Why I Don’t Hate Hipsters Anymore
A 3-Tiered Definitive Glance at a Confusing Urban Label
written by Corey Largent
edited by Nick Palm, Nick Tichy, & Zack Newman
"HIPSTER" is a baffling label that is simultaneously embraced and avoided by the current generation. The most stereotypical “hipster” thing I can legitimately say about myself is that I started hating hipsters before it was cool. I am a native San Franciscan, I’ve lived there my whole life and, like most of my fellow natives, I am made uneasy by San Francisco’s ever-changing cultural makeup. We tend to think the shifts in socioeconomic trends pose a threat to the security blanket of danger, grit, and art that nurtured and hardened us as adolescents. My interests have, for most of my life, placed me on a certain urban-artistic fringe, gaining friendships in mostly edgy, creative cliques. I’ve enjoyed being a casual participant in graffiti sessions, creating and producing hip hop with noteworthy local talents, passively having a skateboard handy at all times, frequenting the now-legendary PoundSF metal shows and playing in a number of active bands all since my early teens. This wealth of local immersion has shaped the type of artist and human that I now am at 25 years-old.
As a senior in high school, I began to notice a trend of people who resembled the easy-to-mock-yet-admirably-loyal “emo” scene kids, steadily seeming to latch onto the things I held dear. Pretty soon, there were teenage boys with swooped bangs and skinny jeans frequenting the favorite local graffiti supply shops on Haight Street, learning “hardcore dance moves” online and infiltrating my favorite mosh pits. They were learning to kick-flip, and even trying their skills at house party freestyle cyphers over my beats. A graffiti writer friend of mine referred to these pests as “hipsters.” I quickly adopted the term into my growing high-horse of vernacular, and utilized it as a weapon of local snobbery.
In my very early adulthood, hipsters seemed to represent those who wanted artistic credit without putting in the years of effort and dedication that I felt I had spent, partially by having been in San Francisco since birth. “Posers”, some might call them. However, I had been naive to a very important fact up until I got my first rent-paying job at age 19. Having grown up surrounded by other natives, not until I joined the workforce did I realize that most people in San Francisco usually come from other places. In fact, this had historically been the case ever since they named it San Francisco. My city was no longer my city, but a city of the world— a place where people arrive to reinvent themselves in both meaningful and superficial manners. This all began to make me feel like a stranger in my own home, when in fact, I was just a part of the scenery.
Natives will be viewed passively like aged murals unless we contribute to the culture blossoming and decaying around us. The attitude of intruder resentment just allows people to party on your proverbial lawn as you get no say. I now acknowledge that “they” are driving the economy. So unless we want to be forced out for not keeping pace, we must find a way to monetize their growing presence: become a reason for people to love San Francisco by utilizing the unique attitude and perspective that we natives tend to guard and defend so pretentiously, causing visitors to not care about whatever it is that’s so important to us.
These sentiments of acceptance took a long time to find a place in my heart and have brought me invaluable serenity among the chaos that trudges through the city’s hardened veins and constipated boulevards. My sense of urban self is currently in a place with a vantage point that rivals the view from atop Corona Heights, even when hopscotching through the concrete canyons and above-ground sewers of the Tenderloin. It’s a state that can be reached by allowing yourself to understand what it is that’s stressing you out. Who’s been picking your daisies? Who’s been crashing your party? Who’s been “Instagramming” your secrets? What do we call these people? Hipsters.
So, why don’t we just round them up and exile them to Los Angeles? For starters, even though seemingly everyone makes fun of them, nobody seems to know what the fuck a hipster even is. Hipsters have become akin to a fabled predator, described by elders at a tribal campfire to symbolically blame for a bad harvest. It’s not the guy my friends bragged about scaring away from a graffiti hotspot when I was in high school. Nobody cares about that guy anymore. So what qualifies this taboo cultural status? Is it a mustache? Sorry, but that qualifies half the police force and my dad. If every guy with a mustache gets called a hipster, then every guy wearing women’s jeans is a tranny.
Is it a fondness for nostalgic fashion? Not necessarily. My friend’s dad once said “Hipster fashion is just a way for ugly people to get laid”. While I still laugh when I think of that sentence, you could just as easily take the word “hipster” out of it and still make sense. Meanwhile, those guys who reenact the Civil War aren’t driving up the rent in the Mission District or getting laid.
So how can we define a classification of people that’s constantly changing its fashions and interests? The answer to the question that I’ve actually come up with may take a minute to compute, but it makes more sense than just going to Dolores Park on a Tuesday afternoon, pointing and saying “that guy.”
To grasp the definition of hipster is to view our urban culture in a basic three-tiered system:
- The first tier consists of people like me. We are the people who were the first ones of a generation to happen upon something unique and embrace and nurture it as our own until it becomes a bond-forming institution of solitude. We take great pride and ownership in these discoveries.
- The second tier consists of the hipsters. They are generally not remarkably unique on their own, rather they are uniqueness enthusiasts. They are excited by things that have organically taken on a life of their own in certain counter-cultures, and are quick to adopt these things into their social resume, like vacationers on a limitless excursion.
- The third and final tier consists of mainstream consumers who are indifferent to uniqueness, and just adapt to massive, changing trends as they ebb and flow. They often find out about fashion and music via marketing campaigns that are run by motivated hipsters making money off of flourishing counter-cultural uniqueness, and therefore they can easily be mistaken as hipsters themselves at first glance.
Members of the first tier are characterized by a general shared want to separate and dissociate from the members of the second tier who may cramp their style. These are the only people who seem to truly understand why they “hate” hipsters as so many say they do these days. However, as an artist myself, I’ve grown to realize that there’s nothing the matter with embracing people who are impressed by what you’ve established from the ground-up, but who happened to show up late. After all, it is the hipsters who pollenate the counter-culture. They are the ones who buy your limited vinyl and brag about you to their friends. They are the ones who can at least carry on a conversation about your art with some educated theses. The ability and/or desire to converse about the art we consume is an important distinction from the third tier.
If you never really think about hipsters in a negative or threatened manner, if you have ever referred to a restaurant as a “hipster restaurant” just to imply that the crowd was young, then you are probably a member of the third tier. I’ve looked at people before who are enjoying things I once thought to be characteristic of hipsters (v-neck shirts, neon sunglasses, gauge piercings), but then noticed bulging biceps, tribal armband tattoos, domestic light beer, Frisbees aloft, pop music blaring at barbecues and thought to myself, “Are these frat bros, or hipsters?” Understanding the third tier is understanding that fraternity-minded men (and their female counterparts) are mainstream consumers who have no interest in exploring the urban underbelly for unique treasures. If you see them adorning seemingly hipster fashions, it’s because of hipsters who have been the vessel through which such things can reach mainstream success.
The media occasionally tries to encapsulate the zeitgeist and utilize the hipster cliche as a casual descriptive term. Admirable attempts have been made to liken the hipster culture to the hippies, the beat-nicks, even the slacker-chic ‘90s alternative non-movement. However, this very broad category of contemporary, young adults does not claim any notable leaders, ideologies, definitive literature, or motivation to accrue such credentials. Hipster appears to be less of an identity, and more of an identity crisis. They are droves of twenty-somethings perpetually making vain attempts at reckless individualism via the art of others, like neon chameleons. And yet if you search for them, you will realize there is no “them.”
I would like to encourage everyone to drop the veil of conceit and pretentiousness through which we view members of these social tiers of consumerism, for our individual definitions of this demonized “hipster” character have become convoluted to the point that the more we say, the less we know what we’re saying. I have clearly spent far too much time thinking about who was always in my way, and in the process, I realized that those very people are actually bounties of opportunity for those of us with creative drive. As I navigate through the jungle, I’ve dropped my machete and learned to let the wandering vines hang. I hope you can say I’ve done the hard part for you, and now you can get on with your lives, either embracing one another, or at least knowing why you’re so hateful toward strangers.