Hipsters: Because we're just not as cool as our parents were

Image credit: Adrian Lam

Although pronounced dead by Guardian articles in 2014, 2015 and 2016, the hipster is very much alive and is a staple of millennial culture. Tricky to define, it’s probably easier to spot a hipster than describe one – subtypes vary from Oasis-loving Marlboro Lights smokers to vegan photographer cactus-keepers to wavy moustachioed King’s freshers – but one thing we can probably all agree on is that they’re (okay, we’re) not very well liked. 

Even hipsters hate being called hipsters. We’re easy targets of ridicule (the Facebook group Millennials of New York is a good, and hilarious, example) and usually derided as pretentious and self-absorbed. In this week’s column I hope to convince you that the hipster is to be celebrated, rather than sneered at, albeit with a couple of major caveats. 

Every generation has its subcultures and, basically, ours aren’t as cool as our parents’ and grandparents’. Back in the day you could be a punk, hippie, mod, rocker, electro or whatever, whereas nowadays even though decent music, films and fashion is still produced, their authenticity is somewhat marred by the artifice of technology. 

It’s little wonder, then, that millennials love all things retro: where once mainstream culture meant The Beatles or Pink Floyd or David Bowie, it now means artificial drum beats and club-tailored remixes. The general aesthetic (and I use the word self-consciously) of the 60s, 70s, 80s and yes, even the 90s, is alluring to a generation finding its feet in a radically changed pop culture. 

The hipster is basically the answer to the question: what if I could experience the summer of love without the rampant misogyny? What if I could listen to the gay icons of the ‘80s safe in the knowledge that they could legally marry? What if I could adopt a Victorian pipe, monocle and unicycle without fear of widespread cholera? 

I’m being flippant, but the point is that there’s nothing wrong with choosing the parts of the 20th century that you like, whether it be the polaroid cameras or the dip-dyed hair, and combining it with the stuff that makes now a better time to be alive like intersectional feminism or growing trans rights or owning a flatscreen TV. You’re allowed to enjoy things. 

The first of the caveats I wish to add, however, is that I don’t condone being the type of hipster who is themselves snobbish towards people who’ve never tried chai tea before and think that Katy Perry is alright. As ever, your subculture should be about expressing yourself in the context of a wider group of people who share your interests, which can be incredibly validating, not about putting other people down or acting superior to them.  

Similarly, whilst I think that spending time on your interests and image can be great for self-care, and I’m down for spending an hour on eyeliner wings and boys taking selfies, it would be a shame to think that what ought to be freeing could end up making you feel left out or that it’s difficult to fit in. Where being a hipster becomes a coolness test, or indeed a so-uncool-it’s-coolness test, then you need to take a step back and ask yourself whether you actually enjoy that artsy French film or are purely watching it because the cute guy who served you at Hot Numbers said it captured the essence of existentialism at the fin-de-siecle. 

The other major caveat is the one on which hipsterism can become genuinely problematic. The word ‘hip’ meaning cool first came about during the jazz age of the 1940s, a scene dominated by Black Americans, and has since evolved into hipsterism, which is typically associated with white middle-class teenagers. To be able to truly celebrate hipsterism, it is necessary that we don’t merge it with cultural appropriation or affecting class stereotypes. 

This means not dressing head to toe in Adidas clothing because you think it makes you a roadman or getting dreadlocks on your gap year if you’re white. There’s a distinct difference between borrowing elements of other subcultures and bygone decades that you find fun, and being frankly dishonest about your own background. On a larger scale this trend can entirely alter neighbourhoods suddenly deemed “up and coming” as house prices suddenly soar due to gentrification. 

That’s not to say, of course, that BME or working-class people can’t be hipsters. Ideally for me, hipsterism would be anyone and everyone indulging in the kooky things they love without judgement or elitism combined with our generation’s increasingly anti-consumerist and pro-environmental beliefs. Second-hand clothes, organic coffee, and vegan restaurants are all favourites of the hipster, and as long as they’re affordable I see nothing wrong with that. 

I’m tired of hearing that civilisation is ending because a restaurant serves its chips in a tiny wheelbarrow or being teased for (one time!) describing my music taste as “underground”. Imitation is the highest form of flattery, and the elder generations should be proud that we’ve taken up their mantle and nicked their old Smiths records, not sneering at the way we’ve interpreted culture. 

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