Looking back at the past decade (I was a very wise and seasoned six years old at its start, so clearly I’m apt to dissect its cultural going-ons), the prevailing cultural trend, which burrowed itself irrevocably into the American conscience, heart and blogosphere, is the re-emergence of the hipster. Love them or (probably) hate them, this easy to laugh at and hard to define subcultural phenomenon has undoubtedly impacted the past decade.
The term ‘hipster’ has been floating around since the ’20s, reappearing in the angel-headed junkies of the ‘50s and then the coffee house swarming, soul-patched neo-beats of the ‘90s. Since 2003 or so, the hipster clan has moved out of hibernation in the hostels of Portland and onto the streets of Brooklyn and the alleys of the internet. They are the baristas looking on disdainfully while you flip through People, or even The New York Times, while sipping on your cappuccino. They comment angrily and anonymously when you liked Katy Perry on Facebook and then vent on the ‘Brooklyn Vegan’. They think up an endless and unpublished list of “do’s” and “don’t’s,” snickering condescendingly at those unfamiliar with the subtle connotations behind every band or movie or book and ask if “you really like that?”.
I return to my near-morbid obsession with the hipster to classify and categorize the elusive order, whose population mushroomed in the fecundity of this decade of technology — a difficult task considering the vast incongruities between alts clumped within the same genus. So broad a definition of hipster-dom, to me, seemed crazier than Four Loko, so I set about dissecting the label. With much deliberation, I separated alternative culture into two distinct species: the tube-sock-wearing, PBR-sipping, Vice readers and the cardie-clad, Yeasayer-loving poets. In more concise terms, the mustachioed and the bearded.
With the distinctions in mind, I worked to understand how such distinguished divisions could fit under one title. It boiled down to high-brow versus low-brow culture. Team Beard-o marked themselves with an affected appreciation for the high arts — flaunting their understanding of modern art and David Foster Wallace in regular conversation — proving not their intellectual elitism, but rather their actual standing amongst the despised middlebrow. This group is the much less interesting sub-species; self-righteous idiots feigning superiority have been here since there were true intellectuals to imitate.
The group at the other end of the ironic facial hair spectrum — the mustaches — are much more interesting. They justify their love of cheap beer, wife-beaters, tube socks, bad movies and cars with ironic glee, claiming (never aloud) that their penchant for the debauched and the trashy proves their actual artistic authority. Their reversion to the basest of vices and trends, however, demonstrates an actual and unsaid appreciation for the most primitive of cultures: the low-brow.
The marriage of high and low-brow cultures, a seemingly unlikely match, however, has existed in nearly every society. The interests of the intellectual elite and the culturally deficient always seem to align; while the masses follow ingrained societal and moral codes with steadfast conformity, society’s extremes flout conventions with either willful rebellion or mere ignorance. The ‘enlightened’ elite transcend (or pretend to) prudish ideas about sex, drugs or other taboos, while the flotsam of civilization participate in base pleasures because they’re just that.
The modern hipster, then, is nothing new. It has existed well before American Apparel models wormed across banners like sexy jellyfish, prior to when Urban Outfitters started selling ascots and non-prescription glasses, even before Pitchfork was so much as a glint in Ryan Schreiber’s triangular heart. So long as civilization has had a creative intelligentsia and its opposite, the uncultivated castoffs, hipsters have stood by, haughtily adjusting their keffiyah scarves while they impatiently explain for the last time what dub-step is.