So, what exactly is a hipster?
There is no clear definition for hipster.
One would think there is. Simply insert an awkward human being, dress him tattered hand-me-downs, add a pair of two sizes too small jeans, attach a pair of Buddy Holly glasses, and throw them in the bookstore. Make them liberal, or libertarian, or for sophistication’s sake, a liberal libertarian. Don’t forget to add a collection of vinyl records to their parent’s basement. Make them indie, but not obvious indie. Grizzly Bear is too mainstream now, try King Kahn.
One would think that’s how a hipster would be defined. But it doesn’t cut it. Not even close. Not for a true hipster, at least.
English Language and Literature Professor Robert Fanning,whose sweater vest betrays him as one of the most hipster professors on campus, revealed that the word hipster has its roots in the 1940s jazz movements and is derived from the word “hip,” which originally meant “to be aware.”
“What it means now though, who knows?” Fanning said. “I guess a hipster now is more related to fashion and culture; someone who is trying to be on the edge of something current or new; who tries to see the movie six months before it comes out. And then when everyone else sees it, disowns the movie, because then it is no longer on that edge.”
Yet, Fanning also said being hipster is defined by more than being cutting edge. It is also defined by tactfully, or perhaps tackily, reintroducing fads from the past.
“Being a hipster is about being retro in a way nobody understands,” Fanning said.
Yet being a hipster is even more complicated than that. Fanning said, one can not actively try to be hipster without betraying one’s inner hipster.
“What kind of existential conundrum is there when a hipster is aware of his own hipsterness,” Fanning said. “There’s a problem when a hipster knows he’s a hipster. It means he’s actively trying to be a hipster, which is not, by any means, cutting edge.”
How does one juggle all these elusive incongruities? How exactly does one stay relentlessly cutting edge, yet casually retro, without being aware of either?
“I couldn’t tell you,” Fanning said. “There is no hipster handbook.”
Chelsea DeLong, a Saint Clair Shores junior, offered a more simple explanation.
“I wouldn’t say there is a definite definition of a hipster,” DeLong said. “But to me, it’s somebody who treads their own path.”
DeLong’s view of hipsters differs from Fanning’s academic viewpoint. Being hipster isn’t so much a metaphysical battle as it is just a person being themselves. Because of the wide-range of individuals who truly yearn to be uniquely themselves, there is no label which truly fits them.
“There is just so much variation in what a hipster is, that it’s something really hard to define or label yourself as,” she said.
Brandon Guernsey, a Jackson sophomore, who described his apartment as “Deerfield’s hipster pad,” said the hipster scene has been invaded by insincere hipsters.
“There are two hipsters in my view,” Guernsey said. ”The first kind is someone who saw it and tried to emulate it. They try to copy the subculture, and in doing so, become the one thing the subculture is against.”
While Guernsey viewed many hipsters as individuals who are simply trying too hard to be hip, he also recognized a second kind of hipster, who is of a much nobler status.
“The second kind is someone who simply does what they want,” he said. “Ironically, they often are the ones who call other people hipster the most, because they don’t see themselves as hipster. They just see themselves as themselves.”
Guernsey offered an example when it came to musical taste: A true hipster wouldn’t listen to obscure music because other hipsters listen to the same obscure music. Rather that hipster would listen to obscure music because he was passionate about what he listened to, and would find deep cuts from artists he enjoyed simply for his own enjoyment.
Fanning explained his own hipster roots lie in the counter-culture hipsters are passionate about.
“Mainstream culture is bullshit. I can speak in terms of music. I listen to music which challenges me,” he said. “There’s a big business for music which is ‘easy.’ Music that is easy to dance to.
“Most music doesn’t exist to make people think. Most of it is vapid. I don’t go to an art exhibit for the decoration, I go there to be challenged, to think and to feel. If that makes someone a hipster, I’m definitely guilty, and more people should be hipsters.”
But don’t get out your Pabst Blue Ribbon just yet, because according to Guernsey, you’re already there.
“If a hipster is someone who is passionately themselves,” he said, “Then I think everyone is a hipster, in one way or another.”
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