Over the past five years I have stumbled into a position to answer one of the questions that, as a millennial, concerns our entire generation. Scholars, pundits, and laymen alike have tried to answer it with varying degrees of success in the past, but here and now I will put an end to the confusion.
By way of credentials, I offer that I have lived in New York City among the Brooklyn elite and in Los Angeles in the heart of Silver Lake and Echo Park. I have visited Portland, Austin, Columbus, and Oakland. I have been accused of being one of them as I twirl my WWI-era mustache and drink almond milk atop a fixed-gear bicycle. It was these experiences, and at times living among them in their varied native habitats, that I was able to come to a definite answer to the burning question of What are hipsters?
To understand them, we must delve into our country’s past. Hipsters, believe it or not, follow in the proud tradition of famous counterculture movements: from the Beats in the 50s to the hippies, punks, and grunge in the 90s. All of these cultures rebelled against an aspect of the mainstream, and over time, they changed it. Once the niche culture is incorporated in the mainstream it evaporates, and a new one is born in time.
Enter the mid-2000s: the rise of the hipsters, unique in that they are a counterculture that many belong to but no one willingly identifies with. Accuse an acquaintance of belonging to hipsterdom, and they will let forth a stream of reasons why they, themselves, are exempt. Thus we are still left with the question: What is a hipster?
The answer is that they are a counterculture that rebels through capitalism. Hipsters are extremely careful about what they consume, be it music, fashion, film, or food. Every dollar is a vote, and they famously only spend on the very cutting edge of culture: bands no one has heard of, clothes that aren’t in style yet, and restaurants that can only be found through an elaborate scavenger hunt.
If we accept that hipsters are counter to culture in their spending habits, then the question of who hipsters are becomes far easier to understand. Or better yet, how does one stop being a hipster, since the term is loathed by the very people who belong to the culture? The answer is strikingly obvious: You must produce something.
There is a reason the counterculture is so contained to the wealthy art=school students and 30-year-old Peter Pans who play kickball on the weekends: In order to be a hipster you must only consume. Once you produce something that is put back into society you cease to be one of them. A man can get the same haircut as an 18th-century leper, but so long as he’s a restaurant owner, he’ll never be a hipster. She might only listen to bands with names that contain no vowels, but she’s a lawyer. As for the guy with the WWI mustache drinking almond milk atop a fixed gear bicycle…well, the jury’s still out on him. But he’s trying.