Enough time has passed since the world was at Peak Hipster for us to look back at it as a movement, or a craze, or a meme, or whatever the fuck it was and try to take stock of what it all meant, if anything. So this week we're doing exactly that in a short collection of stories.
"For a long time I boasted that I was master of all possible landscapes and I thought the great figures of modern painting and poetry were laughable."
-A Season in Hell, Arthur Rimbaud, 1873
Mary Wilke: [reading aloud from Issac's wife's memoir] "He was given to fits of rage, Jewish liberal paranoia, male chauvinism, self-righteous misanthropy, and nihilistic moods of despair. He had complaints about life but never any solutions. He longed to be an artist but balked at the necessary sacrifices. In his most private moments, he spoke of his fear of death, which he elevated to tragic heights when in fact it was mere narcissism."
-Manhattan dir. by Woody Allen, 1979
I JUST WANT TO DRINK COFFEE AND CREATE STUFF AND SLEEP
Branded apparel, various, 2013
We will remember 2015 as the year the YouTube comments got a political party. The year Drake made every moment of your life feel like you were half-drunk at a wedding reception. It was the year Hipster Runoff died for good, the year the internet swallowed itself whole, and with it any straight-faced mention of the early-aughts Hipster, at least the hard-defined, Look At This Fucking variety.
This package of stories serves as a gravestone for the hipster, but eulogizing them here seems at once premature and belated. It was an aesthetic, a demographic, a notion that seems as though it had both existed forever and yet was never fully realized, a caricature from its inception, diluted, imprecise, corny, and yet still a sort of begrudgingly effective shorthand. The hipster, if it was anything at all, was the open-armed embrace of emotions, ideologies, and fascinations that Republicans might call you a pussy for.
Wielding these obscure remnants of musical or philosophical or social movements was to shout that you were a pioneer or an archivist or preservationist. This was bullshit, but all Americans have mostly ever been about is implication anyway. A pose. A chest thump. Who they convince themselves they are in the mirror, who they realize they are on the walk home, keeping these two things separate for as long as possible. But we are not vulnerable to any of that anymore, not really. There are no more fake-pioneers because there are no more fake-frontiers. Everyone can be everywhere always. The internet decontextualized everything. You didn't come from anywhere because we all live in the same place. We all like movies, getting laid, wasting time. So we got Netflix and chill. It doesn't matter what you're watching or who you're trying to fuck; these are our compulsions, tame and generic as they are; exclusivity is over. "I'm here for a good time, not a long time," said the sage. Aesthetic is just the facilitator, the conduit, the means to actualize the same thirst we all have, at the Cracker Barrel or at Roberta's or microwaving Hot Pockets—wherever it is, it doesn't matter.
2015 was the year the internet called out The Fat Jew for stealing memes, and then… none of it made much difference. There he is, still, singing karaoke versions of every track on Self-Loathing on the Internet: Shut Up and Play The Hits. It was the year we all became some collaborative, reflected version of ourselves. It was the year we gave birth to and turned dabbing into a bloody carcass in a matter of three days. We made memes into sweatshirts. There are no cultural elites because there is no scarcity. On the internet, anyone can be a billionaire. TFW, emojis, memes that speak to your most omg same! impulses, the universality of all things. The year the internet became fluent in that broad, ya-ever-notice? Seinfeldian observationalism. We are the same people, always, our need for community and rebellion and isolated self-realization simultaneously.
The parody sold by Urban Outfitters and Hipster Ariel memes always felt inadequate. The hipster was instead something defined by carefully managed dichotomies. It was a means of boldness for a people who seemed so innately feeble otherwise, infinitely redefining and assessing, figuring out who they wanted to be. What the populace seemed so uncomfortable with was not their art itself but the consumption of it, the need to classify and dissect, to validate their own investment.
Hipster seemed once like a combative pose. A hyper-intellectualized response to the blunderingly retrograde Bush years. Now, it means nothing besides, maybe, "semi-affected intellectual with no loans and a bicycle." Can you imagine anyone besides your parents or Marco Rubio objecting to a Kardashian? Could the most cold-hearted stereotype resist Carly Rae? Rich white people still have a thing or two to say about how you should be living your life, but sometimes the world is a drag and only Justin Bieber can resuscitate you, and no one can really dispute that.
The hipster as a movement always seemed in its adolescent stage. They moved like someone who was at any moment between twee, precious affectations and strains for brooding mystery. The need to be all things at all times. Michael Cera's dopey sensitivity, Woody Allen's hypochondria, and Stanley Kowalski's heedless renegade. Respected like philosophers and feared like men who trust only impulse. Primitively minimalist and yet dainty. You could describe both of those people as hipsters and yet they share almost no qualities, physically or spiritually, besides a kind of self-satisfaction, an adherence to a rubric of aesthetic tenets.
Writing for the New York Times about Basquiat in 1985, Cathleen McGuigan said, "[Basquiat] maintains a fine balance between seemingly contradictory forces: control and spontaneity, menace and wit, urban imagery and primitivism."
Have Hipster-Ipsum spit out four paragraphs of hipster-related filler text for you. What defined hipsters, really, is a bunch of those same contradictions. "Pabst" and "craft beer," "vegan" and "pork shoulder," "leggings," and "flannel." Hipster was a marginally edgier Stuff White People like; it was "basic" with better taste in music and maybe-more-liberal sexual proclivities. It was to be both immersed in something and detached at once, devoted and apathetic, something I guess we'll call qualified hyperbole—"this guacamole is sort of the best thing ever"; "I kind of think Thoreau is bullshit." It was sold as something at the nexus friendzone and fuccboi; it was both the guy who would never call you again, and the guy you'd call to talk about the guy who didn't call.
A propensity for acting both compulsively sincere and emotionally withheld, overtly masculine and unabashedly feminine. Post-emo tumblrs about Final Fantasy and being sad in Minnesota, but then also dude-dude types who think they're Hemingway in the book jacket, black and white, hedonists, nihilists, men proud of their hairy thighs.
Hipster, inasmuch as it exists today, is the ability to endorse not just Bernie Sanders but, for audacity's sake, Donald Trump, too. People who can align themselves with both lofty idealism and unrepentant narcissism. Ruin America, make America great again, make America a socialist utopia—it doesn't matter, because there is no wager, really. Hipster is just a man rich enough to dare you to object to him, in all his infinite costumes, because of how inherently unobjectionable a rich white man feels he is at his core. It's all an amusement.
What made hipster culture so persistent was not the knit hats or the glasses or the micro brews, but how it functioned as a sort of permission, a license to veer into mindless recreation and Important Movements in equal measure. Hipster was just what we called the games white people play with their various entitlements.
One man's #occupywallstreet is another man's #champagneshowers.
Follow John Saward on Twitter.