Saturday, 14 January 2012

DIE-HARD, TRY-HARD: being a dickhead's cool.

Dear Internet,

After a short hiatus from blogging, I have returned. Did you miss me? Not at all. (*sigh*). Well the subject of today's post is a beguiling phenomena that I have only recently discovered: THE HIPSTER.

Now, I for one know that when my grandparents were in their youth the term "hipster" was being bartered about, and was on more than one occasion probably applied to both of my paternal grandparents (Yes, Jill and John!), so what the word is doing in the 2010s I have no idea. From my understanding it is used to describe someone who wants to appear "individual" whilst simultaneously doing everything they do to be "cool" and "fit in". A hipster apparently takes something "authentic" and makes it "inauthentic" and "fake". So the word "hipster" is more or less another word for "try-hard", except in this context they're trying hard to seem different, whilst not actually trying to be different at all. Confused? I am.

According to Wikipedia, this is how Matt Granfield charts the rise of the new hipster:

For this new generation, style wasn't something you could buy in a department store, it became something you found in a thrift shop, or, ideally, made yourself. The way to be cool wasn't to look like a television star: it was to look like as though you'd never seen television.

A "hipster" conforms in non-conformity, which, when you get over the weirdness of the idea, actually makes a lot of sense. The difficulty then, when looking at Hipster culture, is trying to decide who is genuine and who is just trying to be cool. Those who are genuine are probably either effortlessly cool or effortlessly too weird to be cool, and those who are just trying to be cool are consciously wanting to be in either of the two former categories, probably preferably the first, although if asked they might say the second which is the "not cool" answer, thereby elevating their "individuality".

I might be an idiot for only just becoming acquainted with this label now; perhaps I have been living under a rock for the past 12 years, perhaps the term has simply not hit Lincolnshire yet, perhaps the term hit Lincolnshire 70 years ago and does not seem to apply to this new generation of try-hards, perhaps (DUH DUH DUH) I am an unconscious "hipster" myself.

One of the things that has shocked me most, as I've trawled the internet searching for understanding of the Hipster, is the colossal amount of sheer hatred for the hipster culture. Which is quite worrying, because when I look at what a hipster is defined as, I come ever closer to believing I may belong to this generation of nerdy kids trying to be cool. Or cool kids trying to be nerdy. Either way, neither group quite manages it.

I now invite you to assess yourself against the following checklist: Are you a Hipster? Because it looks like every normal teenager in the UK might be...

  • HAIR: do you have a "cool" haircut? If so you are probably a Hipster. OR do you have an "uncool" and "alternative" haircut? If so you are probably a Hipster. OR do you never really put much effort into your hair, is it overgrown / messy? If so you are probably a Hipster.
  • CLOTHES: do you shop at TOPMAN? If so you are probably a Hipster. do you wear old clothes or hand-me-downs or garments you found in charity stores? If so you are definitely a Hipster. Do you have a lot of clothes in "serious" colours, like greys and greens and blues and earthy, neutral colours? If so you are probably a Hipster. Do you have lots of bright and colourful clothes that send subconscious messages to passers-by that you might possibly be the most gleeful person on the planet? If so you are not moody enough to be Hipster. Do you wear big frame glasses despite your 20/20 vision? YOU'RE THE WORST FUCKING HIPSTER OF THE LOT. do you have a tattoo? Hipster! Do you smoke? Hipster! Tobacco pipe/roll your own? SuperHipster! Score! You wear vintage? Take style tips from your grandparents? Think looking like a homeless man is a compliment? H-I-P-S-T-E-R. Don't forget to draw a moustache on your finger. Irony FTW!!!

  • MUSIC: Do you listen to alternative music? You're a Hipster. Do you like genres that aren't considered "mainstream"? Hello, you're a Hipster. Do you stop liking artists when they reach a level of popularity that makes them "cool"? Hipster, Hipster, Hipster. Do you like the X Factor? YOU WILL NEVER BE A HIPSTER. Did you support "Rage against the Machine"? You could be a potential Hipster. Do you have anything on vinyl? If yes, how do you not know that you're a hipster? Are you in a band? Hipster all the way... Extra points if you play the ukulele!
  • POLITICS: You're, like, totes in to politics, right? You can name about 5 MPs and you protested (or wanted to) against the rise in university fees. No? Well, you're probably not Hipster. Do you support charity? Of course you do: well done, you Hipster. BUT WAIT: Is it some obscure charity nobody has ever heard of? Yes? You might be too alternative to be Hipster. For a Hipster, charity means putting your copper coins in those collection boxes at McDonald's or going to a charity gig or even buying the Big Issue and then reading it somewhere public so everyone can see how alternative you are, buying magazines from the homeless. Have you ever said "Tramps are people too"? You're a Hipster. Have you said it and recognised the irony of that paradoxical phrase? Yes, well you just cancelled out your Hipsterness.
Starting to see a pattern here? Well I do. Hipster is inauthentic and try-hard, but it also covers most of what "cool" kids would do and what "uncool" kids would do. So really everyone is a Hipster. I personally wouldn't call myself a "hipster", I would never use the words "hip" or "trendy" to describe something I like. I consider myself a pretty "mainstream" person. I like "mainstream" things, like the nerdy look (which is nowadays normal), and I can identify the unoriginality of my interests. On the other hand, a Hipster is essentially pretentious, always alternative and never mainstream.

But why now? Why has this arrived now? There have always been pretentious kids and try-hards, and what is pretentiousness and try-hard but a subjective term defined by others who probably didn't like you in the first place. It seems like everyone has to fit a label these days (although, your typical Hipster would claim otherwise), but the average UK teenager only has two real choices: Hipster or Chav. And of course the vast majority of middle-class and above teenagers could not be a genuine Chav if they tried, as it is a stereotype deeply rooted within the working-class and benefit-absorbing communities of council estates (two very different things, mind), so Hipster is the only other option.

I personally like the "Hipster" phenomena to an extent, although not the word that describes it. Perhaps "being yourself" is not in fact the new cool thing to do but something that has been around for generations. Or maybe we just watched more Disney films than any generation before us. Or maybe not: My mum recalls her sixth-form days when she and her friends would buy proper army shirts, big and baggy and second-hand, and match them with huge, grunge-before-grunge-existed-boots and strut around in them thinking they looked like the bees' knees. "Alternative" culture is nothing new. I think the Hipster image defines what has been considered cool in the UK for generations.

In my reading to understand "the Hipster", I have come across several claims that it is a backlash against Americanism, hence why President Bush and the Iraq War, along with TV shows like Desperate Housewives and Glee, are not cool amongst Hipsters. Certainly, this would make sense, as the cool nerd is something far-removed from the traditional stereotypes of what is cool in school, but who really has a school like those the American media presents to us? Americans, apparently. As a student on the other side of the Atlantic, I can assure you, our schools are radically different to those seen on TV. I have been to many schools and I have never encountered a group of self-proclaimed "jocks". For sure, the sportier kids are generally more "popular" and more likely to participate in bullying, and at the all-boys Grammar where I completed my GCSEs and A-levels the rugby team more than filled in this role of a clique of self-promoting cool bullies. (Six hundred photos on Fb of THAT super awesome gig, taken on the iPhone and converted into Polaroid-style pictures, FUCK YEAH.) However, I think this high school stereotype is something that thrives in fiction and the media (and maybe America and single-sex schools too?) and pretty much nowhere else.

As a matter of fact, I've just found this perfect video on youtube which encapsulates all that is Hipster:

I think someone looking at me would probably accuse me of being a Hipster: I wear glasses, ACTUAL GLASSES (which currently also have one of the lenses cellotaped in), I wear a lot of clothes from TOPMAN/charity shops/vintage fairs, I like Christmas Jumpers and bow ties and have an extensive collection, I like art and theatre and writing, I have an iPhone (although I can't use it) and a blog and a bad haircut. But the truth is, I'm probably not (ironically) cool enough to be Hipster. This is me in the most Hipster-esque picture I could find (on Fb and not my own):

Urgh, hello forehead... IKR?

However, the key to being a Hipster is this: PRETENTIOUSNESS. I am a little bit pretentious. I have a tweed jacket and dress like I'm an upper class nerd despite half my clothes coming from Primark and my grades at school being more than mediocre. I like NU FOLK and ALTERNATIVE music but I also like ABBA. My favourite films include Metropolis and Things To Come, but I also like watching Desperate Housewives when it's on TV.

So to conclude, in order to be a Hipster, I think you have to be a die-hard, try-hard, putting so much into liking "cool, alternative things" that you limit yourself from enjoying anything "cool and mainstream". Maybe it's okay to be Hipster, if you can still laugh at yourself, after all, you're only young once and it's only when you're young that you can get away with behaving like such a mega twat. As long as you're genuinely being yourself, and that yourself is not too weird that you don't know who Simon Cowell is, don't worry because you're probably not a Hipster in the negative sense. If, however, you've read this and come to the conclusion that *actually* you are indeed a Hipster, never fear! As the following song reminds us, being a dickhead's cool.

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