Yesterday, my esteemed colleague Paul T. Bradley made an impassioned argument in favor of retiring the word “hipster,” at least as a way to describe the monied, slumming, Silver Lake and Echo Park denizens who fetishize the authentic.
It reminded me of the hysteria that erupted across the internet upon the publication of our “20 Worst Hipster Bands” two years ago. I got death threats, and the hate mail continues to pour in today; much of the venom has not been because we called out the groups in question, but because of our use of “hipster.”
It's also one of the most-read stories in our paper's history. Perhaps the only thing hipsters like more than reading about themselves is complaining about the way they're characterized. But I realize that cultures evolve, and so should language. For his part Bradley suggested, as potential “h-word” replacements: “scenester,” “poseur,” and “hiptard.” Hey, I'm as politically incorrect as the next guy, and would have no problem employing that type of language, but for one thing: The word “hipster” describes its intended targets perfectly.
I won't bore you by going into a long explanation of what constitutes a hipster. Thousands of gallons of digital ink have been spilled on the topic, and besides, a hipster today is different than even a few years ago. Trucker hats have given way to ironic tattoos, jorts have gotten shorter, and, as Bradley mentioned, you're not as likely to see someone wearing a Gameboy these days.
But that doesn't mean it's any more difficult to identify a hipster. In fact, it's as easy as ever. One could say that, like pornography, you know it when you see it, but hipsters are much easier to identify than pornography. (Women's magazines, for example, would have been considered pornographic not long ago. There's also this.) There's even hipster porn, although the problem with anything that self-applies the “hipster” tag is that it's not really hipster. A club that would have him as a member? A hipster would never join.
It's confusing to spell all this out, but at the end of the day when you hear the word hipster you know exactly what you're dealing with. Existentialists without the philosophical grounding. Foodies who don't know how to cook. People who have attained higher states of consciousness simply by being themselves. Liberals who will change the world through coffee shop conversation.
I'm not saying hipsters are bad people; as Bradley noted, they're just young people, exhibiting the same self-absorption that young people have throughout time. They will come to know sacrifice, and they will laugh one day at their own children's dumb facial hair. They're not any better or worse than ravers or punks or athletes or what we once called preps. Like everyone they get their identity largely by rebelling against the identities of others.
Below: Why the word hipster is here to stay
Mall clothiers nowadays attempt to appropriate the hipster sartorial style, but true hipster fashion will never entirely reach the mainstream because it's reactionary. By the time sweater vests arrived to Urban Outfitters, hipsters no longer wanted to look so much like their grandfathers.
Though the average person will not be able to keep up with the changing trends – being as they're doing things like pursuing careers and spending time with their families – they will never have a hard time identifying a hipster. That's because a hipster always gives himself away: He's the one who's trying too hard.
The same thing applies to the subpar lexicon used to describe these people. “Scenester,” “poseur,” and “hiptard” are trying too hard, putting in twice the effort when an entrenched, superior word has been working for us for a decade and a half.
The word hipster is dead. Long live the word hipster.
See also: The Word 'Hipster' Is Lazy and Outdated