What Would Godwin Say?: Hipsters

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.


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


More From Thought Catalog

  • zOMG

    Why don’t you just admit that you’re just a first-world parasite who writes trash articles?

    • guest


  • SM

    ….You’re such a hipster.

  • http://twitter.com/whoismau Mauricio

    Bra-fucking-vo. Thank you for this.

  • Andrew Edminister

    @ZOMG – why don’t you admit that you are making an irrational judgement of Stephanie’s social status and writing ability in one carelessly oblivious motion?

  • http://twitter.com/timdonnelly Tim Donnelly

    co-sign! the jokes are just old, people.

  • Morgan

    “Hipsters ride bikes / Lance Armstrong rides bikes. Pee Wee Herman rides bikes. Everyone rides bikes.”

    Yes! Love it!
    The Internet Garbage

  • Morgan

    “Hipsters ride bikes / Lance Armstrong rides bikes. Pee Wee Herman rides bikes. Everyone rides bikes.”

    Yes! Love it!
    The Internet Garbage

  • Adolf Hipster

    you rang?

    • http://stephgeorge.tumblr.com Stephanie Georgopulos

      I thought about you while writing this. Not joking.

  • Adolf Hipster

    you rang?

  • Eliot Rose

    No way!  Is E.L.A.I.C. really your favorite book, too?

    • http://stephgeorge.tumblr.com Stephanie Georgopulos

      One of, sure is!

      • Eliot Rose

        Nice!  A few months ago, I had the privilege of meeting Jonathan Safran Foer and having him sign my copy.  :o)  Also, have you read (or even heard of–I hadn’t until that night) his book called ‘Tree of Codes’?  He cut up (the pages are literally full of holes) an old book called ‘The Street of Crocodiles’ and created an entirely new story.  It’s so beautiful.  Check it out if you haven’t already–though you might have to wait a couple of months because it’s always on backorder.

  • shane

    This was confusing to read at first. I think… if you live in an all-hipster world, where the only ppl you know are different kinds of hipsters who call each other “hipster” as an insult then it is hard to determine what a hipster actually is. But if know any of the other 99% of people in the world who no one would ever call a hipster then it’s easy to decipher who the hipsters are….

    (love the godwin tie in tho and obviously you can go look in an online “dictionary” if you really dont know how the rest of the world categorizes a hipster.)

    • Hello!

      how about we jus stop taking this hipster stuff so seriously and go blow off some steam at urban outfitters? hmmm? k, see ya there

  • http://staugustinian.wordpress.com/ STaugustine

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

    We can identify all of the above… but not “hipsters”?  Seems like flawed logic. I see Hipsters riding/ prancing/ plaiding/ top-hatting/ van-dyke-ing up the main promenade of the main Hipster colony in Berlin and have absolutely no problem identifying them. Likewise, I’m sure, with Beats in the Village (c. 1958) and Hippies in The Haight (c. 1968) and the Disco Kids (c. 1978) of urban America… because, after all, people join these various “movements” not to avoid being easily-identified but to enjoy it.

    I think you’re missing the overall point that while there will be more variation within any given group than between groups (of, say, “Westerners”), that doesn’t mean that these groups are amorphous. They are intentionally “unique”.

    Of course, it’s hard to “identify” a Hipster online (without visual clues) but it’s hard to “identify” anyone online; online is a spiritual space of disembodied will and desires in which hipsters may find respite from Hipsterdom.

    PS People often cite Godwin’s Law but rarely think seriously about how Hitler (vs Stalin, who killed more, or Pol Pot, who killed more recently, or Leopold ll, who killed more first)  became the meme that Godwin’s Law contains. One word: PR. Well, ditto with Hipsters.

    • Asdf

      I don’t know. But your Disqus avatar is freaking me the fuck out. Fuck.

      • http://staugustinian.wordpress.com/ STaugustine

        It’s my wife at the age of 5 (I think she’s dressed up as an Elizabethan musician)

      • Asdf

        Interesting… I have this fear of geisha dolls, and this reminded me of something like that. From the small, low resolution, it was difficult to discern. While I’m still incredibly freaked out, given the above information, I do admit to finding it impressive. You should post a reply on every comment, so that no matter where I scroll, it shall appear endlessly!

      • http://staugustinian.wordpress.com/ STaugustine

        I used to comment semi-regularly at a site called “Wit of the Staircase”, which was run by Theresa Duncan, and when she and her boyfriend (Jeremy Blake) committed their inexplicable suicides, people began poring over the site, looking for clues… and one investigator began delving into the “meaning” of my avatar (which reminded him/her of “V”) and fiction, of mine, that seemed to tie into the deaths (I followed his/her conclusions on a forum called Dreamsend)… at that point, I realized that it would be irresponsible of me to use any other avatar (laugh)

  • eff sox

    whats the difference between an indie kid and a hipster?

    • http://staugustinian.wordpress.com/ STaugustine

      A Hipster is an indie kid with a touch of freak, a twist of dandy and no more Cobains to look up to

  • Sippycup

    You must be from the midwest.

    Anyway, the original definition of hipster was someone in their 20s who believed ‘radness’ increased with ironic demeanor. I wish Brooklyn was full of hipsters, at least they brought variety. Now we’re just stuck with the urbanite horde who live by your cliche checklist.

    rad rad rad rad rad rad

  • Guest

    its new age fun with a vintage feel

  • Greg

    This is the exact same conversation that I have w/ family and friends anytime I go home for break/holidays…now I’ll just send them this

  • Tjweise91

    I like to read books and listen to music. I wear American Eagle jeans and random T-shirts I bought from Goodwill. I sport a 100% leather jacket I picked up at a garage sale in Arkansas for two dollars. I get a haircut then grow it out for three months and then get the same one. I’ve been getting the same sandwich at Subway for 19 years. I buy a pair of shoes and wear them until they fall apart (‘expensive’ is a hundred dollars).  I’ve hitchhiked and backpacked over half this country at the age of 18. I live in Alaska and see majesty every day I step outside. I’m a real, in the flesh, eclectic person who has as many flaws as qualities.

    You can tell a hipster because they are one dimensional. Their clothes, taste in bad music, put on apathetic attitude, its all just the cover to a bland dish of grilled chicken. Thats why they are pretentious. I could give a fuck if they read books and listen to music. And even Pee Wee Herman’s dumb ass knew not to ride his god damned bike on the fucking highway.

    • Charles Reinhardt

      There have been bland, one dimensional people at least since time began. They run the gamut from people who dress trendily and go to parties to people who dress aggressively badly and put on airs of being authentic like you. 

      • guest

        is one of your flaws being a pussy?

    • Hello!


  • Burger King

    Pee Wee Herman is a hipster.

  • Hmmm

    2000 & late.

  • Guest

    The word hipster is often used when it shouldn’t be, but let’s be real: it is not some made up term that no one can describe. Hipsters are into hip things, just as–yes–hippies and beats were in the 1960s and 50s. And in being into hip things, there is a tendency to do what’s cool for the sake of being cool on a very surface level–and to pass it off as being “unique,” when really, there is a set of criteria involved in a hipster lifestyle that is just as binding as cookie-cutter middle America. I’m not saying we need to use the word “hipster” all the time–I agree with you, it’s perhaps used too often. But please, be real. You can make an argument about the overuse of the word “hipster” without claiming they don’t exist. 

  • Michael Lynch

    I define a hipster by their fashion and taste in music. They wear eclectic clothing from the past 6 decades or so and listen to bands that no one that isn’t a hipster has heard of.

    Once you bring a person’s attitude into discourse I don’t think the word hipster applies. That sort of complexity can’t be generalized.

    • http://sans.deadti.me/ Amy McDeath

      “and listen to bands that no one that isn’t a hipster has heard of.”

      Seems like you’re gonna need some pretty serious math to solve that one. And you’ll probably need a metalhead exemption clause… or are metalheads & hipsters the same thing? [/CONTROVERSIAL]

      • Michael Lynch

        I didn’t say that as exclusive criteria. If you say a circle is round that doesn’t mean nothing else can be round.

        Anyone might listen to bands that no else has heard of. That’s just one attribute that I use to define what I know to be as a hipster. As you’ve pointed out, it could very well apply to any other clique or individual for that matter.

  • http://www.facebook.com/m.paigekelly Megan Kelly

    If I say the word “hipster” without quotation marks, am I automatically disqualified from being part of all of the intelligent conversations going on here? 

  • http://www.remylexington.blogspot.com Remy Lexington

    Anybody here remember when the term Emo basically described someone that looked like Rivers Cuomo from early Weezer?   Image Google Emo now and see the “look” you get.

    The problem with the term hipster is the problem you have with most of these cultural labels. They are just too general and too varied to really  be useful, more specifically as an insult. Which is how most choose to use it. And depending on where you live the “hipsters” in your area will most likely be different than “hipsters” in another area. Not to mention, that as time changes so does who the term is describing.

    Secondly when you press someone to describe what a hipster is…or for that matter why the term is considered an insult. You never get a good answer. They are pretentious? How so? How can you make that judgement? Do you know a bunch of hipsters that act that way or are you making that generalization based on just one that you met? No matter what one says the truth is its a generalization based on ignorance.

    I will agree that when using the term to just describe someone, it might help to paint somewhat of a picture. But using it as a negative term? Sorry, thats a myth.  There is nothing bad about being a hipster.

    As for Godwins Law. I think its common knowledge that when it comes to any form of debate or discussion especially one that gets heated, the one that becomes the most frustrated, loses their cool, and begins insulting people, relinquishes their credibility in the argument.

    • Hello!

      remember when you wrote a really long comment and i was like, god, too tired 4 this.

      • http://www.remylexington.blogspot.com Remy Lexington

        Making fun of how long a post is? That’s original. You must be new to the internet.

      • skylar

        Pretentious hipster

      • http://www.remylexington.blogspot.com Remy Lexington

        Haters gonna hate yo.

        and isn’t a hipster already known to be pretentious?….way to say the same thing twice. Dur dur.

  • http://twitter.com/yanyun92 Lim Yan Yun

    Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is so hipster.

    • Hello!

      that book has been sitting on the floor of my bathroom for about a year. coincidence? i think not.

    • guesty

      too mainstream

  • Hello!

    i fucked a hipster and all i got was this dumb case of gonorrhea :/

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