seem to be, according to my hipster-dar, more prolific than hipsters themselves? And how did making fun of hipsters become so hip?
It isn’t easy to define exactly what a hipster is, but that’s not from lack of trying. The Hipster Handbook diagnoses the afflicted as: “One who possesses tastes, social attitudes, and opinions deemed cool by the cool … The Hipster walks among the masses in daily life but is not a part of them and shuns or reduces to kitsch anything held dear by the mainstream. A Hipster ideally possesses no more than 2 percent body fat.” (My friend Eileen will like that last bit, since she believes that “white men under 5’8″, less than 160 pounds form the core of male hipsters.”) A recent Psychology Today piece excerpted Andrea Bartz and Brenna Ehrlich’s book Stuff Hipsters Hate, which defines a hipster as “A creative 20-something who defines him- or herself by a sighing superiority over mainstream society; appears to subsist entirely on pain and art.” Ouch. In an angst-soaked nutshell, today’s hipster is considered a pretentious, clueless jackass.
Though “hipster” and “hippy” now seems as dissimilar as a can of PBR and a bong, the words did start out as synonyms. The HDAS’s first use of “hippy” is from 1952, and it wasn’t until the sixties that the word took on its long-haired, psychedelic implications. On Seinfeld, Elaine called Kramer a “hipster doofus.” Other terms, such as “yuppie” and “grup” (a Star Trek-inspired term for adults who won’t grow up), have been modified as “yupster” and “grupster,” word-blends that wed hipsterdom to something equally awful.
Perhaps Jeff Wise said it best when he wrote on the Psychology Today blog, “Nobody likes hipsters, not even hipsters.” In discussing some consumer research, he notes that “people who legitimately enjoy all the trappings on hipsterhood … must psychologically distance themselves from the demographic group of which they are so clearly a part.” As Wise puts it: “This, then, is the essence of being a hipster. Pretending you aren’t one.”
Hipster-hating is the ultimate “He who smelt it, dealt it” situation. It’s a bit like homophobic politicians and religious leaders who inevitably are revealed to be gay as a picnic basket themselves. In other words, if you’re thinking and writing and worrying about hipsters, you’re a hipster.