Three years ago for my 21st birthday, in ironical defiance, I had a hipster themed celebration. I tired of people labeling me a hipster, as if it were an insult. Back then I wasn’t sure if I was okay with this identity, so having a party simultaneously lauding and loathing my inner hipster was particularly meta at this given time. Ridiculous outfits were abound, the Emu Export was flowing, and LCD Soundsystem was played loud and proud. Irony was ample – a friend baked everyone lemon-flavoured biscuits in the shape of the Apple logo, and I wore a tee emblazoned with the phrase ‘I heart Gary’ – despite the fact that no one understood its meaning, least of all myself. But that was the point.
Needless to say, I had to go to great lengths to explain to my parents beforehand what exactly a hipster was. Its eclecticism stumped me. I could never truly articulate what the crux of being a hipster was, nor its genesis. I merely instructed them to take part by donning some vintage clothes and a pair of thick-framed plastic glasses, and that it was all just a big send-up.
Chances are today you know exactly what a hipster is. You most likely know one, if you’re not one by extension yourself. The meteoric rise of minimalist branding, purveyors of fine goods, boat shoes, fixed-gear bikes, veganism, alternative music and vintage fashion are all staples of today’s middle class youth. The most peculiar part of this evolution is that what started as an underground shunning of mass culture has been usurped by mass culture itself.
Previously, assuming the status of a hipster was an idealistic identity toolkit for grooming a sense of individuality, morality and purpose in the face of over-globalisation, and the sinking feeling that culture had nowhere left to run. Once upon a time, hipster was a dirty word. To a few, it still is. To marketers, it became a life-saving commercial vantage point that opened up post-GFC to an increasingly scathing and apathetic young middle class.
My exposure to the hipster-laden design industry has given me a fair insight into how this commoditisation occurred. The middle-class consumer barriers of skepticism and cynicism are easily broken down in the face of the hipster aesthetic and ideals. Veiling a product with authenticity, individuality and moral superiority is the answer to nefarious greed and aspirational excess. Today, the stratospheric cachet of hipster culture not only makes sense, but retrospectively could be viewed as an utterly linear middle-class cultural endgame.
The vice of the hipster machine is evident in almost every facet of design culture today. Services like Creative Market illustrate that these ideals can be bought and sold, with disingenuous regard for the values they supposedly sell. Old-world logo templates, retro typefaces and vintage textures all perpetuate the values of yesteryear. Stores such as Pigeonhole, who have come from humble beginnings, are now a commoditised mecca for the hipster lifestyle and mass appeal. Film cameras, quirky jewellery and vintage clothes are no longer treasures of a select few; they are pedestrian goods by today’s standards.
The status quo of hipster-centric businesses is to be a purveyor of fine goods, a merchant or a CO (read: company). Everything is dripping in nostalgia, irony, and ascetic minimalist prowess. But is this truly progress toward authenticity and altruism when seen in such commercial magnitude? Inevitably, the norm isn’t being subverted anymore, only preserved and replicated. This has to be one of the most perplexing and paradoxical examples of cultural bandwagoning ever witnessed from an anthropological perspective – a counterculture that by gaining traction in popularity has ironically (so, perhaps fittingly) defeated its own ideals.
Being a hipster is a jaded statement of a generation who’d rather be any place but now. The accessibility of this ideal speaks almost universally to the new generation of twenty-somethings disengaged by middle-class woes. But now that obscurity is mainstream, purported authenticity feels inauthentic, nostalgia seems abjectly like the present, and every spark of individuality is followed by mimicry. All we are left with is perhaps the sourest social irony of all; hipsters are now merely a contradiction. The abrupt commonality of taste between hipsters has left many with a very diluted sense of identity. For a culture that centers itself on eclecticism, it’s a quandary that we’ve all ended up looking, acting and purchasing uniformly.
I think I can wholly empathise now with James Murphy, when he sang of losing his edge. There is a certain bitterness and dismay to seeing a mirror image of yourself in hordes of other people – but I feel the irony is lost on me somewhere.