What is a Hipster?

by Chris Reichert

Why did the hipster burn his mouth? He drank his coffee before it was cool.

Halfway between “dad joke” and social commentary, this cliché reminds us that for as long as hipsters have been cool, mocking them has been cooler. It’s no wonder we love to hate them; they are, as Dan Fletcher described in a 2009 Time article, “smug, full of contradictions and, ultimately, the dead end of Western Civilization.”

Yet we must be careful of who we disdain. For example, I’m not a hipster. I mean, yes, my hair is currently pulled back in a tail; my beard is well-coiffed. Yes, my jeans are, well, skinny, and everything I’m currently wearing was found in a thrift store. Yes, I love wearing flannel, and hats, and vintage shoes, and I adore my vinyl collection and my fountain pens – but I’m not a hipster because…well, let me get back to you on that. Walking through The Loop, I doubt I’m alone. I think, in fact, I am part of a large percentage of Whitworth students who display the symptoms while rejecting the diagnosis.

But maybe we shouldn’t.

In a 2007 article for Time Out New York, Christian Lorentzen seeks to explain the innate antipathy so many of us feel towards those we deem “hipsters.” “Under the guise of ‘irony,’” he says, “hipsterism fetishizes the authentic and regurgitates it with a winking inauthenticity.” But in seeking to explain the dislike of hipsters, Lorentzen inadvertently hits upon something: If hipsters “fetishize the authentic” then – aren’t we all hipsters?

Think about it. Is not one of the most innate of human desires the desire for authentic interpersonal connections? Do not we praise celebrities and politicians for their “authenticity?” And if hipsters express their need for authenticity through Birkenstocks or Pendletons or obscure indie EPs, can we really blame them? At this point, what in our society is even marginally authentic?

While the mass market pandered to what it saw as a new fad, and the conservative rearguard decried the hairstyles and clothing choice, both missed the point entirely. Wanting to look like something is the complete antithesis of hipsterism, and indeed every subculture. People simply want to be authentically themselves. And this, I think, is a wonderful reflection of Whitworth’s own culture.

Whitworth is home to some of the most intensely authentic people I’ve met. To be sure, some of them are authentically dull, or even authentically unpleasant, but such is the price we pay for genuineness. And maybe our fashion choices are simply a reflection of the current trends (or Spokane’s legit thrift store scene), and our dependence on cold brew but a necessary consequence of late nights studying, and maybe we would rather retake every Core class than admit it, but we all have a little hipster in us. And if being a hipster means staying authentic to myself, then I guess I’m a hipster.

Of course, by this point the title of “hipster” has accrued too many negative connotations, and is slowly dwindling from mainstream consciousness. In fact, it has already been replaced by a new, trendy classification of young people to mock, the Yuccie, or Young Urban Creative. But for those of us who crave individuality and authenticity, it’s never been about the title, but rather about the principle. It’s something that William Shakespeare recognized 400 years ago when he said, “To thine own self, be true.” And he said it before it was cool.