Hipster as American Meme

Jack and June’s Pinterest curations both incorporated a similar idea: that as paradoxical as the idea of a hipster is, it is nothing new, and that perhaps paradox is why it continues to embed itself in American culture no matter the social climate.

Jack’s pin of The New Yorker cover draws on the idea that we can make parallels to certain “subcultures” (I use quotations because hipsterdom as a subculture is not necessarily accurate) from the past to the ones we see today. The dandy, of which Oscar Wilde is an example, carefully constructs his outfits and image and enjoys dressing flamboyantly, much like the modern hipster. They are both part of the educated middle-class and share aspirations of creativity and art-making.

Even before the late 19th century dandy, there was the class of urbanites living in major cities who were impoverished aspiring writers, artists, and musicians who were simultaneously revered by the bourgeois class (they paid high prices for their art and adopted their styles, Khaled p. 7) and widely mocked in popular culture. This delicate, paradoxical nature that is intrinsically related to class tensions is the one that is most important when discussing the modern hipster.

June’s pin of the two hipster socialites does a great job showing this dynamic. Although she tells us they come from different social classes, as they stand next to each other, we would have no idea which one was which. The women are so practiced at hiding their class in favor of showcasing their taste and therefore “authenticity” (because to the hipster, authenticity means personal creativity and taste, Khaled, p. 10) that we can’t read class, which makes us uncomfortable. We’d like to know which is the “trust-fund hipster” (Greif, p. 2) because it takes on a different meaning than the idea of the typical middle-class college graduate “with too much time on their hands” (Grief, p. 3).

Since these two girls from different social classes are dressed in the same style, we think that the style must not have any political substance. In the 60s, hippies were easier to identify with certain economic and political issues. It was understood that there was something to be fought for, but our collective discomfort with hipsters is that to some people, they represent the “end of counter-culture” in favor of a “self-obsessed aesthetic vacuum.” (Khaled, p. 19) Hipster culture is a signifier of not activism but consumerism, which Jane’s pin of the “hipster kit” represents—that its so much easier to look like a hipster (because we all do) than actually explain what a hipster is.

Conspicuous consumerism is the theme that differentiates modern hipsters from their forefathers, the “bobos,” the beatniks, and the hippies. As Jake points out in his pin of the Bushmills Whiskey advertisement, hipsterdom is the first group of people who originated under the ad industry’s microscope. Subcultures aren’t given the room to grow underground anymore when ad executives have just as much access to the Internet as anyone else does. I also loved his pin on Rihanna’s performance on SNL, when she used seapunk aesthetic as part of her show. As I watched it live, I remember being shocked. My art school friends had been creating work that looked like that for years, and I understood the rage that abounded on Twitter during and afterwards, but at the same time, everyone should have seen it coming. Most of the world had no idea what seapunk was, but it was only a matter of time before it was incorporated into the mainstream. People were upset about it because it was a trend that originated in graphic design subculture and provided an alternative to the images that had become devoid of meaning simply because they had been “hijacked” by pop culture. But as we look at Internet celebrity Bebe Zeva’s Twitter rant about Rihanna’s performance, it seems hilariously ignorant of the way of the world. Even mainstream news source The Atlantic joined the conversation by publishing a piece called “How to Talk About Seapunk Like You Already Knew About It.” This indicates the cultural importance Americans still have about being part of some invisible body of “cool” even in the face of its demise. But what may be most important is the article’s tone of self-deprecation, as if of course you didn’t know what seapunk was and that we can all collectively joke about how we’d like to pretend that we all did. This relates to the idea that nobody actually believes they are a hipster, because a hipster would never admit that they didn’t know what seapunk was. The article pokes fun at these folks and provides a buffer between cool and uncool, and is basically saying that it’s stupid to care about what’s cool even when you pretend like you do. People who take “cool” too seriously are the real losers.

Because of the increased speed of fashion production, communication, and advertising cycles, more and more discussions have been popping up everywhere about the “death of cool”. (Here’s a good one that’s NYC-centric) Perhaps this is what we blame hipsters for—perhaps this is the source of our collective hatred of the hipster meme (which Jane’s pin articulates). We don’t hate the American khaki-wearing male as nearly as much as the young hipster, although they’re being marketed to in the same way: carefully, precisely, tentatively, as if not to breach too much on a delicate psyche (Gladwell, p. 3).

I thought the two Pinterest boards did a great job capturing Khaled’s idea of the hated consumerist as hipster, but I wish they would have focused a bit more on class and conspicuous consumption, as I believe that’s what was most important about her article. I think Jake used outside resources and modern examples of pop culture really well. I’m also wondering why neither of them chose to focus on Gladwell or White, both of whom I found super interesting especially in regards to men’s fashion.

If I were to create a board about Gladwell or White, I might link to the Docker’s campaign video (you can post videos to Pinterest) and try to find old Details magazine covers. But for what Jake and June were setting out to do, I thought they both accomplished it well.


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