What Was the Hipster?

Mark Greif traces the genealogy of the “movement” to find common threads. It’s  core is very reminiscent of Smith’s review of McCraken’s Hipster Christianity, Greif’s “rebel consumer” is Smith’s poser:

Through both phases of the contemporary hipster, and no matter where he identifies himself on the knowingness spectrum, there exists a common element essential to his identity, and that is his relationship to consumption. The hipster, in this framework, is continuous with a cultural type identified in the nineties by the social critic Thomas Frank, who traced it back to Madison Avenue’s absorption of a countercultural ethos in the late sixties. This type he called the “rebel consumer.”

The rebel consumer is the person who, adopting the rhetoric but not the politics of the counterculture, convinces himself that buying the right mass products individualizes him as transgressive. Purchasing the products of authority is thus reimagined as a defiance of authority. Usually this requires a fantasized censor who doesn’t want you to have cologne, or booze, or cars. But the censor doesn’t exist, of course, and hipster culture is not a counterculture. On the contrary, the neighborhood organization of hipsters—their tight-knit colonies of similar-looking, slouching people—represents not hostility to authority (as among punks or hippies) but a superior community of status where the game of knowing-in-advance can be played with maximum refinement. The hipster is a savant at picking up the tiny changes of rapidly cycling consumer distinction.

This in-group competition, more than anything else, is why the term hipster is primarily a pejorative—an insult that belongs to the family of poseur, faker, phony, scenester, and hanger-on. The challenge does not clarify whether the challenger rejects values in common with the hipster—of style, savoir vivre, cool, etc. It just asserts that its target adopts them with the wrong motives. He does not earn them.

Grief’s article is worth the read, if only to see a clear picture of how the modern hipster came to be. (hat tip to @rewordsmith)

7 thoughts on “What Was the Hipster?

  1. Sheila Ryan

    It was the most incredible thing. I just stood and looked at these hipsters for at least 40 minutes. It was one of the most remarkable 40 minutes of my life.

    That chief hipster kept giving me the evil eye.

  2. Amanda Mae Meyncke

    We tried to communicate with their tribe, but in a society where advancement is the only currency, we found ourselves unable to cope with the increasingly stressful demands of staying au courant. After a few months in the presence of the Hipsters, they had acclimated to us, allowing us into their most sacred rituals involving the brewing of limited runs of alcoholic spirits that they would then trade with one another for tapes and other trinkets. Many of the hipsters would spend their days recording sounds out in nature, and these sounds would then be played back during the communal gatherings at night. They smoked a lot of weed in those days, and xochinanácatl was present at nearly every gathering as they searched for ascendancy and yet still seemed to value the grounded world. The writings from this period are difficult to track as written communication became more dependent upon communicating less in general, with many of the speakers for the culture becoming bound by fear that their words wouldn’t be taken properly, speaking either with deception (for laughter) or sincerity (with great trepidation.)

    They seemed to us in those days to be a people without vision, and without vision a people perish.

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