We’ve long grappled with the term “hipster” here at The L Magazine. Briefly, in the fall of 2004, I actually banned the use of the word, insofar as I felt it simply meant “people I’m vaguely concerned might be cooler/having more sex than me and must therefore actually be really lame and stupid because who could be cooler than me?” The ban didn’t last very long. And still we grapple.
Obviously, for most, “hipster” is a term of scorn, meant to deride those who thoughtlessly appropriate this or that superficial cultural signifier to draw attention to themselves. More specifically, I suppose, “hipster” refers to that group of demographically homogeneous young urbanites who collectively appropriate this or that cultural signifier, thus presenting a readily identifiable hipster uniform, as conventional and monolithic as any Dockers-wearing, pop-collared Murray Hill warrior tribe.
If this is your definition of “hipster”—trendy post-college yuppies marching in lockstep to the easily grasped fashion rhythms of any given 18-month period—then I guess Gawker’s newly anointed replacement term, “fauxhemian,” is fairly useful in summarizing a particular kind of scorn. However, I think “fauxhemian” fails to capture that (fading) inflection of “hipster” that actually refers to those individuals who lead the way, the canny young men and women who somehow manifest the coming zeitgeist before it arrives—the first appropriators.
This is the guy who, for some reason, five or six years ago, grabbed that lumberjack plaid out of his dead brother’s closet, stopped shaving and threw on some boat shoes. And because of that weird instinctive fashion move so many years ago, there were no less than four of us here in the office yesterday wearing lumberjack plaid; also beards, beards in the office (disclosure: I am guilty of both).
So what do we call that guy? What do we call the very early adopters whose looks get sucked up, appropriated and redistributed to the masses by Urban Outfitters? The obsessive dustbin rummagers of 20th-century aesthetics who periodically rehabilitate entire moments in the history of culture, going beyond mere fashion to investigate the artistic sensibility of any given era? Bohemians? Hipsters?
I don’t know. Maybe we don’t need a term. Maybe in the act of labeling we reduce whatever we label—good, bad, stupid—to some monolithic “not-us” that’s easy and fun to be scornful of. I guess I’m just afraid of the ever-widening path of scorn-destruction… Because what are we really attacking here? Young people living in cities trying to create some kind of individuality through fashion and aesthetic appropriation? I’ll leave the last word to a Gawker commenter (Solomon Grundy) on the Fauxhemian post:
I like when guys explore fashion that’s more creative than ugly jeans and a t-shirt. I’d rather live in a city with a million stupid-‘stached, asymmetrical-hoodied “hipsters” than a million brohan/Seinfeld clones. Something about this hipster backlash is not exactly homophobic, but does reek of the over-policing of the acceptable boundaries of masculinity. Also, the Bostonization of New York.
And there it is, that’s my fear: the Bostonization of New York.