Our story begins one Friday morning in January. I had just awoken and found myself tasked with covering up my manly nakedness, lest it arouse the ladyfolk to states of insatiable desire.
I selected black dress pants as is my wont and -- because it amused me -- a Ramones T-shirt advertising their little-loved 1992 album “Mondo Bizarro.” Though the T-shirt didn’t date back to its release, it could be considered “vintage” by virtue of the fact that I bought it in 1999, when I was 23.
That night, I joined my brother, Chris, and his wife, Tonikka, for dinner and a movie at West Edmonton Mall, North America’s largest shopping and entertainment center (Note: As an Edmontonian I am obligated to write this BY PENALTY OF DEATH).
One of the side effects of my size is that I’m usually mostly invisible in the outside world. To the point that I would feel lucky if I got a sidelong glance as I walked around with a bazooka slung over my shoulder, while I masturbated and sung “My Humps” in the style of an 18th-century castrato.
But as we walked down to our restaurant, I noticed a few folks glancing my way.
“What are you wearing?” Tonikka suddenly interrupted my inner dialogue. “That’s like the sixth guy I’ve seen staring at you since we got here.”
In that instant I created a mental mirror and tried to guess what it was that was attracting these eyes in my direction. Black dress pants? No. The fedora I traditionally wear on top of my head? They’re so common now it seemed unlikely. The T-shirt? Why would anyone care about an old Ramones T-shirt?
It was then that all became clear to me. It wasn’t any one item that was drawing this attention. It was what happened when all of them were put together. Apart, they were all fine and completely normal, but when combined I looked…ohmyfawkinggawd…like a goddamn mothereffing hipster.
Over the past couple of years, few people in this world have become more acceptably derided and despised than those accused of hipster-dom. If you work in a creative industry, your email folder is hit by another hilarious denunciation of the hipster ethos and lifestyle every five minutes, almost all of which has been created by folks who most people would assume are actually hipsters themselves. Many an hour has been spent at my workplace discussing the intricacies of the hipster phenomenon.
Given the enmity people have for such individuals, it’s a term often assigned but never owned. You seldom, if ever, see a person proclaim that they are a hipster and proud of it. And if they ever did, it would be done ironically, which would seemingly serve as both denial AND proof at the same time.
Part of the problem is that few people seem to agree exactly what a hipster is. Some focus on specific affectations and wardrobe choices, while for others it’s an attitude and overall sensibility. What everyone does seem to agree on is that hipsters rate somewhere below Casey Anthony and bloody diarrhea on the “Things That Deserve to Exist” scale.
Knowing that I can -- at a distance -- be occasionally confused for such loathed specimens, I decided it was in my best interest to try and definitively pin down what a hipster is and why people hate them as much as they do. Based solely on those hilarious emails I so often receive, hipsters would seem to be guys with moustaches who dress in sweat pants and vintage pop culture T-shirts, who spend their entire day waiting for a new derisive music review to be posted on a website dubiously called “Pitchfork.”
I have no doubt that such people exist, but the amount I’ve actually seen in the wild bears no relation to the fury they engender. There simply aren’t enough of them out there to earn that much collective hatred. A common complaint is that hipsters delight in celebrating retro-kitsch as a means of separating themselves from the common throng. That is to say they celebrate the cultural dross the mainstream has rejected in order to ironically prove their superiority to it. These days this might mean deeply embracing 80s electronic music, the worst albums by great bands (“Mondo Bizarro” anyone?), the films of Chuck Norris, cheap blue collar beer, “Saved By the Bell” reruns, etc.
The thing is, though, is that this pretty accurately describes almost every creative person I know. While the degree to which they enjoy such things varies greatly, chances are most imaginative people are primed to embrace unique aspects of pop culture that stand out in both good and bad ways. It has less to do with “irony” than the fact that “bad” is very often much more interesting and entertaining than “good.”
Based on my own experience, this measure is far too broad and overreaching to pin down the hipster nucleus. No, in seeking out my own definition of what a hipster is, I decided to do what all pretentious assholes must do when engaged in such pursuits -- look back to history for perspective and insight. It always occurred to me that hipster was a more modern way of accusing a person of being a dilettante, which most dictionaries define as “A person who cultivates an area of interest, such as the arts, without real commitment or knowledge.”
Italian in origin, dilettante had originated as a way to simply describe someone as a “devoted amateur,” but during the 18th century the term took on the negative connotation suggested in the above definition. These new dilettantes were essentially wealthy poseurs whose interest in art and music had less to do with their own talent and passion than a desire to be perceived as cultured citizens of the world. But rather than impress anyone, their fumbling attempts at artistic relevance only highlighted how clueless they really were. My feeling is that the modern hipster is merely the most recent example of this phenomenon.
They’re the folks who want to be perceived as being on a higher cultural level than the average person, but simply lack the talent, intelligence, charisma, or
je ne sais quoi
to pull it off. They’re the people who pursue their unique interests only as a means to impress others, but are far too transparent in that pursuit to impress anyone. In essence, hipsters are stupid, lame people who want everyone to think they’re cool and smart.
This being the case, they strike me as being more worthy of pity than hate. Still, there’s something so innately pathetic about this desire to impress that it’s easy to understand why it inspires so much rage when we’re exposed to it. Not to mention the fact that there is something very insulting about the idea that we might be fooled by such obvious gestures. A few weeks after my Ramones T-shirt experience, I found myself walking downtown on my way to catch a bus home.
As I waited for a crosswalk light to change I noticed a man about five or ten years my junior walking towards me. Our attire wasn’t that dissimilar. He wore black dress pants, a flat cap, and a blue pea coat. His appearance was all completely acceptable, except for the fact that clenched firmly between his teeth was an old-fashioned tobacco pipe, from which he puffed while his hands remained in his pockets.
It was such a blatant act of “LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME!” hipster desperation that it made me want to laugh out loud, take his picture and punch him very hard in the face -- all at the same time. Rather than impress me with his cultivated image, he only succeeded in looking like a fool.
And that is why I think I can comfortably say why I am not a hipster, even though at the moment I do look, sound and act like one when viewed from a distance. I do everything I do because I enjoy doing it, not because I think it might impress anyone. The truth is I am far more shocked when it does.
I bought and wear that Ramones T-shirt because I love that band and even though “Mondo Bizarro” isn’t one of their best efforts, it has “Poison Heart” on it, which I also sincerely love. I wear an old-fashioned hat because when I went to Vancouver in 2008 I bought one I liked and started wearing it all the time. I write about terrible B-Movies because they give me nothing but pleasure (and are filled with violence and nudity) and are much more fun to talk about than any other kind of film. If at any given moment any of my interests or style choices seem trendy, I carry on enjoying them knowing that trends die out and soon I’ll once again be having all that fun by myself.
I’ve figured out who I am, and if that currently makes me appear to be something I’m not, that’s fine, because I really don’t care. That said, if you ever see me walking around smoking a pipe, I give you explicit permission to put a bullet in my head.