The word on the street about hipsters is that we’re a bunch of know-it-all jerks. (I say “we” because I ride a bicycle and I write about art for a living, so apparently I’m in the club, too. Whatever. I mean, it’s cool.)
Knowing this, however, a recent study surprised me. Conducted last month by Forbes.com and Nextdoor.com, the study attempted to reveal America’s top 10 most hipster neighborhoods, breaking down the loaded term “hipster” into a concrete list of attributes found within a community. Some of these factors were obvious, such as the density of coffee shops and local food trucks, and how often words associated with hipness appeared on each neighborhood’s Nextdoor.com page. But other factors seemed more innocuous. A given neighborhood’s walkability (scored according to Walkscore.com) was one. Walking is hipster now, I guess. If you feel like stretching your legs and getting some fresh air, you are a pretentious jerk wearing your sister’s pants. “Number and frequency of farmer’s markets” was another factor, because farmers are hipster now. Or at least, supporting local ag business is. Plus, these markets involve walking, which is not only hipster but also shamelessly un-American.
“Number of locally owned bars and restaurants.” Really? Sorry the whole country can’t be a giant strip mall with only one Panda Express and one Olive Garden. Our bad.
“Percentage of residents who work in artistic occupations.” All right, shit just got real. Art is ruined now, too? Creativity is hipster? But hipsters are bad, right? Always scoffing at your purchases in record stores? Always running red lights on their stupid-ass fixies? These guys have art on their side?
I’m loath to admit it, but everything on this list actually sounds pretty rad. These criteria aren’t necessarily hipster; they’re just the things that make a neighborhood vibrant and unique. I mean, seriously. Walking? Fresh local produce? The arts? These are all things that promote health and happiness and intellectual growth. These are the things that give a city its soul, the things that inspire local pride and a sense of community. A good coffee shop is the living room of a neighborhood, a place to meet people from all walks of life: travelers and locals; the old and the young. And really, who doesn’t love food trucks? You scoff, but if a restaurant on wheels rolled up selling delicious tacos right now, I bet even you wouldn’t be able to resist. You’d be like, “Sick, bro! This taco is off the hook! Thanks, hipsters!”
If the factors on this list are the hallmarks of hipsterdom, I say hipsters have done quite a lot for the world. So why are they—or rather we—so constantly vilified? Why is “hipster” used as a pejorative rather than a compliment, when the things we use to define the term, when pressed to do so, are the exact same things that make life worth living?
Because it’s pretentious, of course. It’s pretentious to be discerning about music or film, to have an opinion about art, to be a guy and also put care into coordinating a mean outfit, to want to eat only animals that have been killed humanely and vegetables that have not been sprayed with chemicals, and it’s extra super pretentious to wrinkle your nose at the very thought of imbibing the noxious coffee in the office break room. It’s pretentious to want to be the curator of your own life, carefully selecting only the finest in everything from shoes to food to reading material. And it’s especially egregious to do so and be on the youngish side. It’s like, who the hell do you think you are?
The hipster, of course, is just an epicure going through an awkward phase, like a sort of second puberty. The hipster generally has a high level of education, whether of the academic sort or the kind one takes upon oneself, like collecting old records or going to art museums or trying to finally get through Ulysses. The hipster is also a person of refined taste. Unfortunately, however, the hipster is terribly underemployed. The hipster’s part-time job as a barista does not afford the hipster the sorts of refined, expensive things he or she so appreciates. So the hipster improvises, splurging on key items and then getting the rest at the thrift store, telling everyone it’s vintage. Or perhaps the hipster has a friend who makes things who can hook a hipster up. The hipster can’t afford a car. Whatever. The hipster has a bike. And so on.
The hipster may have an abundance of free time. It may be spent reading The Stranger, hanging out in coffee shops, going to shows, and drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon. Or it may be spent making things—starting a band, or painting, or designing clothes. Someday, the hipster may have a real job and will have neither the time nor the energy for such pursuits. But for now, youth and time and relative poverty are the perfect catalyst for creativity and innovation.
Sure, the hipster is totally pretentious. (Do remember, the hipster is overeducated and underemployed. If you had a masters degree and were still waiting tables, you too would probably be thinking, “I’m way too good for this.”) But pretension is just a minor side effect, like smoke coming from a factory. Think instead about the hipster’s many contributions to society! Pablo Picasso was a hipster, but that didn’t stop him from making some sweet paintings! Albert Camus was a hipster, and he gave us existentialism! Abraham Lincoln was totally a hipster, and he abolished slavery! You’re welcome, world! ∆
Anna Weltner is arts editor for New Times, the Sun’s sister paper to the north. She was into this column before everyone else started making it their thing, too. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.