What is Hipster Culture?

(Source: ilikepix on Reddit)

Hipster culture is a reaction against perceived cultural trends of inauthenticity and superficiality. In a hyper commoditized world where commercial motives permeate every layer of the cultural fabric and advertising and lobbying dollars make everything in mainstream society suspect or of questionable motives, hipster culture has arisen to offer an alternative set of values and attitudes.

Hipster culture is primarily built on two behaviors: the fetishization of authenticity, coupled with a derisive, dismissive and ironic rejection of everything that doesn’t fit within that narrow category.

The hipster concept of “authenticity” is complex but largely based on i) age, where objects or ideas older than a few decades are perceived to be more authentic as they sprang from a culture less corrupted by commercialization, and ii) a spartan kind of utility, where bare-bones items are seen as less commercially exploitative and thus more reliable.

Thus, hipster culture embraces fixed-gear bikes, mechanical typewriters, folk music, drinking from mason jars and vinyl records as they are all perceived to be both old and spartan. It also embraces things like mustaches and vintage clothes (just old), and apple products (just perceived to be of extreme simplicity).

The primary desire for authenticity also manifests more directly. Thus, hipster culture idolizes the true or real incarnation of things which have been commoditized and corrupted by consumer society. This category includes gourmet coffee, gourmet wine, organic food, micro-brewed beer etc.

When it comes to objects or ideas outside of the categories hipster culture embraces, it rejects them fiercely, either with hostility (Windows PCs, watching TV, working in an office and wearing a suit etc.), or by co-opting them under the banner of irony and adopting them as self-consciously “lame” (tri-wolf tee shirts, wearing gaudy fake jewelry etc.)

But as hipster culture has grown in popularity and has itself become more mainstream, the central definitions of these various concepts have shifted from being chiefly substantive (or at least, substantive based on dubious perception) to being chiefly aesthetic. Being seen to be authentic has become more important even within hipster culture than authenticity itself.

The real irony is that hipster culture is now aided and abetted by mainstream culture itself, as products and services are offered that appeal to the aesthetic sense of authenticity while being wholly of the commercial and inauthentic nature that hipster culture sprang up in reaction against. The waters are further muddied by some factions of hipster culture co-opting and subverting aspects of “faux” hipster culture to mock it in by the same method original hipster culture mocked mainstream culture.

To bring this back to the original example of a mason jar with a handle being given away by a microbrewery: originally, drinking from a mason jar was adopted by hipsters because it rejected commercialism by repurposing something that might otherwise be thrown away and because it harked back to some kind of Southern rural idyll that was perceived to be less corrupted by the commercialization of society. But as the substantive reasons for using a mason jar have given way to aesthetic reasons for drinking from a mason jar, those original arguments have become irrelevant. Thus, it’s possible to i) use a mason jar with a handle, which completely perverts the original appeal of spartan utility, and ii) buy a mason jar drinking vessel, which completely perverts the original appeal of repurposing waste and rejecting commercialism.

Or something.


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