[16 March 2010]
Carles (of all people) links to this Village Voice piece by Foster Kamer about how the word hipster can drive internet traffic. He cites this egregious example from Salon, titled “Hipsters on Food Stamps.” There’s an interesting angle to the story of young people using government money for food, but making it sound as if they are trying to be hip by doing it is patronizing and counterproductive. It’s backlash bait, and young people (who suffer disproportionately in recessions) don’t deserve that. The article, by Jennifer Bleyer, doesn’t even push that angle, but the headline writers have to attract hits, and readers apparently want to read stories about how hipsters are lame.
As Kamer suggests, if the term hipster has any sort of meaning beyond “young-seeming person,” then it doesn’t seem to apply to the people in the article. His description of the word’s history seems pretty accurate:
The truth is that “hipster” - which once only mostly signified only a superficial engagement of certain consumer habits, like tight jeans, Pitchfork-approved bands, and maybe an enclave in whatever part of your town is being gentrified by the moneyed children of baby boomers - has been used so much, it’s now just an amorphous term for “young person doing interesting young person things, maybe even some of which could be considered ‘cool’ or groundbreaking in some way.” In the same way we’re all “emos” because we’re all “emotional beings” who all listen to “emotional music,” because most music is inherently emotional. Maybe now that the word has peaked, maybe if we say it enough, maybe if we just read better writing (or write better for our readers), it’ll go away. But probably not.
But hipster has become SEO gold, and as such, as meaningless as “hot” or “sexy” or any other marketing word that fires an emotional trigger by evoking a mood rather than something concrete and definable. The term probably thrives at this point because it seems to be something that people feel empowered to voice their opinion about, in a two-minute-hate sort of way. No special insight is required, and nearly everyone believes they have expertise on fashion and consumption—which makes hipsterism an ideal hot button issue. All you have to do is experience a moment of alienation or exclusion or noncomprehension at the sight of somebody wearing or doing something that seems designed to be noticed. Then you are an expert on hipsters, and can start complaining about how they have ruined everything. Hipster is a reaction, not a person.