The Thinking Man's Take On: Hipsterism

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Wow. It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these bad boys, these Thinking Man’s Take On columns. But amidst rappers name dropping swine flu like it’s going out of style (which it is), I think it’s time to spread the word about a pandemic. Unless you can’t read titles, you know I’m talking about Hipsters.

A quick history lesson: The word hipster comes from the greek root “hipst-“ meaning “hip”, and the superior suffix “-er”, as in “hipper than you”. The term - which is generally bandied about in newspapers and snarky advice columns in reference to those damn hoodlums and kids these days - has gone through an evolution of its own in the past 40 years.

I recently was given an album called “Hipsters’ Holiday,” which I was expecting to contain Sufjan Stevens singing Christmas Carols and Peaches singing Hannukah Hymns. Alas, that’s not the case. Instead, it’s Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, and a bunch of other cats that are far cooler than anyone who has been born since Jimi Hendrix. I mean, the compilation has song by people named Babs Gonzalez and Big John Greer, and groups like The Coolbreezers and Julia Lee and her Boyfriends. Does it get cooler than that? I posit that it does not.

The presence of such decidedly un-hipster hipsters led me to start thinking (a dangerous pastime, I know). What exactly makes a hipster a hipster? Contrary to popular belief, buying clothes at American Apparel does not make you a hipster. Drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon does not make you a hipster. Wearing comically oversized glasses does not make you a hipster. BUT if you buy your clothes at AmAppy, drink PBR, and wear oversized glasses, your chances of contracting hipster are certainly higher. It’s like squares and rectangles – not every rectangle is a square, and not every square is a hipster. Or something like that.

Let’s just off the bat say that this isn’t an indictment of hipsters. Most of the hipsters I know are wonderful people who have a sense of style, good taste in music, and a general interest in…well…being interesting. This isn’t one of those old men wondering what happened to the halcyon days of youth. Think of it more as a guide to take you from pretender to contender. Or at the very least, something you can point your mom to the next time she asks you, “What’s a hipster? Are you a hipster?” You know you’ve been there.

The Parts

The way I see it, it’s a perfect storm of three things that really makes a hipster. Without this combination – this Tribeca triumvirate – it’s tough to be a true hipstar. With it, you’re ready to conquer the indie world.

1. The tunes

As this is a music site, we might as well start with the music. For indeed, there is a musical element that is inherently tied to hipsterdom. There are lots of different musical tastes in the world of hipsters, and in the interest of making this article look as much like an outline as possible, I’ll go ahead and break the most prevalent schools down.

a. The Your-Favourite-Band-Sucks School. The most commonly cited school in hipster taste, this hipster has already listened to the best albums of 2010, and is busy analyzing the lyrics of some band called BAAND that is releasing a demo in January ’11. If you want to join this school, budget three or four hours a day looking for music blogs that no one else reads, plus another one or two actually reading them.

b. The You-Just-Don’t-Understand-Noise-Rock School. These are the hipsters with the worst hearing, mainly because they subject themselves to hours upon hours of indistinguishable electro-industrial noise. Or maybe they have the best hearing, since they seem to derive some weird pleasure from melodies that they swear are buried beneath mounds of crap. If you want to join this school, expect to spend a few hours accidentally listening to a fax machine because you think it’s a band calling you to play their new single.

c. The OMG-MILEY-CYRUS! School. A relative youngster to the hipster game, the OMG MILEY CYRUS! school has its roots in the PITCHFORK LIKES POP! rebellion, led by Justin Timberlake in 2006. This school has no shame about listening to pop music, as long as it’s done with a mind toward irony. If you want to join this school, start reading Twilight now.

d. The No-Music-Worth-Listening-To-Has-Been-Made-Since-1960 School. This hipster usually has lots of Bob Dylan bootlegs and Sam Cooke records, and is always playing indistinguishable jazz music whenever you visit. They are firmly of the mind that the music really did die on the Day The Music Died. If you want to join this school, get friendly with your dad’s record collection. Better yet, your granddad’s.

2. The ‘ture

Although we are taught not to just a book by its cover, judging a boy by his couture is necessary when defining hipsters. The most visible element of your identity as a hipster is your outfit – it broadcasts your personality to the world, as if proclaiming, “I spend more time thinking about my outfit than you, and still manage to look hastily thrown together!” The key to the outfits not in its components, but in the methodology with which they are combined. Ironic juxtaposition, in addition to being a great band name, is critical to presenting a hipster image.

Do you have a favorite pair of designer skinny jeans? Combine them with an electrical cord as a belt. Have a t-shirt that you bought for 99 cents at a thrift store? Throw an expensive Italian jacket over the top for maximum effect. Here’s a good test to see if your outfit is hipster enough: Stand in front of a mirror and look at what you’re wearing, without blinking for sixty seconds. If you don’t have a headache by the end, you’re not dressed appropriately. Still living at home? If your mom doesn’t sigh audibly on your way out the door, you’re not doing it right.

As with music, there are different schools of thought with hipster couture. There are neo-lumberjacks, tights-as-pantsers, and tight-ass-pantsers.  There are goofy glasses wearers, ear gauging tattoo canvasses, and v-neck sporting prepsters. And in the hipster crowd there is room for all shapes and sizes. Find a niche that works with your wardrobe and get out there and paint the town plaid!

3. The ‘tude

Attitude is perhaps the most important part of the holy trinity of hipsterism. Without the attitude, you are hardly fit to call yourself a hipster. What is the attitude, you say? It’s the attitude that whatever event you are attending is the second best thing in the world, with the first best thing being posting pictures of said event on Facebook. And combined with that knowledge, it’s the ability to hide that fact from everyone around you, if necessary. It’s about composure when composure is called for, and exhilaration when composure is called for. There’s a delicate set of rules defining hipster attitude, much like Miss Manners. Unfortunately, like Miss Manners, people (like me) only quote those rules, without ever reading the text.

It’s a common trap to fall into, when studying the hipster, to cast them as a loner, an outcast from society. In reality, that is far from the truth. Although the hipster attitude may come off as disinterested or sad, it is far from it. That hipster crying in the corner is probably crying because everyone is so beautiful. And the one who looks bored is really enjoying himself, he’s just more excited about whatever happens next.

Your hipster friend is a lot like runway fashion – you’re never going to wear that ridiculously oversized hat and puffy jacket, but you might adapt the idea a bit the next time you’re shopping. Similarly, you’re not going to listen to noise rock and wear a keffiyah, but you might throw a scarf on the next time you’re listening to Animal Collective. It’s no coincidence that a hipster attitude closely resembles the attitude of runway models: icy, haughty, hungry.

The Poses:

Now that you’ve got the parts assembled, it’s time to put them into action! The glue that really binds these disparate elements together is the pose. There is no single hipster pose, despite what magazines might try to tell you. In fact, the pose is what divides hipsters into distinct sects. Try a few of the below and then branch out to find your true identity.

1. The ‘stache and stare

A tried and true pose, this one takes a little patience and a little more testosterone. Spend a few weeks growing a bushy beard, and just when it starts to look good, shave off all but that upper lip. Now go into public. Anytime someone looks at you like you have a weird moustache, stare through them like they don’t exist. Boom, hipster.

2. The boobs and booze

This is for the more estrogen enhanced, although some male hipsters fit this category (see: BEEEEEEAAAANNNNNNNNSSSSSSSS!). Flash more breast than you would want your mother seeing, and drink more booze than you would want your mother drinking. Take lots of pictures and post them on various social media sites. Text all of your friends. When you can do all of that ironically, you have truly achieved hipstardom.

3. The ink and wink

This one is for the more daring hipsters out there, those willing to wear their heart on their sleeves for eternity. Simply head to your nearest tattoo parlor and get inked up. Your design should be something simple, ironic, and hilarious. Six-pack of PBR on your abs, moustache on your index finger, Mike Tyson face tat, etc. Critical: always pretend you got the tattoo in seriousness.

4. The frump and frown

An easier pose to strike, the frump and frown is particularly popular in the winter. Put on a bunch of different layers, hopefully adding enough girth to your torso to restrict any arm motion. Now look as unhappy as possible. Be careful, though – in my experience the frump and frown often turns into the sweat and smell once indoors.

Well, there you have it. A veritable tome that outlines the key parts of how to look, think, act like a hipster, with some comportment advice as icing on the cake. It feels a little bit like Jeff Foxworthy, I know – “If you have a t-shirt with political slogans on it from 1980…you might be a hipster.” Hopefully I’ve avoided that as much as possible. I leave you with one piece of bad news, though. If you read this far in the article…you might not be a hipster.

Chris Barth is a columnist here at Pretty Much Amazing and a friend to most hipsters. You can read his more succinct daily posts at his music blog, The Stu Reid Experiment.