Hipsters and the Never-Ending Non-Conformity Contest

By Hillary Bosch

Opinions Editor

If you’ve walked around New York City for longer than 15 minutes, you’ve seen one. If you’ve ever gotten a latte from a coffee shop in Brooklyn, you’ve interacted with one. If you’ve ever been happy to wear a shitty thrift store sweater, drink organic $6 coffee, and rage endlessly against the patriarchy, you are one. That’s right: a hipster.
The definitions of “hipster” fluctuate depending on whether you believe the movement is a true expression of modern youth culture or simply a narcissistic, elitist, left wing façade. There are plenty of individuals who wholeheartedly support progressive causes and behave in manners that reflect their sincere preferences and value systems. For example, there are plenty of hipsters (@me) who go thrift shopping because the fashion industry is horribly wasteful and buy $6 coffee because I think Colombians deserve a living wage, too. In the case of these people who act truly based off of their beliefs, cynics bless them with labels such as “snobby” or “bleeding-heart liberals.”
Although I would love to argue on behalf of my generation and claim the hipster counter-culture is undeniably and irrefutably genuine… it’s often not. Have you walked into Rods lately? There are plenty of young people in the hipster movement just to fit in, such as wearing mass-produced Urban Outfitters clothing just for the look not the cause. There are plenty of mass-hipster-culture norms that don’t make any statement for a social cause but rather fulfill their need to conform to some group, while arguing that everything is entirely unique. My personal way of spotting these “fake hipsters” is when they say they go thrift shopping for environmental reasons, and then throw their single-use Starbucks cups in the trash, which is right next to the recycling bin. Come on.
Additionally, the “hipster” movement actually started in the 1940s, where middle class white artists sought to mimic and repackage the art of black jazz musicians. Even now, there are plenty of people of considerable privilege and wealth who conform to this “style” of being a starving artist not because they actually are in dire straits, but simply as a fashion or culture statement. For example, I have a friend whose parents are paying her full tuition at the College of William & Mary (approx. $40,000 per year), and she jokes about paying back student loans because the rest of us were talking about our own looming over our futures. Perhaps the most widespread example of this “hiding privilege for fashion” phenomenon occurs in gentrification. If you are a white person who truly can only afford a place in Harlem due to a low-income job (such as many Fordham grad), that’s living within your means. However, if you are a white person who seeks to falsely embrace or claim a well-established cultural neighborhood as your own, yet experience the culture in a watered down, more “palatable” version, that is gentrification.
But regardless, this is not meant to be a roast or careful deconstruction of hipster culture, but merely an argument to call it that: a culture. It used to be marketed as a counter-culture, anti-establishment, fighting-conformity-for-individuality movement and perhaps it was that for a time. But eventually, it became widespread and adapted enough to be classified as its own culture, with its own stereotypes and norms. If it were truly about unfettered individuality, it would be impossible to pinpoint stereotypes of the movement that we can all recognize, either walking through Williamsburg or through the variety of memes that have surfaced since its rebirth in 2010. To be classified as a subculture is not inherently a negative connotation, as I would consider punk and goth to also be subcultures. “Subculture” status is, according to Oxford Dictionaries, “a cultural group within a larger culture, often having beliefs or interests at variance with those of the larger culture.”
Hipsters may see themselves as entirely original entities with no correlation to each other besides recognizing that they are all unique. While I admit there is impressive divergence between hipsters, I would no longer classify them as counter-culture, but of a culture themselves. Furthermore, it seems they have expanded past goth, punk, biker, and hippie subcultures into one so large it rivals mass culture. Then it’s definitely not as unique as it claims. But of course it would attract such large numbers! It offers individuality, the chance to celebrate differences and unfamiliar cultures, and is composed of a community of socially and environmentally like-minded people. It’s a liberal arts college’s wet dream. As I mentioned before, I have many, many, many issues with hipsters who act of a disingenuous conformity-based insecurity, but all in all, I don’t care if they’re faking it if it benefits the environment or benefits coffee plantation workers. We’re annoying, we have typewriters, we’re literal human garbage, but we’re smart and we care, and we’re growing; get used to us.

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