Shaffer: Much ado about hipsters

On Truth and Lies

I have a love-hate relationship with hipsters. I love them, and they hate me.

Hipsters are the cultural phenomenon of our time. Everybody talks about them, but nobody understands them. Remember when you heard your parents were young adults in the 60s and 70s, and you asked them if they were hippies? Remember how you cried and began an Oedipal struggle when one of them confessed to being a square? I sure did. That’s because hippies were that generation, nobody else mattered. What revolutionaries were to the 1770s, communist dictators to the 1950s and hippies to the 1960s, hipsters are to our era.

You’re either with them or you’re on the wrong side of history.

But the emergence of the hipster raises serious and troubling questions. Such as, how do they intend to fulfill their science and QR credits? Shall we permit them to marry? Where did they get those funky socks? And can I become a hipster too?

Allow me to answer: Hipsters have ways around these things. Hipsters aren’t interested. Borrowed from the guy on the third floor. No. If you have to ask, you can’t. One doesn’t “become” a hipster. Hipsters are born, not made. The rest of us are destined for eternal cluelessness. You should already know where you belong from your too thick thighs, your talents for quantitative reasoning, their looks of infinite derision.

I know this stuff. I’ve been infatuated with hipsters ever since I discovered them. Through middle and high school I was at the very bottom of the social hierarchy, sensitive “late bloomer” and devout classical pianist that I was. I fantasized of going to Yale and becoming a nerd king. But I found a new hierarchy here, one that was dominated by a smoking, thick-framed literati — and they informed me that I was still at the bottom.

It hurts, the silence that meets my greetings, the ostentatious feigned distraction whenever I or another unhipster speaks in section. But I fell in love. Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac, and so hipsters are hotter than Henry Kissinger.

They unilaterally determine the width of ties, the kinds of shoes, the structures of glasses and the books to be seen reading, for the season. More subtle, but as real, is their control over intellectual trends, over our national discourse. In section, even on those days when hipsters don’t talk, we all say what they want to hear. We daren’t offend them.

Hipsters control the language; hipsters control our minds.

I tried to become one. The idea was to dress as a hipster for Halloween. Who but a hipster would ironically go as a hipster? But somehow, they knew I wasn’t one of them. My socks were mismatched — one yellow argyle, the other purple with white polka dots — but were they not funky enough? I made sure to not-smile, but did I not not-smile enough?

Though I failed, and my heart broke, I emerged with hipster expertise. Kindly allow me to answer some of your frequently asked hipster questions.

How did their hipster legs get so skinny? Hipsters have been planning their rise for years. While you were playing pee-wee soccer with other suburban losers, unaware that someday your normally developed legs would fit into skinny jeans, hipsters were smoking and walking to the Guggenheim, burning fat without building muscle.

Do hipsters have gender? No. Hipsters transcend gender. Some have male facial features and female runway model figures. Also, as you would know if you had basic literary theory, gender is just a text. Hipsters are not text. Lastly, hipsters do not reveal their hipster names to unhipsters, so refer to a hipster in the third person as “it.”

Hipsters puff and puff away at hipster cigarettes — are they worried about cancer? No. Hipsters are too cool for cancer. When cancer approaches the hipster, the hipster simply glares, and cancer submissively crosses the street and pretends not to have seen the hipster, just like you do. Death simply does not cross the hipster mind. The hipster has weightier, tormenting questions of literary theory to occupy it. Plus, cancer is just a text.

Is hipster domination of lit seminars total? Yes. Once I saw a girl clad in Harris Tweed in Kafka — a fellow stodge, I thought. As I drew closer to her, I noticed her luminous spandex tights and homemade shoes. Hipsters are tricky like that.

Hipsters are so mean to me I cry every night — what should I do? Just remember, it’s not your fault you’re a unhipster and a loser. You were born that way. Join with me.

Here’s the plan: I want to start a new cultural house, the Unhipster Center, where we can be free from hipsters’ disdainful glances, where we can voice our own naive interpretations of literature, where we needn’t feel self-conscious about our normal legs and typical socks. UHC, as it shall be known, shall be a haven from the violence of the new patriarchy. And how about a new department in which texts such as Sports Illustrated, Atlas Shrugged and Stephen King will be given their due consideration? President Levin, can you provide? Charlie Jaeger lead the campaign?

As we now part ways with hipsters, I confess I have one small regret.

God, I will miss those funky socks.

Matthew Shaffer is a senior in Davenport College.


  • I love them

    hipsters are so freaking amazing.

  • lmc

    how clever. not really. that was sarcasm.

    this is a disappointing piece of writing. amounts to “wow, they’re weird.” lazy in its stereotyping, facile in its bias.

    might have been more interesting five years ago. also sarcasm.

  • captkirk

    Hipsterdom was the trend of the 2000s, and with the end of the decade it is coming to a close. It prominently featured ironic references to the 1980s, following the trend of celebrating the decade twenty years ago (think how the 70’s were popular in fashion and cultural references in the 90’s).
    Thus, a new movement will emerge this decade that will reference the 1990s, and hipsterdom as we know it shall cease to exist.

  • Not to worry

    Hipsters are just a type of pathetic loser, and you shouldn’t take them so seriously. It’s possible that one in 10,000 will write a book or do something that makes them truly influential. But most will end up as barristas in some left-wing intolerant Chelsea coffeeshop. They’ll be way bitter because the world never rewarded them for being cool and shallow.

    The Yalies who will be important — even in the Arts — are people who are much too busy and thoughtful for this crap.

    Buck up.

  • hipster girl

    one word: uniclo

  • yalehipster10

    what are homemade shoes??

  • y12

    oh. ironic. clever…

  • haha

    hipsters, or as I like to call them, “phonies”

  • Yale 10

    Hipsters really do have frightening power. Most bonesmen this year and several of the Spade and Grave people are hipsters. They are truly the new patriarchy. And yes, hipsters are extremlyu, extremly mean to non-hipsters.

  • @#5

    I have definitely seen hipsters with homemade shoes. There seem to be two kinds of hipster, the class-with-a-twist hipsters, i.e. those who mix designer clothes, fancy shoes etc. with an alternative twist, and just weird grungy hipster. the latter variety tends to wear a lot of the homemade shoes.

  • read norman mailer

    hipsters have been around since at least the forties; all you need are privileged kids who resent their upbringings.

    anyways, this was boring. funky socks?

  • um


  • Y10

    Badly written article. But what is Spade and Grave and why are we supposed to care about it? And none of the tombed societies mean anything in the real world anymore, do they?

  • @Y10

    Somebody didn’t get tapped…

  • Y-13

    This was SO funny! I really liked the joke about the socks, and the other joke about the socks, and the OTHER joke about the socks… (Maybe this article should have been aimed at sock enthusiasts?)

    *Also, there were a couple of typos: “it’s not you’re fault if you’re a unhipster…” (Can you spot ’em???)

    I think this had the potential to be an interesting, maybe even insightful article, because I think the general (nonverbal) “sense” that might have motivated the writing of this piece–the feeling that there is a large, pretentious group of glaring, bespectacled, post-ironic pseudo-fashionistas, who wield a moderate amount of social influence within the Yale “bubble”–is something to which a lot of students can relate. However, by trying to make a joke instead of a point (whenever it gets a little difficult to articulate), the author just dances around the subject and wastes everyone’s time.

    Critical much? Sure, but come on. Edit s[p]it before you publish it.

  • Y’11

    I’ve never heard of Spade and Grave…

  • @14

    Erm, no, I didn’t. Might have been something to do with being on a semester abroad in China at the time. Does that make me sub-human? Is it going to blight my career for life? OH NOES!

  • hipster

    I’m not a hipster.

  • @#!15

    I would agree that the copy-editors need to step up their act.

  • Bulldog bulldog

    I find some of these comments curious. People were passing it around my table at lunch and on facebook and thought it was funny. It seems many of the comments come from one or two insecure hipsters who feel deeply wounded by a humor piece. And dumb trolls not even at Yale who don’t get the jokes.

  • Dport rep


    I thought this was spectacularly funny. Please keep it up. Lighten up the editorial page for the rest of us no matter how many others don’t get your irony.

  • hipster

    this critiqe of hipsters is neither well-written nor interesting.

  • Hipster Truther

    Matt Shaffer is a self-hating hipster.

  • Bro

    Really excellent article. Hipsters are annoying and should be called out for this!

  • BR ’10

    I have the hiccups now.

  • the uninitiated

    how many straight guy hipsters are there? as a percentage?

  • pc

    which bonesmen are hipsters? i can’t think of any…

  • yalehispter10

    the girl mentioned with the homemade shoes, for one…

  • rekkette

    Hipsters represent the ability to care about nothing but their self-image. We’ll call them narcissistic nihilists, it fits better.

  • cvb

    So this is about two years late
    (re: Adbusters July 2008)

  • Dee

    Hipsters have been around forever, impacting every generation. There’s always the in and out crowds, it’s really restrictive, boring, and a waste of time to even give it a second thought. Hopefully, everyone outgrows their own insecurities and feels comfortable in their own skin.

  • Yo

    And the point of this column is …?

  • asfsd

    this series of comments is infinitely more intriguing, and humorous, than the article that inspired them. also, i have no idea why this author has fixated on funky socks. funky socks not a thing, really.

  • Zach

    I couldn’t think of a name as clever as hipster so I opted for the one my parents gave me.

    I think those that are most upset by this article are probably insecure themselves with their standing within the hipster community. By combatting this light-hearted article, you’re knee jerk, defensive nature has taken offense to something that I think was intended as playful banter.

  • T

    Hipsters are not a new phenomenon, nor a new word. Recall ‘angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night’ (Ginsberg’s Howl, published in 1956). Many people like to refer to the ‘youth counter-culture’ of the fifties as the ‘beatniks,’ but this was more a derogatory word than anything, coined by literary critics referring to a very specific group writers who had, at best, circumstantial affiliation with the ‘generation’ of hipsters in the fifties’. . .

    And then obviously, the word hippie has its root.

    Go back further and people were using the word ‘dandy.’ See:–MGZqatAOR5OyhDw .

    Hipsters, like ‘hippies’ before, and ‘beatniks’ before them, and Parisian ‘Dandy’s’ before them, is not specific to an age but a natural component of a hyper-affluent society. It represents a class of the young who’re drawn to a lifestyle of recreation, who have taste in fashion and art, and who ‘counter’ the more dominant mode of lifestyle — that of having a car, having children, having a mortgage etc etc. That’s at its best. At its worst, ‘hipster’ as a designation is a nefarious term assigned by people to define a cultural Other with which they see themselves differing, a point of contrast to assist the low self-esteemed: “Well, at least I’m not *that*.’ Living in the so-called hipster capital of the world (Portland OR), I guarantee you that more people here, as it is anywhere else, ‘hate hipsters’ more than there are ‘hipsters’ to hate.

    Please stop talking about ‘hipsters.’ Counter-culture is not new, nor are the hipsters. It’s not only boring to write more than fifty words on the subject, its sophomoric.

    Have fun with your ‘unhip’ institute, or whatever it is you call it.

  • This is sooooo confusing

    I thought being a hipster was all about irony, and yet, none of the hipsters here can get it…

    did #35 really think the author was serious about the unhipster center?

    does anybody think the writer was seriously perturbed by hipsters’ glances?

    I just… I have trouble believing.

    Then again, maybe all of these comments are a form of double-irony and i’ve been taken in by it…

  • me

    I thought it was funny. Screw everyone else.

  • Quadruple-Irony

    I’m a hipster, and I love this article because I think it sucks.

  • @soo confusing

    i totally agree! this entire article is a joke, stereotyping the group of “counter-cultural” (yeah right) “more intellectually-and-artistically-engaged than you”, cigarette-smoking, beret-wearing, angst-projecting kids on yale’s campus. whether we call them hipsters or not, they’re a presence, and this article is funny because they are a presence.

    i wonder if some people honestly dont know this is a joke?!

  • Q

    Gotta say, I enjoyed this. Snappy writing; keep it up.

  • shaffer 4 prez

    clever writing, as always.

  • the Colonel

    Wow…what a pathetic article.

    Why not make your own social space instead of publicly commenting on someone else’s? I guarantee you that the people you are discussing here are not obsessing over you the way that you obsess over them.

    Also, nice timely article. Did you write this in 2004 and just sit on it? Ughhh college kids.

  • Chase Olivarius-McAllister

    lovely column.

  • lance link

    it’s ironic becuz hipsters don’t get jokes.

  • Someone

    This is all made up, isn’t it?

  • antwan

    lol @ you wanted to start a “member’s only” club..

    how HIP of you.


  • shay

    haha this is pretty funny. finally the ways of the hipster are brought to light

  • I don’t even go to Yale…

    I thought this article was hilariously awesome. Much better than any of the crap they put in my school paper. Great Job!

  • TC ’11

    This was simply hilarious. Thanks for the laughs.

  • notta

    hipsters are all about two things, putting up a front and chasing hype to the point where they get into all the cool secret things and pry them open for their boring hipster friends. if you’re not one of those two things, and you happen to have good fashion sense and like old things, you’re not a hipster, you’re just an interesting person.

  • Y09

    They’ve taken over.

  • Lea ’10

    I liked this. Perhaps students could recognize that there are actually more “hipsters” on campus than meets the eye. It’s not just the skinnyjeans/boho-dressed/homemade-looking who pretend not to recognize you, who consume alcohol/drugs to excess, who have passions for art or writing, who come off as elitist or uncaring.

    Hipsters have merely become icons upon which to summarize and project our own indulgences and self-hatred. That’s not to say hipster individuals don’t exist, but there’s quite a bit of hipster in a lot of us here. And that’s why Shaffer’s Halloween attempt at inclusion seems to speak from a truthful place: although we all ought to feel connected to, and critical of, each other for these similarities, we instead refrain from these discussions about ourselves, and push our discontents onto stereotypes. Feeling alienated and choosing alienation often come hand-in-hand…and I say that in reference to both “hipsters” and “non-hipsters” out there.

    We are premising our alienation on hipsters, who are themselves premised on alienation from the mainstream…where does it end?

  • norman mailer

    the difference between hipsters and non-hipsters:

    hipsters do not recognize their existence as such.

    non-hipsters make the distinction.

    also, spade and grave is a BEAUTIFUL (people) society.

  • amused

    I really enjoyed this! I love when articles/columns make me laugh out loud.
    I think it was well written and humorous, great job!

  • birn


  • Eeesh

    I think if the comment section of this article has shown anything, it’s that Yale is filled with self righteous “hipster types” who salivate at any opportunity to tear down another individual. The fact that grammar is being looked at in such a tedious manner shows that the general argument is strong, and people are grasping at straws in order to combat it. By the way, if anyone really thinks that being a “hipster” is a dead life style, please move to Williamsburg Brooklyn and get a real education.

  • M

    Most of the hipsters seem to have graduated from my university this year…hope?

  • bluebela

    Re: the stupid Friday song on youtube: thank goodness that we have Kurt and Sam for all our youtube needs. They are the antidote to this kind of crap.