Are Hipsters Still Contemplating Jazz?

Greasers, Hippies, Punks, Goths, Emos, Metalheads, Skaters, and now, Hipsters.

All of the aforementioned are different, but it is what makes those groups different that ironically make them principally the same: they’re all contemporary subcultures that want to be anything but contemporary. They all hope to be unusual. Hipsters, for as unique as they claim (or wish) to be, are no different.

Hipsters could be characterized as just about anything, except new. The original hipsters were a product of the Jazz Age. Actually, they were the Beats, and they were cool even before the “Birth of the Cool“. But contrary to the ones currently strutting around campus in their skinnier-than-skinny jeans, the original hipsters were proud of the name bestowed upon them.

In “Howl,” Allen Ginsberg described seeing the best minds of his generation, those “angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night, who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz.”

Original hipster?

And in a 1958 article from Esquire, called “Aftermath: The Philosophy of the Beat Generation”, Jack Kerouac referred to the Beats as, “a generation of crazy, illuminated hipsters suddenly rising and roaming America, serious, bumming and hitchhiking everywhere, ragged, beatific, beautiful in an ugly graceful new way.”

But would it be accurate to call today’s hipsters the second coming of the Beats? Are hipsters still “contemplating jazz?” To Douglas Haddow, who wrote “Hipster: The Dead End of Western Civilization” for Adbuster Magazine in 2008, the answer is no.

“An artificial appropriation of different styles from different eras, the hipster represents the end of Western civilization – a culture lost in the superficiality of its past and unable to create any new meaning.” Haddow said. “While previous youth movements have challenged the dysfunction and decadence of their elders, today we have the ‘hipster’ – a youth subculture that mirrors the doomed shallowness of mainstream society.”

Also, for Andrea Bartz, cofounder of stuffhipstershate.tumblr.com, today’s hipsters aren’t easily defined.

“There are two different ways to slice it: the outer persona and the hipster ethos. If we’re looking at the group superficially, hipsters are creative, urban 20-somethings who wear weird clothes, devote themselves to artistic pursuits, see a lot of live music and drink whiskey.” Bartz said. “Then there’s the hipster derision, which I think is ripe for parody. That’s this blanket scorn, this smug superiority over everything — a band, this party, you.”

Bartz also described the hipster “parody” as something called “the scenester.” “Scenesters” are hipsters only in appearance, transforming hipster fashion into a new pop culture uniform. They are the ones drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon, buying designer horn-rim sunglasses, and shopping for their thrift store getups at places like American Apparel (which happens to be the largest clothing manufacturer in the US, according to its CEO, Dov Charney. So much for straying from the pack).

(For anyone interested, here’s Dov Charney.)

And thanks to “scenesters”, along with the cultural backlash on hipsters seen on websites like latfh.com (don’t ask what the acronym means) and stuffhipstershate.tumblr.com, hipsters are everywhere and ironically nowhere. Much like members in “Fight Club”: the first and second rules of hipsterdom is you don’t talk about it. Search for a hipster group on Facebook, and all you’ll find are collectives like “Hipsters Who Hate Other Hipsters for Being Hipsters” and “I Can’t Tell if You’re an Ironic Hipster or a Homeless Person.”

“Well, anyone who calls themselves a hipster is likely a poseur or a scenester and not a hipster at all.” Bartz said. “People have called Brenna (the other cofounder of Stuff Hipsters Hate) and I hipsters, and I guess by definition we live in Brooklyn and drink in dive bars and go to a lot of shows and wear skinny jeans, but yeah, we wouldn’t walk around calling ourselves hipsters, either.”

But not only does “hipsterdom” continue to gain popularity, according to Alex Rayner, who wrote “Why Do People Hate Hipsters?” for the Guardian last year, it’s also gone abroad.

“(The hipster stereotype) changes quite a lot and new things come along, but I think most of the kids look the same—which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Some of them dress well.” Rayner said. “I think the problem lies with wanting to be non-conformist but still fashionable. Those are contrary impulses, so of course you’re going to get people who think they’re total one-offs but all look alike.”

Judging by what Rayner and Bartz said, perhaps it’s impossible to define a hipster in a mental, emotional or even spiritual sense. After all, there isn’t a concrete list of principles that today’s trendiest subculture adheres to, no sort of Hipster Declaration of Independence. But if that’s the case, then what is “hipsterdom” besides a vain fashion statement?

There might be more to being a hipster than just the uniform, and then again, maybe not. Being a hipster may just be synonymous with being distinct in some way. Still, if that’s the case, how can a group of uniques be truly unique?

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