Hipsters: Chances are you know one. In fact, here at Yale, chances are you know many.
As a New Yorker — and as a white person — I’ve become familiar with the esoteric eccentricities and affectations of this peculiar class of cool-hunters during the twilight years of my adolescence. But even here at Yale, where most bear at least some small hipster attribute, I’m failing to see the appeal. Of course, that’s not to say that hipsters and I agree on nothing. I’m guilty of my own pretensions, my own esoteric tastes, and my own efforts at niche-carving individuality. Like you, hipsters, popular culture often leaves me wanting.
However, there are many aspects of the hipster lifestyle that bother me. First and foremost: obsession with the ironic. Some may appreciate the incongruity of an i-banker’s son sipping Pabst in a trucker hat and flannel shirt; I find the idea of declaring a degenerate working class identity, and then appropriating it in an effort to appear too cool to conform, a little offensive. The keffiyeh scarf was originally worn as a show of support for Palestinian refugees. Now, thanks to hipsters, it has become as meaningless as the V-neck.
The counter-culture movements of yesteryear have had their styles and perspectives amalgamated and mish-mashed into oblivion. Their once meaningful music has been overlaid onto techno beats and synth. Hipsters, don’t think I haven’t seen you at IHOP, laughing incredulously at non-organic, non-grass-fed sausage links and the ignorance of the normal people who eat there “for real.” And I, for one, am tired of my parents expecting me to refer wittily to obscure blog jargon with Juno-like skill.
But irony-worship is just one symptom of the disease that is hipster culture. The overarching pathology is a maniacal desire for “otherness.” Living in a digitized and hyper-connected culture where cool changes by the minute and the competition for legitimacy is harsher than ever, hipsters develop a desperate need for individuality and authenticity, and often seek it through deliberately esoteric tastes. Of course, this comes coupled with a sneering condescension for the mainstream. Rather than praising individuals for strength of character, the preeminent hipster virtue seems to be identification of the latest and coolest.
There now exists a need to define oneself through the works of others, to craft ones own identity as a composite of existing ideas and trends. Look no further than the extensive Books, Movies and Music lists on a Facebook profile to see the phenomenon in action. In our consumer culture, you are what you buy; you become your clothes, your iTunes library, your concert stubs. Hipsters strive to be distinctive by desperately pursuing the products that will “uniquely” define them, the ones that the rest of us have never heard of. It’s no surprise that many hipsters were raised in the model of uniformity: suburbia. However, paradoxically, those most fervently pursuing individuality prove followers of the most dependent kind. Hipsters are held at the whim of modern society, constantly following the banner of the New, pulled inexorably from trend to trend. Their supposedly “unique” identities are as insubstantial as their Made in Taiwan knockoff concert T-shirts.
Of course, I’m being unfair. Few hipsters are insufferable enough to partake in every one of these superficial pretensions. And the aforementioned refers more to the East Village genus of hipsters than Yale’s. Most semi-hipsters I’ve met here are intelligent, funny and humble people.
At Yale, a place where so many ideas are to be found, the esoteric ones must seem tempting. The alternative taste is often the most visible. It is for this reason that hipsterism seems so alluring to so many. But when it comes to culture, I take an “alternative” stand; I value the mainstream.
Give me the Rolling Stones over The Decemberists, Miles Davis over Of Montreal. I’ll take the tried-and-true over the uber-trendy any day. I believe there is a reason certain works of art and literature have found a lasting and meaningful place in our culture; they deserve it. The mainstream, well-known works of our society have resonated with us and have, thus far, proven their worth. The burden of proof now rests with the new, not with the old.
All I ask is, as our generation crafts its own cultural footprint, that we never ignore the contributions of those who have come before us, and of mainstream culture in general. Just because the many have enjoyed a band, painting, or book, does not mean that we should be elitist enough to disregard it. There is no fault in criticizing Buddy Holly and praising Sufjan Stevens, but let’s make sure we’re doing it for the right reasons.
There is much value to be found in the esoteric and cutting-edge, but without appreciation of the mainstream, we will soon encounter a cultural dead-end; a hipster’s paradise, but not my own.
Alex Klein is a freshman in Davenport College.