Monday, March 22, 2010

a modest proposal

Can we please just de-stigmatize the word "hipster"? It's so pointless how it has to be an insult. I hate it that there's no other word to describe (in a neutral fashion) any of the zillions of decent, non-offensive people who nonetheless are culturally oriented that way. You know: who like things that are "indie" and "organic," who are oriented toward "design" and living/hanging out in thoooose parts of Brooklyn and doing yoga, who go to rock shows and art shows, who are versed in "Target yay, Wal-Mart nay" and ideas about what it means to be "ironic." I am one of those people, and if you're reading this, you probably are too. And there needs to be a name for it that isn't a pejorative.

It's just annoying how you can't go, "I hated working on Wall Street because I was the only hipster," or "Let's have brunch in Park Slope; there are lots of good hipster places." I'm fond of talking about the period of my life "before I was a hipster," i.e. when my favorite foods were full of high fructose corn syrup and I went to every Meg Ryan romantic comedy and my idea of alternative music was stuff like No Doubt and the Smashing Pumpkins. But referring to yourself as a hipster is tantamount to writing a novel and calling it "chick lit." I say, it doesn't have to be.

There are hipsters and there are non-hipsters. Like the people who ask me what kind of music I like and when I utter the word "indie" they don't know what it means and think it has to do with India or Indianapolis. I would even go so far as to say that if you ever use the word "hipster," you are a hipster.

Shut up. It isn't a bad thing. People who aren't hipsters don't think about or talk about hipsters, and most of them wouldn't even know a hipster if they came mustache-to-ironic-mustache with one. They can't tell the difference between those mustaches and the ones sported by insurance salesmen.

Gawker is having people vote on a new word to replace "hipster." I think they're mainly doing it because the word is overused, and not because of the complaint I'm raising, but I'll take it. I voted for "doucheoisie," and was pleased to see it was the most popular choice (although now they're having a runoff vote and the rather less ideal "fauxhemians" is in the lead). I like "doucheoisie" because it does not have to be explained. Anyone familiar with the lore of "hipster" and the notion that it's an insult will get it. I also like it because it's so obviously negative. So now anyone who uses "hipster" to mean "pretentious, superficial snob" can use "doucheoisie" to mean that instead, and the rest of us innocent, unpretentious hipsters can have our word back and use it in totally unloaded ways that simply describe the cultural milieu that we gravitate to. That cultural milieu is a real thing, and it needs a name. "Bohemian" sounds like it's from another era. ("Fauxhemian" sounds like someone who's trying and failing to be a hippie.) Ditto "counterculture." "Artsy" sounds self-aggrandizing and self-denigrating at the same time. "Alternative" and "underground" make it sound like a fringe movement, or something that's defined by its opposition to the mainstream, which it isn't quite.

Also witness the battle between Salon and Slate over the article on Salon about "hipsters on food stamps," in which young, artistically-inclined, unemployed or underemployed urbanites whose tastes in food hew more to the organic chicken side of things than the Little Debbie Snack Cakes side have found they're poor enough for food stamps and are using them in ways socially incongruous with the stereotypes of food stamps. There was a "puh-leaze" overtone to the piece, a chiding oh you're just so precious, with all your highfalutin food "tastes" even when you're broke and an implication that these people must not really be broke enough to need food stamps, despite being officially eligible for them.

Slate (rightly) objected, pointing out that just because someone is steeped in the trappings of cultural privilege doesn't mean they're also financially privileged. And isn't that, at its root, what the insult-ization of "hipster" is really about? The idea that anyone with cultural privilege is obnoxious for having it? (Despite that people who use the insult also have the privilege and thus can recognize it when they see it?) I know we're all fond of talking in the shorthand of "trust fund," but you don't have to be remotely that rich to end up, as an adult, culturally oriented that way. And if your parents don't have enough money to support you, and you want to pursue a career in the arts or publishing, then yeah, especially now, you're going to be poor. It sucks. Should you instead pursue a career in some less precious, more lucrative sector, like, say, insurance sales? See if your colleagues there know the word "indie."

Do you know a better word for the concept? I'd like to hear it.


  1. I don't know a better word but I just want to say a hearty "here here!" (or is it "hear hear"?) If it's any consolation, I've had this conversation with several people in the past few months, so I'm pretty sure the whole term is on its way out - not the same as being re-imagined, but still.

    It's a lazy shorthand. It's the new "hippie."

    I was talking to my brother not long ago. He's a corporate lawyer now, but he went to NYU, where most of his friends were at Tisch; he lives in Greenpoint; his friends mostly live in Greenpoint and Williamsburg and work in creative fields and go see live music and ride bikes as much as possible. And he pointed out that he doesn't know a single person living off a trust fund. Granted, some of his friends probably get parental aid in one form or another, but seriously, if there's anyone who should know a trust-fund hipster of the popular imagination, it's him, and he doesn't. It's a strawman.

  2. I dunno... I just spent the day in Greenpoint, and I am not that, and you and most of my friends are not either (I mean that in a good way) despite liking a certain kind of food and music. So I think "hipster" as a concept is not false; I think the problem is that there is no middle ground term in between the ironic acid wash and dockers, which is where most people we know fall. I think "hipster" may have, in the past, or outside NYC LA SF and the Pacific Northwest, just signified people of good, hip taste, but there is an undeniable subset of people residing in certain parts of those cities that really do manifest that unpleasant, ironically elitistly ugly aesthetic and tie it to a lot of unpleasant behaviors that most people outside of that subset would find intolerable. Therefore, there has to be a term for this concept as it is so often necessary in urban life, i.e., "let's not go to X establishment for brunch as it has been overtaken by hipsters" etc.

  3. Morgan--I get what you're saying, and maybe the easiest solution is to just keep referring to that concept as "hipsters," but we still need a name for the other concept. Like for when you want to say things like, "I want to live/work somewhere where I'm not the only ______." There seriously is no word for it.

    1. Testing! Does this comment reply to my other comment, or to the entire blog post?