The hipster has become a much-vilified figure; a mythical figure who has allegedly wrought havoc on our coffee presentation, brought about a decline in men’s razor sales and created an over-inflated appreciation of the kale chip. But who are these hipsters and are they really to blame?
We all think we know what makes a hipster. From the outside, we seem to think it’s a bit like the rules of Fight Club.
- You do not talk about being a hipster.
- You DO NOT talk about being a hipster.
- You’re a graphic designer. Or a barista. Or you’re studying psychology part-time and waiting tables at night. In cool restaurants. Where diners aren’t sure what the ingredients on the menu actually are and surreptitiously look up google under the table.
- You look like a lumberjack but you’ve never lifted an axe.
- You order deconstructed single origin long macchiatos.
- You ride a fixie. Or a skateboard.
- You only shop at organic supermarkets.
- You have a worm farm on your balcony and don’t generate any rubbish.
- You have ironic tattoos.
- And wear cardigans.
- And what about the waxed moustache.
- Or the thick rimmed spectacles.
- Or the dapper cheese cutter cap?
The thing with defining hipsters is that they can’t actually be defined. Because then they would fit into a category and in so doing, become mainstream. And hipsters are not mainstream. Hipsters are complicated.
In the face of all this vagueness, the question must be asked then, do hipsters even exist? Have we, as a society working through gentrification, the rise of the middle class and the avalanche of choice in all domains, used the hipster as a scapegoat.
People in society label others various things for a variety of reasons. Usually it is because we have a tribe mentality that pushes us to shun those that are not of our tribe. When it comes to the practice of labelling a portion of our community as hipsters, perhaps it is more about deflecting attention away from our own insecurities regarding the influence of ‘cultural capital’, to coin a phrase from renowned sociologist, Pierre Bourdieu.
If we were to distil Bourdieu’s extensive studies down to their essence, it’s all about taste. His epic piece, “Distinction,” published in 1979 is an explanation of how admiration for art, appreciation of music, even taste in food, came about for different groups. Distinctions of taste become the basis for social judgment.
In a society such as ours where we have incredible access to knowledge, food, and opinion at every turn, taste, moreover good taste, becomes a commodity we can trade in. And sometimes it overwhelms us and we need to blame someone.
Solomon’s claim in Ecclesiastes that “there is nothing new under the sun” is a concept we constantly seek to repudiate. We have a stream of iPhone updates, hybrid foods, and new ways of drinking coffee passing before us every second of every day. And we want to keep up, be abreast of the trends. We want to know everything. In fact, we believe that we do. We are all food critics and fashion experts and social anthropologists.
And sometimes we are not. Sometimes a photo goes up on Instagram and has something to do with salted caramel and desiccated Amazonian grapes and bagels and ice cream all thrown in together and it’s a breakfast dish. And there are emojis of joy and statements of desire in response. Bloggers and Instagrammers use all the filters at their fingertips to extol the various virtues of these creations when really it might just be a case of the emperor’s new clothes.
The hipster didn’t create the deconstructed coffee or the doughnuts spelled donuts with syringes in them or queues for croissants, we all did. We all did when we demanded that our coffees be made in a way other than the trained barista makes it, with hot water and hot milk on the side because we have issues with proportions and we know best. We all did when we accepted paying $21 for a piece of toast, a poached egg, half an avocado still in its skin and a sprinkling of pink Himalayan salt deconstructed on a piece of wooden floorboard. We all did when we appreciated the craft and the inspiration of the chef and then elevated him or her to the status of a god. Until the next best thing came along.
If anything, those we refer to as hipsters, tend to be more economically and environmentally viable as a tribe. They are often seen wearing vintage and op shop inspired fashion, they encourage recycling and reusing and use public transport or cycle to get around. They work in collectives and encourage artisan industry. They are not racist or sexist. They are calm and collected, they believe in their choices and they just get on with their lives.
And maybe that’s why we are so confused.