July 15, 2011

What Would Godwin Say?: Hipsters

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What is the issue?

In 1990, a lawyer by the name of Mike Godwin introduced America to ‘Godwin’s law,’ an internet adage which states that, during any given online discussion, someone will inevitably refer to Hitler and/or Nazis to make their point. The longer the thread becomes, the more likely it is that someone will invalidate any intelligent discourse with Hitler and/or Nazi namedrops. It doesn’t matter what the topic or scope of the original article is; someone will cry, “U R HITLER!” and nullify the discussion. Therefore, Godwin suggests that, no matter how rational, no matter how relevant, any comparison to Hitler and/or Nazis will derail the Nazi namedropper’s entire argument. In many internet circles, a thread is considered dead once Godwin’s law rears its head, and the poster who “went there” has immediately lost the argument.

Well, 1990 was a long time ago. Those of us who’ve hung out on the internet long enough know better than to express ourselves by playing the Third Reich card. But it seems to me that, where we used to say ‘Hitler,’ we now say, ‘Hipster.’ And like Godwin did all those years ago, I’m here to say that using ‘hipster’ as an insult will automatically quash the coherent argument that accompanies it.

Why? Because no one knows what a hipster is. You cannot properly identify a hipster based on an internet comment. ‘Hipster’ has become a catchall term for something you, personally, do not like and therefore, the word only holds significance for the person saying it. What the fuck is a hipster? This is a real question. If your grandpa sat you down and said, “Son? What in the goddamn fuck is a hipster?” …How would you respond? Justice Potter Stewart once said that “hard-core pornography” was hard to define but that “I know it when I see it.” And in that context, we can all shake our heads “yes”; we can all identify hardcore pornography, most likely. But the way we define ‘hipsterdom’ is based on our own personal biases, and calling someone a ‘hipster’ in response to an internet comment they made says much more about the name-caller than the supposed ‘hipster.’

Here are some hipster stereotypes that illustrate my point:

A hipster is someone who moves to New York from the Mid-West

…Unless they’re one of the other thousands of people that moved to New York from the Mid-West who we do not identify as ‘hipsters’ because we a) do not know they are from the Mid-West b) are not threatened/annoyed by them c) cannot identify them as ‘hipsters’ because they shop at [insert generic clothing store here]

A hipster is pretentious

There is a difference between being a snob and simply not sharing common interests with someone else. Say I ask someone if they’ve read my favorite book. They can respond in a few ways, and I alone have the power to deduce what their response means. I can react rationally, or I can react in a way that shows that I feel threatened and am seeking approval from them.

“Hey, have you read Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close?”

Response #1: “No, I haven’t read it.”

Rational reaction: Oh, he hasn’t read it.

Defensive reaction: Do you think you’re too good for my favorite book?

Response #2: “Yeah, I’ve read it, but I didn’t like it.”

Rational reaction: We have different taste in books.

Defensive reaction: You’re not better than me because you didn’t like that book.

Response #3: “Yes, I read it and liked it.”

Rational reaction: We both like this book.

Defensive reaction: I’m glad this person likes that book, now I can continue talking to them without feeling inferior.

None of these responses indicate pretense. Someone who likes different things than you is not automatically a pretentious person.

Hipsters like obscure things

Again, obscurity is subjective. If someone likes music that you’ve never heard of, that doesn’t make them an asshole hipster. If someone loves a rare Katy Perry B-side that you’ve never heard, you wouldn’t accuse them of anything besides loving them some Katy Perry. Likewise, if you like something decidedly ‘obscure’ and you meet someone who shares that interest, you’d likely be endeared to that person. It’s not someone else’s fault that you’ve never heard of a new band/bar/book/whatever. There is no reason to be upset.

Hipsters dress funny and have tattoos

So do bikers, pirates, ‘indie kids,’ ‘emo kids,’ ‘goth kids,’ and so on.

Hipsters ride bikes

Lance Armstrong rides bikes. Pee Wee Herman rides bikes. Everyone rides bikes.

HIPSTERS ARE ALWAYS JUDGING ME!!!11!

Calling someone ‘hipster’ is the ultimate judgmental move. It’s a superficial word that essentially means nothing – you use it when you don’t know someone well enough to hate them for a specific reason. Getting to know someone gives you the ammo you need to hate on them in a proactive way. You can target your insults and make them count. You can say, “So-and-so needs to take a fucking shower and read a goddamn book that wasn’t written in the 20th century,” and it’ll feel good, because you’re hating based on concrete observations and not on snap judgments.

Let’s just accept that we have ruined the word ‘hipster,’ that it means someone wearing flannels and skinny jeans or like… a onesie, or Buddy Holly glasses or deck shoes or… I don’t know, feather hair extensions or elbow patches or cardigans or… black pants, it means someone who listens to music and reads books; that it quite literally means nothing anymore, that everyone is a hipster and no one is a hipster. Let’s retire ‘hipster’ from the lexicon and start insulting each other with some goddamn dignity. TC mark

image – Joshua Heller

Stephanie Georgopulos

Steph is a former editor at Thought Catalog and a current writer at Studio@Gawker. Her work has appeared on Glamour, …

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