You know which word I’m talking about. You say it with a sneer, a high and mighty attitude. It’s often the deus ex machina of social uncertainty — an easy way to dismiss those that appear unrelatable without actually attempting to relate to them.
The word is ‘hipster’, and it has become so deeply ingrained within our society that it has not only changed the way we interact with those around us, but also how we interact with ourselves.
Originally, and I mean way back in the 1940s, the term hipster arose from a culture of swinging jazz music and good time fun. They were the people who did things they enjoyed and, somewhere along the line, they became the cool, trendy crowd. They were hip, thus, they were hipsters.
With that in mind, it is strange that the word has reemerged in the past decade with slightly sinister intentions.
Living in Melbourne, it’s only natural that our people are of the eccentric, flamboyant nature; it’s very hard not to be, when we’re constantly being bombarded by an eclectic mix of unique cultures and attitudes. A stroll through our bustling CBD would reveal a vast array of busking musicians, fine street artists, and even a crêpe stand (seriously, how awesome is the crêpe stand?). One of our city’s main landmarks looks like a melted rubix cube. We have more laneways than we do traffic lights. Walking up a flight of stairs plays out like a game of Russian roulette, where you could chance upon an art gallery, quirky clothing store or even a quaint little tea house.
With this kind of playground at our disposal, we’re almost obliged to mature into fascinating people, aren’t we? At the very least, we should be a populace who are firm in our fixations and willing to stand by them. There is so much to choose from in terms of interests, hobbies and people, is it too much to ask that we be proudly unique?
This, my dear reader, is where the concept of the 21st century hipster comes in. The typical definition of a hipster (and by typical I mean according to every single blog on the internet that has ever tried to define a hipster ever) is that of a pretentious young person who wears ridiculous clothing and wallows in their own self-importance. What irks me about this common definition is that it is almost completely based on a subjective viewpoint.
What is it about how a person dresses, or how they behave, that allows us to consider them pretentious hipsters? For a society that is meant to encourage individuality and free-thinking, we sure do spend a lot of time labelling others with our own biased judgements.
Of course, there’s the standard argument that’s often used: calling out these so-called hipsters for trying to “swim against the stream”. To be perfectly honest, I find that absolutely ridiculous. What kind of mainstream is there for an individual to go against? How can you try to be different when nobody is the same?
The H word doesn’t only encompass a subculture, but an entire ideology — an ideology that oppresses and shapes our view of society, perhaps not on the grand scale as some kind of 1984 totalitarian regime, but an oppressive ideology nonetheless. Don’t like that person’s music? Call them a hipster and make them feel bad about themselves! They must be trying so hard to be different by not doing what you’re doing! I must be a hipster for writing a piece about the topic! It’s all rather silly in the end.
But no matter how silly it is, it’s proven to be effective. For many of us (and to be perfectly honest, that includes me), there have been moments in our lives where we’ve hesitated in acting upon good ideas due to fear of being judged by others. So what are we meant to do about that? The obvious answer is to just ignore criticism and do what makes you happy. In reality, that’s hard to adhere to when our happiness is often bound up with the approval of others.
I propose an alternative — a beautiful, beautiful alternative, where we accept both our flaws and our differences. We should embrace the title of hipster, in all of its wondrous absurdity. We should wear it proud, just like we wear our awkward hairstyles and patterned sweaters, and ingore the jibes of others.
Who knows, maybe detractors will come to admire our confidence and eventually embrace our styles as the mainstream? And then who’ll be the hipsters?