Why Your Grandkids Will Know What Hipsters Are
Contrary to popular belief, we’re not the first generation to have hipsters.
Back in the late 1930s, hipsters (known then as “hep-cats” or “hepsters”) were part of the thriving counterculture of swing-music fanatics. A hepster was “a guy who knows what it’s all about,” an icon of youth, freedom, and musical taste.
By the late 1940s, though, the term had changed. In 1948, the Partisan Review printed the line, “Carrying his language and his new philosophy like concealed weapons, the hipster set out to conquer the world.” A hipster’s identity became separate from musical taste. Instead, hipsterism was associated with the lingo of youth and a new outlook on life. What outlook? Well, by 1967 it was “an outright rejection of accepted standards and values.”
Even the hippies of the ‘60s and ‘70s are a part of the historical trajectory of contemporary hipsters. In 1973, a hippie was defined as “a general term applied quite often to anyone young and unkempt in appearance…who in general puts little premium on the values of contemporary society which he has rebelled against.” This definition seems to be awfully close to our modern understanding of a hipster.
But, honestly, that’s about as close as we can get to pinning down “hipsterdom.” In the 1930s, the hepsters had a counterculture that stood for something: swing music. But the hipsters of today have no such identifying marks. We can’t define them according to their musical taste because hipster music ranges from indie-folk to electronic. We can’t define them by their attire, either, because their clothing style is a ragamuffin selection that takes its inspiration in equal parts from upscale boutiques and their parents’ old high school photos. In fact, the only way to classify a hipster is to say what they are not. They are not listeners of the iTunes Top 40 list, nor are they clients at American Eagle. If you ask the most hipstery-looking person if they’re a hipster, they’ll deny it. Hipsters don’t even stand for being hipsters.
Counterintuitively, though, the hipster is probably the most propagated image of our generation. Watch any Apple commercial geared toward 20-somethings and you’ll spot a hipster. Turn on a comedy and any jokes about youth will be at the expense of hipsters. This isn’t a totally unfounded portrayal of our generation; if you stroll past Kendall College or down any street in Eastown, you’ll see hipsters aplenty. But the majority of people you pass on the street aren’t hipsters…so what is it about the hipster movement that captures the interest and the attention of the media? Why do so many companies want hipsters to buy their stuff?
Because hipsters will last forever. When the hepsters stood for swing music, their culture faded away once swing music went out of fashion. But if hipsters merely reject out-of-hand whatever is popular at the time, then they face no such problem. They can continue to exist as long as there is a mainstream to define themselves against. So if companies can find a way to stay one step ahead of the mainstream, they’ll have clientele ‘til the end of time.