THE EDITOR’S DESK: What it Means to Be a Hipster

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In defense, and definition, of hipsters. (image by Gretchen Robinette)

I came across this beautiful, flannel wearing, songstress soon-to-be YouTube star via Fimoculous. Here she is singing “Hipster Bitch” (that’s the name of the song!). What’s so interesting and weird about this is the mutation of the term “hipster.” According to this song, whose ramifications I can feel twittering across the Internets even as I write, the “Hipster Bitch” wears daisy dukes, compares her poetry to Dylan, and snorts cocaine at overpriced New York bars. I thought hipsters wore flannels, played accoustic guitar, called people out for misquoting Dylan, and posted their songs on YouTube?

Here’s someone I thought was a “hipster” at the American Apparel protest with a sign, “no more hipster scum.”

I would like to reclaim the term and adopt all the angry young hipsters in my neighborhood. A hipster is not someone who lives in mid-town, the Marina, or the Miracle Mile (depending on your city). Hipsters don’t listen to Britney Spears. They certainly don’t wear Daisy Dukes AND snort cocaine. If hipsters are snorting cocaine, they’re doing it in their pajamas before heading out to a Flaming Lips concert. They’re on their way to a Meth problem, not business school. And they don’t want their neighborhood to resemble a shopping mall.

portrait of the hipster as a 37-year-old writer

portrait of the hipster as a 37-year-old writer

I’ve often been referred to as a hipster, or an aging hipster, because I haven’t done much in the way of growing up, i.e. owning property, holding down a job, getting married (or carrying on a successful relationship), and having children. And because I wear earrings, plain t-shirts, and blue jeans. But I like hipsters. Recently the word hipster is starting to take on new meaning, and I want to take it back.

If, like me, you were born between 1961 and 1977 (according to Jeff Gordiner), and you still think Doolittle by The Pixies is THE perfect album, then you are a member of Generation X. You probably remember the kids in college wearing tie-dyes, sitting cross-legged on top of the table in the cafe reading Baba Ram Dass, and listening to “classic rock.” Those kids wanted to be part of an earlier generation, the boomer generation, but they were too late. Their generation came and went right about the time they were born. They rejected the sullen individuality of Gen X.

Well, those twenty-somethings that we call hipsters, they are that version of us, our version of the twenty-year-old wearing a tie-dye in 1990. Hipsters are Generation X, but they were born too late. Hipsters reject being called hipsters because they don’t like to be grouped. To assign a collective consciousness is an assault on individuality. But hipsters don’t want to be millennials or “Generation Y.” And who can blame them? Who would want to be part of a generation that likes being told what music to listen to? Who would choose Britney Spears over Frank Black?

Here are some traits of Generation X, shared by hipsters:

More than anything we hate to be marketed to, that’s why our hero appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone wearing a t-shirt that said Corporate Magazines Still Suck.corporate_magazines_still_suck We’re suspicious of corporate America (with good reason). We don’t like to join groups. We usually don’t like anything once it’s become popular (which is a dumb and lame way of looking at the world, but no cohort is perfect). We don’t like to spend a lot of money on clothes that make us look like everybody else. We shop in thrift stores or, if we’re rich, we buy expensive clothes that look like they were bought in thrift stores. We listen to music that was created by an artist, as opposed to music that is created by a marketing team and assigned to the next hot young vacuum. We take huge pleasure in finding great art no one’s  heard of before.

The girl in this video singing about the Hipster Bitch, is herself the hipster. The boy protesting the chain-store moving onto Valencia Street is a hipster. We shouldn’t let “hipster” (or “aging hipster”) become a bad word the way “liberal” became a bad word. It’s time we embrace the term, though perhaps doing so would be too much like joining a group, or starting a movement.

Nonetheless, all you hipster kids are welcome in my shared one-bedroom apartment anytime. We don’t have a TV (of course), but we have a projector and we show movies on bedsheets (we’re a clichéd version of ourselves!). Tonight we’re screening Bottle Rocket.

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More from The Editor’s Desk

See also: Why The Hipster Must Die


Stephen Elliott is the author of seven books, including the memoir The Adderall Diaries and the novel Happy Baby. He is the founding editor of The Rumpus. His feature film debut, About Cherry, was distributed by IFC. His second movie, based on his novel Happy Baby, is forthcoming. More from this author →