Today's Obsession: Death to the Hipster

Here’s a rear-view look at an article from New York magazine, dissecting and decrying hipster culture, from its inception in the late ’90s to the current sort of hollowed-out irrelevant version. Author Mark Greif makes an interesting primary analogy between a visual symbol and its meaning throughout his piece, making an apt, if rather unnamed, thesis: that the current hipsterism is primarily a symbolic culture, but not an actuality. It’s based on creating one’s identity from a cultural fiction (men with pedophile mustaches, women with Sally Jesse Raphael glasses), thus creating a visual camouflage—hiding the source of their exclusive knowledge, making them more aloof and untouchable.

He points out flaws of the American version of the subculture which have always been most troubling to me: its casual racism, sexism, and classism. I remember a palpable anger when I first started seeing city kids wearing trucker caps with ironic redneck-isms scrawled across the fronts in the early naughties, because I grew up in upper east Tennessee, among the very rednecks these kids were poking fun at. Frankly there’s something distasteful in seeing a college-educated kid who chooses to devolve himself to a dirty, dentistry-free version of himself while there are entire societies of people in the U.S. who simply must live that way. It smacks of self-entitlement and disingenuousness, and a complete inability to see the scorn and closed-mindedness required in making such a choice.

The thing that troubles me most about it: it passes, popularly, as “critical culture,” a culture which looks into the uncomfortable portions of American consumerism. But, the thing is, it doesn’t actually look into the culture. It just takes its symbols and puts on its skin. Unfortunately, a wolf in sheep’s skin is still a wolf.

9 thoughts on “Today's Obsession: Death to the Hipster

  1. Sam L

    I think this kind of empty, slogan ridden generation is the natural outcome of societies that wish to have all the positive imagery associated with “freedom, liberality and expression” without actually allowing it. Theres is no society where people can act as they will, in our ‘western’ societies our slavery is to money. The people who have money run the system, and when they realised over a period of 40 years that rebellion, anger and youth disillusion put no money into their pockets they decided to get in on the action and rebrand their overt capitalism as an amalgamation of all the most principled, disinterested ideals of previous “subcultures”; the vegan, environmentally/nature conscious ‘hippy’, the anti-capitalist underclass sympathy of punk. It has been the most successful blend of Marketing, PR and branding ever seen in our societies.
    The sins of the youth of today are simply falling for it all, and allowing themselves to become the embodiment of the hypocrisy described in the article, slogans without the principles behind them, image without substance, acceptance without action.

  2. Patric King Post author

    You act like everyone has to fit into some archetypal model.

    not true. in saying that, i’m following up on the original commenter’s argument, which specifically breaks out the trucker example as an archetype. i never did in the original article.

  3. Ben S.

    I’ve read several articles on “hipsterdom” now, and I agree with the first response. People are taking this way too seriously and trying to make it into something it isn’t. Hipsterdom is not a movement. This seems like a huge misunderstanding.
    Groups of people, that have nothing in common, are being lumped together under the label, “hipster.” This just feels like an attempt to define a generation that is no longer interested in labels. You make this clear when you say things such as, “maybe a redneck trucker is an asshole, but at least he’s being who he is—not styling himself to be something more real by borrowing someone else’s look.” You act like everyone has to fit into some archetypal model.
    These analyses of “hipsterdom” are rediculous. They assume too much, generalize, and are hyper critical of some minor naivete among young people. Aren’t “hipsters” just young people acting their age?

  4. Patrick Holt

    If rebellion is a constant in youth culture, then I think the apparent inauthenticity of what we’re calling hipsterism may be a natural result of youth rebelling against a dominant culture that is almost equally inauthentic (or at least seems that way the youth in question). Ironic distance may be a way of avoiding confrontation with the idea that one’s culture has nothing of substance or worth to honestly embrace OR honestly resist.  I also wonder, however, if it’s an expression of embarassment, a way of doing something you truly like (say, getting a mullet haircut) but acting like you don’t like it because you’ve been told it’s undesireable. Maybe this is a culture that allows one’s true self to be revealed only under the guise of irony.  Either way, it sounds exhausting.
    As interested as I am in articles like the one in New York Magazine, I wish someone (lots of people, actually) would do a real, scholarly ethnography of hipsters.

  5. Patric King Post author

    yes, he is styling himself. but he and his group of trucker pals are not reliably and without fail adapting a style from another group who’s perceived as “undesirable” to add to his social cachet like hipsters are.
    there is no such thing as a twenty-soemthing scenester trucker. period.

  6. nickname

    OK but the trucker IS styling himself. He is making a deliberate fashion choice whether he wants to admit it or not. He IS conscious of how others perceive him and makes his style based on that. He shouldn’t be exempted from that. Imagine the reaction he gets if he wears a fedora to the truck stop. 
    I think I have an existential problem with the idea of fashion being authentic or not. It’s clothes and accessories – to me it’s all superficial. The hipsters are young and single and basically trying to get laid like everyone else. If they were actually doing something original I think people would still be ragging on them and probably worse than this. 
    I guess I’m on the backlash to the backlash side. A budding 20-something trucker could be as much about the scene as anyone. And he’s wearing the same shit as his peers and his predecessors.

  7. Patric King Post author

    my point is i don’t think anyone is doing anything interesting; it’s people making themselves seem more authentic by putting on someone else’s authenticity.
    maybe a redneck trucker is an asshole, but at least he’s being who he is—not styling himself to be something more real by borrowing someone else’s look.

  8. nickname

    Methinks you’re taking hipster culture way too seriously. I’d like to know who out there you think is even TRYING to do something interesting…
    And seriously, the “real” truckers send plenty of hate the other direction. They are not innocent. Cultural resentment and hostility is out of control in this country and “real America” is wallowing in it. 
    This is now a country in which every other car is grey or some shade of it. Yes, superficial hipsters can be annoying but so is belligerent conformity.