I have been having a lot of fun in recent weeks taking the mickey out of the hipper inhabitants of my neighbourhood. Ripping them for their lack of irony, helping a friend to surreptitiously take pictures of overly sincere straw boater-wearing, which may end up on here soon. And I am not the only one. It is becoming the last acceptable form of abuse: hipsterism. Yes, I am unashamedly hipsterist.
There are two universal truths. 1. No one ever thinks they are a hipster. 2. Everyone hates a hipster.
Even the word itself is a bastardisation. The original Beatniks of San Francisco’s North Beach used ‘hip’ amongst themselves as a badge of cool, to be hip was a good thing, usually involving ready access to a good supply of marijuana and an air of knowing which way the wind blew. Kerouac himself preferred the team ‘Beat’, reckoning that it had an air of ‘beatific’ about it, seeing a holiness and saintliness in his friends that they probably never realised they displayed:
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—a vision gleaned from the way we had heard the word “beat” spoken on street corners on Times Square and in the Village, in other cities in the downtown city night of postwar America—beat, meaning down and out but full of intense conviction
They used ‘hippie’ as a derogatory term, to mock the younger influx to the west coast in the sixties, feeling they were more about the look and the slang than the way of life, too caught up in tuning in, turning on and dropping out to look beyond the superficial at the mind expansion so beloved of their elders. Now the word has returned for the noughties, back and ready to be used to deride a new generation.
The attitude that wearing the right shoes is a substitute for personality needs to be challenged at every turn. If it is true, as Nick Hornby said in High Fidelity, that what you like is more important than what you are like, we are in trouble. There is some pretty heavy shit coming down the pass at us and, if all we have to throw back at it are some people with exquisite taste in vintage clothing and not much else, then we are fucked. Doomed, I tell you, by our own shallowness. It is beautiful to express your own nature in the clothes you wear and the lifestyle you choose, this is freedom in its rawest form (‘I am what I am!’) but when it comes as a substitute for rational thinking, it needs to be questioned. If the Iranians could see how lightly we take our freedoms and how easily we surrender them, would they still be fighting so hard to win their own?
Huge things are going on in the world but the hipster vision is about limiting horizons, ignoring focus on anything that isn’t the self. There is a spirited defence of the hipster mind state here, which suggests that many possess ‘creative analytical thinking abilities’. If so, it must be time to use them. It is not healthy to be so self-absorbed, nor is it healthy to hang out in tribes with people who think exactly as you do. It is a tragedy to ignore your capacity to transform the world because you are too occupied in clambering up the greasy pole to uber-hipsterdom. The style exists, but is useless without the substance. So achieve something too. Write the book, make the movie, start that band. Or have those dreams on one side while you crack on with sorting out corrupt politicians, our screwed economy and world hunger. Demonstrate that you are made of more than a ‘complicated’ haircut and an ability to follow trends. Make life about more than being an advertiser’s wet dream. Then I and all the others will have to find something else to hate.