Hello. My name is Grahame, and, well, I drink PBR.
Friedrich Nietzsche wrote in Beyond Good and Evil, “He who fights monsters should see to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”
When speaking to a friend several months ago, I asked, “does anyone actually know any hipsters?”
The questions was charged with a certain degree of an ulterior motive; I was beginning to doubt their existence. We analyzed the list of our most hipster friends, but could only find rumor and urban legend. We knew people who displayed traits, but managed to have the condition largely under control.
Reggie Watts posits in his autobiographical song “My History Thus Far,” that people who identify as hipsters are trying to create an insular social group that doesn’t want to be infiltrated, although they are creating facsimiles of themselves and as a result infiltrating themselves.
Even on a recent, brief trip to Brooklyn, I wasn’t able to spot the elusive hipster in his natural habitat. We have all seen the photos: blurry scans of polaroids, a well-maintained moustache and an ironic–i.e., regrettable–tattoo. However, there I was in their natural home, and I was unable to locate one.
“Allston is kind of the younger brother of Williamsburg,” I remarked to traveling companions, attempting to disparage a place I’d heard so much about. “People hang out with Allston, in hopes that their brother will show up, but they never do and they’re stuck with.
Fact is, I was enjoying Williamsburg. I didn’t feel at home there, but it felt within my comfort level. Unlike certain parts of the City which I’d found overwhelming, it felt more down-to-earth. The food was good, there were bars open past 2 a.m. (an impossibility in my city to the north). I observed people passing by, and certainly saw some peculiarly-dressed folk, but remember getting the sense that I was seeing them out of context. Everyone seemed to be going somewhere they would eventually fit in, but no one from the Tumblr which had so excellently catalogued the rise of the subculture’s oddities.
In the months since the trip, I think I began to realize where the hipster went. I began to suspect that the creature we so feared and reviled was actually among us.
On one hand, I, like many, have spent plenty of time reading the LATFH Tumblr. I have dismissed bands as “too hispter for their own good” (yes, you, Fun.). I have avoided–and expressed disdain for–my city’s most “hipster” neighborhood, and the subset of people who ironically wear clothing and call it home. I tried to put distance between myself and the infamous hipster.
Then i took a long look at myself, as i prepared to go out to a club rated the 15th douchiest in Boston. As I prepared to feel out of place, and to mock my fellow patrons without mercy, it hit me: i was too hipster for the venue. The truth is, I certainly have some of the tendencies of that subset. I like bands you almost never catch on the radio; in fact, I actively seek music from independent labels, and get titled off when I catch a song I like on threw same airwaves as Justin Bieber. I wear Converse, and T-shirts with obscure pop-culture references. I was too lazy to get out to some of the recent elections (although I told people I voted). I don’t have a fixed-gear, but have been rebuilding an old bike with some friends. While convenience is a factor, I have bought groceries from the co-op across the street more recently than I have been to a major supermarket. And yes, I quite enjoy an ice cold Pabst Blue Ribbon.
Because of this, I am starting to lose faith in the existence of the Hipster. Every social group has people like myself in them–non-conformists, people with a good sense of that they hate, people with an odd sense of humor. In the history of mankind, countless human beings have made decisions–be it in life, love or fashion–that make their closest friends roll their eyes behind their backs. Sure, we even know people with “hipster tendencies,” but we’re willing to make excuses for them. ‘They aren’t a “full-blown” hipster.’ ‘They are really down to earth.’ ‘He’s kind of a hipster, but not so bad you’d notice.’
My suspicion is this: the hipster itself is a gestalt entity. we created a monster from spare parts and anecdotes, and left him to patrol the outskirts of our social borders. It is a strawman amalgam of the worst kinds of people you hear about at parties, the non-conformists that have taken things a bit too far, the people who are have gotten so far out of touch with the definition of irony that they wear it as a badge of honor, the people so in love with their own opinions they can’t listen to a contrary one. No one person is guilty of the whole list of crimes, but the whole species is lumped together and dismissed. We now keep this image around to remind us where the boundaries lie–we need these Icarus figures to show us where the sun is.
Who is the Dr. Frankenstein behind this creation? We are. Each time we spread the myth along, we passed on the worst pieces of our social groups. We incorporated our friends’ irritating habits, so that we can dismiss those parts as a larger problem, and not an actual eccentricity of our friends. The hipster is our social scapegoat.
It is time to own that. It’s time to take responsibility for the worst parts of ourselves, acknowledge that Vampire Weekend’s first album had an energy that their later two efforts haven’t quite captured, and team up against the true threat: Bros.
[Update: One comic writer has posited an excellent addition to this: Dustin Glick’s Theory of Hipster Relativity. Definitely worth checking it out. 5:55 p.m., Oct 14]