Hipsters deserve our gratitude


Hipsterdom is like alcoholism. An alcoholic, Dylan Thomas famously wrote, is someone you dislike who drinks as much as you do.

That about sums it up. As long as there’s one symptom you don’t display, you consider yourself safe. You will eat with hipsters, drink (craft beer or coffee) with them, listen to music (even on vinyl) with them — but you will never be one of them, and they merit only your contempt. Right?

Maybe not.

“reasons i hate hipsters: —they use old or new technology — they drink coffee,” tweeted neonwario. “sometimes they listen to music, some of which is good and some not,” michaelleung tweeted in reply.

If we don’t have something more cogent to say, maybe we need to cool our jets a little.

Think about all the hipsters have given us. Is it so terrible?

Independent coffee shops? Yes, please.

Vinyl? Lay it on me! Can anyone who has ever had to open a shrink-wrapped jewel case and squint at tiny lyrics on a booklet the size of a well-fed Post-it note argue that a return to vinyl as the Physical Form Of Music is a bad thing? No.

Yes, there are principled cases to be made about issues with appropriation or gentrification. Yes, all the irony can get exhausting. But the net result of a lot of hipster pursuits is that Something Tasty And/Or Fun Is Available That Wasn’t Before.

Why, exactly, are we collectively reviling the person who decides to, say, create a bar where there is gin and tonic on tap?

Don’t say “Ughhh!” Celebrate. Consider the hipster in all his stereotypical glory — sporting a mustache, listening to a band that doesn’t exist yet, claiming to have inside information about coffee. It’s annoying, but is it so bad?

They’re defined by the attempt to cultivate taste.

Hipsters insist that they have better taste than you. Sometimes, even more irritatingly, they are right. Hipsters have developed taste in music, beer, coffee and vintage clothes. These things are pretty accessible. People with good taste in beer don’t have to pay obscene amounts of money that people who cultivate taste in, say, wine or scotch do. To be a hipster, you just have to be willing to put in the effort. “You can keep your labels,” hipsters say. “I have my Taste, and no one can take it from me.” Arguably, this is the democratization of taste. Why wait until you are a billionaire to eat and dress better than fast-food and big-box retailers suggest you should?

When a critical mass of hipsters converges on something, it is generally because the thing is both obscure and good. Think about it: Hipsters go out and find us nice music and nice plaids and nice restaurants and sturdy shoes, and we take up listening to it and wearing them and eating there. And for this we punish them?

I know what you’re going to say. There’s something almost pathetic about alternative culture after 2000 or so, in the sense that it is mainly an attempt by people who don’t know what it was like not to have instant access to everything you could possibly want – mass-produced for your convenience, boxed, shrink-wrapped and whisked to your door at a whim — to replicate what they imagine life was like Before, when one had to trek long distances and tailor her own clothing and grind coffee by hand with a pestle.

“What’s the matter with mass culture?” our elders ask, baffled. “We didn’t stagger through centuries of history so you could go trekking off on your fixie bicycle to buy vintage coats in a thrift shop. We have gears now, you realize? You can use them!” At its worst, hipsterdom is a weird reenactment of the 1960s by people who weren’t there.

But there’s an appeal to difficulty. The one rarity these days is Things That Aren’t Readily Available. That used to be the only kind of thing there was. People fought long and hard so that would not be so. But maybe something got lost in the shuffle.

Yes, popular culture is good now. It knows what we want before we want it, and it gives it to us with just a few clicks. But there’s no thrill of discovery. And sometimes it misses a spot. Sometimes we like things we didn’t know we’d like. And thanks to the Internet, if you find something obscure and good, it can spread rapidly, like wildfire — or Starbucks.

Look at food trucks, coffee shops, mustaches! Who would say that these things are not net boons?

We should thank the people who have given us so much.

Thank you, Hipsters, for all that you do. I won’t say “ugh” to you any more.

© 2014, The Washington Post

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