In the 1950s, the Beat Generation renounced a focus on material possessions and conformity in favor of a life of bohemian creativity and experimentation. A direct result of the seriousness and repression of the World War II era, the Beat Generation had its roots in a literary movement begun by writers Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William S. Burroughs that emphasized collaboration and spontaneous prose.
In the mid-1960s, the Beat Generation gave way to the Hippies, who maintained some Beat philosophies, such as an openness to experimentation with sexuality and drugs and a rejection of material ownership. The Hippies, however, were spurred by the Vietnam War, the draft, and the civil rights movement. Hippies championed peace, love, and freedom. While the Beat Generation had its roots in literature and collaboration, the Hippies’ foundation was built on folk music and communal living, which developed into such icons as Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, and large music festivals.
In the late 1970s, as the Vietnam War came to an end and the civil rights movement had seen its biggest victories, the Hippie culture began to give way to the Punks. Disillusioned by the wars and civil rights injustices of the previous generations, Punks were anti-establishment and, in a shift from the Beats and Hippies, focused on the individual rather than community. Punks were angry, and that was reflected in their loud, aggressive music, moshing, and torn, harsh dress.
Since then, significant countercultures have been dwindling as consumer culture pervades all walks of life. While individuals may embody aspects of the various aforementioned groups, there have been no movements of similar magnitudes in recent decades.
And now we arrive in the present, and the Hipsters. Over the past five or so years, the Hipsters have become an ever-growing, more well-defined group. Unlike previous generations, however, it seems as though Hipsters don’t stand for, or against, anything at all.
Though it differs amongst individuals and social groups, the base definition of a Hipster simply details their aesthetic: thrifted, retro, and often dirty-looking (if not actually dirty) attire, a my-friend-did-this-while-we-were-wasted-last-night haircut (even if it was done at a salon), a waifish body, and often an ironic tattoo, usually done only as an outline.
While the other movements discussed also had unique fashion distinctions, fashion is pretty much the Hipsters’ only distinction. Yes, they love indie bands, but only until other people start to know who they are, then they’re all, “Arcade Fire who?”
The Hipsters are instead unique because of their complete lack of care or concern about anything or anyone outside of themselves and their aesthetic. They’re too cool to care. Perhaps this is why Hipsters are so elusive. You may be thinking, What? Hipsters aren’t elusive, I see one everywhere I go! But has anyone ever actually met a self-identified Hipster? No. The word Hipster is shameful and embarrassing, hopefully because people realize that being a Hipster essentially means that you are a shallow, superficial trendster with no empathy or motivation and are really no better than the pop culture you so despise. I would bet good money (wait, no I wouldn’t. Chocolate. I would bet good chocolate) that no one has ever in the history of humankind admitted to being a Hipster. As soon as you admit it, you can’t be one anymore.
So, what’s the deal, Hipsters? Why don’t you care about anything besides the band you just discovered online with all the handclapping and the fixed-gear bicycle you found at the dump? It’s not as though there’s a dearth of things to care about. We’re in our 7th year of war, oil is seeping into the Gulf of Mexico, the polar bears are drowning because all their ice is melting, cows, pigs, and chickens are being tortured in factories, anyone who is not a wealthy, white, straight man is being discriminated against, and 25,000 people around the world die every day from hunger-related causes.
Hipsters, I get that your torn vintage shirt is so cool. I love that new band too (but they’re not on the radio yet, so don’t worry, you can keep liking them.) I dig your ironic humor and tongue-in-cheek 80’s reference. But please, please, please, take all of your creative energy and put it towards DOING SOMETHING for this world. It needs you, and now. Don’t let the revolution die with you.
Author’s note: You can find a 2012 reanalysis of hipster culture and its effects on mainstream society here.