The hipster revolution
Punk. Goth. Hippie. It appears as if every decade in the 20th century was characterized by a defining trait of some sort. The 1920s had the flappers, the 1960s had the mods, and the 1980s paved the way for electropop and psychedelia, which faded into the background when the 1990s arrived and grunge declared its advent. The list simply goes on. By the arrival of the year 2000, however, the world experienced a temporary setback to the point where it appeared as if things could simply coexist independently of one another.
Then came the hipsters.
They started small, as most subcultures are bound to do, quite similar to the workings of a foreign disease. No one really knows how the hipster fad began until it was already there. But what is a hipster, really?
In the 1940s, hipsters were classified as such for their broad-minded, slightly offbeat attitude toward prevailing social norms, with the intent of finding substance in things. Their movement thrived particularly in the lower-class areas and in the small circles of jazz enthusiasts. It was created in opposition to the “squares,” who represented the seemingly artificial, picket-fenced suburban generation back in the day. Looking back, being called a hipster was hardly a negative thing, so how come merely being associated with the word is looked upon with so much disdain today?
The most logical answer would be that the times have indeed changed. Although humans have not lost their knack for trying to make sense of things perceived as new or unfamiliar by giving them names, the terminology has evolved so significantly over the years that much of its original meaning has been lost. Thus, the question changes: In the modern-day sense, what is the definition of a hipster? What is more important, however, is this: What is it about the label that makes people react the way they do?
Being a hipster, in layman’s terms, would mean simply rejecting the mainstream. Urban Dictionary, the authority on contemporary culture jargon, delineates this as “a subculture of men and women basically in their 20s and 30s that value independent-thinking, counterculture, progressive politics, an appreciation of art, indie-rock, creativity, intelligence, and witty banter.”
If one were to rely on this definition alone, hipsterism still does not come off as entirely unlikable. It might even be said that such a movement possesses the promise of a cultural renaissance. However, in Merriam-Webster’s definition, a hipster is “a person who follows the latest styles, fashions, etc.” Browsing further, most online dictionaries also appear to have a similar denotation. This is where the problem begins.
For a culture that prides itself in being the persistent antithesis of the conventional, the disparity is appalling. Such is the hipster paradox—from an exclusive few who have managed to convincingly set a certain standard that makes them different, albeit pleasantly, hipsterism has grown into such a widespread, often misinterpreted, movement that being antimainstream has become the mainstream. In place of a generation of like-minded individuals is an army of countercultural clones geared toward the sole purpose of defying conventions simply for the sake of doing so. The problem with this is that although a significant amount of these norms remain disputable, that does not necessarily mean that they are wrong. However, the modern-day hipster is wired to think otherwise: If everyone else is doing it, then it basically sucks. For instance, Australian artist Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know” used to be really “cool” for a while, and why should it not? With its indie-pop origins, jazz undertones and catchy percussion beats, the single brings a fresh perspective on a usually mellowed-out subject: the idea of past relationships. That was, until it got over 400 million hits on YouTube and started conquering the airwaves.
Even then, it does not simply end there. The hipster culture has extended its boundaries enough to cover art, music, fashion, literature and the media to such an extent that the line between what is hipster and what is not has blurred.
Similarly, it derives inspiration from other cultures, past or present, continually adding these to the melting pot. The end result would be something of a pastiche—something that tries to exist in and of itself and yet, ultimately, remains but an imitation of a variety of things that have previously existed. The product, however, is ever-growing and constantly changing to the point where almost anything can be labelled as, or associated with, being hipster, so long as that thing holds a particular quality already included in the conflation.
For instance, if you were to search for artwork on Google, chances are “hipster art” would appear as part of the suggestions. Upon clicking, the browser would reveal a series of images ranging from fine-point illustrations of waif-like women to graphic prints of geometric shapes and animals to color-filtered images—basically what you would usually find on art pages such as Society 6. Search for “hipster fashion” and you would see a variety of styles not unlike the OOTDs (Outfit of the Day) of style bloggers and Lookbook devotees. Gone is the individualism so often celebrated by these two areas because nowadays, there is hardly any clear distinction. Everything is at risk of being labelled “hipster” even if it intended otherwise, and that, perhaps, is the most startling side effect of all. Especially if these things have managed to transcend years and years of changing trends.
What remains the object of most people’s ire, however, is the tendency of those who call themselves hipsters to greatly presume that everything possessing a certain degree of coolness originated from them, while the more commonplace things in life are treated with an equal amount of hauteur. Polaroid photos, festival fashion, dip-dyed locks, indie bands, (supposedly) profound musings on life, love and everything in-between…the collective of the anticool knows no limits. Chances are, on a normal day, if you looked like a second-rate version of James Dean (complete with the undercut and thick-rimmed glasses) they would gladly acknowledge you as one of their own—so long as you keep the Macklemore fanaticism under wraps.
In the end, what you have is a movement dangerously staking its claim on things that originally do not even belong to it. How then is this representative of our generation at present? Have the years finally taken their toll and exhausted the human mind, rendering it woefully incapable of innovation? The world, thankfully, remains on a fixed point in time and space and continues to move on. Perhaps there, too, lies some hope that this aimless game of mimicry, in all its fickleness, will be forgotten.
Blessilde Limoso, 17, is an interdisciplinary studies freshman at the Ateneo de Manila University.
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