I admit I’m not always hip on the latest in fashion, slang or cultural evolution and I kind of take pride in that ignorance. But lately I’ve been hearing a lot about “hipsters” and wondered who they are, thinking that ignoring the problem any longer won’t make it go away. So I asked around wondering if anyone could tell me who these hipsters are and why they think they are so cool. So I decided to do a little research and see what a hipster is, out of morbid curiosity and a sense of obligation to provide a full and totally unbiased report here in The Horse.
I checked the Urban Dictionary and this is what they had to say, “Hipsters are a subculture of men and women typically in their 20s and 30s that value independent thinking, counter-culture, progressive politics, an appreciation of art and indie-rock, creativity, intelligence, and witty banter…” Based on this, they sound like any other biker except for the “indie-rock” whatever that is. So there has to be more than a terse definition to set them apart, especially to make them think they are so superior to all of us.
Reading a little further, I found something that may shed some light on these self- proclaimed creatures of coolness. “The concepts of androgyny and feminism have influenced hipster culture, where hipster men are often as thin as the women they date. The muscular and athletic all-American male ideal is not seen as attractive by con dent and culturally-empowered hipster women who instead view them as symbols of male oppression, sexism, and misogyny.” Thinking back to the event I seem to recall the men looking rather feminine and frail, but attributed that to poor genetics. Never realized it was a deliberate look of androgyny. And this is cool? Ok…
We have seen many period subcultures come and go over the years. Before making any conclusions on the current hipsters, let’s look back over the past few decades.
When I was young, I remember beatniks. They were part of the “beat generation,” characterized by solid black turtleneck sweaters, dark glasses, hip-speak (cool daddy-O) bongos and berets. They would socialize in dark, smoky clubs, with “musicians” performing on bongos as they snapped their fingers showing approval, basically reciting the horrible poetry they wrote while others drank, smoked and convinced themselves that the musician was good, which must have required a lot of drinks to achieve that level of delusion. They also tended to be violent at times, embracing conflict. Oddly enough, they also followed Buddhism, which is the polar opposite of violence and conflict. There was some dovetailing of the beatniks with the biker culture. Anyone who remembers The Dobie Gillis Show may remember Maynard G Krebs played by Bob Denver of Gilligans Island. He played the stereotypical beatnik, with a goatee, sloppy appearance, bongos always near by and fluent in the hip slang at that time. Beatniks were of course the epitome of antiestablishmentarianism.
Around the same time there were the greasers. Think of Elvis, James Dean, Marlon Brando, West Side Story and of course, the movie Grease. Rockabilly was the music and the dress was generally slicked back hair (hence, “greaser”), white t-shirts with a pack of cigarettes rolled up in the sleeve, leather jackets, jeans with the cuffs rolled up and of course leather boots. When I was growing up, they were often the mechanics, always in the garage working on cars or bikes. They were diametrically opposed to the jocks, the athletes. They were menacing, wearing chains as belts or accessories, typically had a hairbrush in their rear pocket to brush their greased hair back and wore cleats on their heels mainly to piss off the school officials. They would often ride Harleys or Triumphs, modified, bobbed and even chopped. The only classes they would excel in, and attend, were metal shop and auto shop.
Then we saw the hippies. Hippies evolved out of a cultural revolution, tired of the war and social constraints, they rebelled, burned their draft cards (not all, but many did), wore their hair long, promoted free love, LSD, colorful clothing, bell bottoms, hip huggers and psychedelic rock. They were despised by parents, hated by the “establishment” and were the target of extreme conservatism, including the police. The term “hippie” came from “hipster” initially used to describe the beatniks. Hippies considered themselves peaceniks, anti-war, against social norms and mores, with some living in communes. I joined the Marines in the heyday of the hippies and I vividly remember the clash between the hippie culture and anything establishment. I was stationed in California for a short time while going to school. My personal experiences with the hippies back then in California were good. They would often stop to give us rides as we hitchhiked from Santa Anna to LA and back. We shared campgrounds in the parks and joked about our short hair versus their long hair. “I’ll bet you wish you had my long hair?” “Yeah, but I’ll bet you wish you had my long dickens.” I got along with most of them although there were times when tensions were evident.
The spitting and general disrespect suffered by our returning servicemen were often attributed to bands of radical hippies. For me, and I speak for myself, those years, 1969-1972 were magical, almost enchanting. Things changed as a result of the hippie movement, some for the better, others for the worse, but change ensued. It was also the last real social evolution in America. Maybe it was the perfect storm, who knows, but I rode the wave and man, it was exciting.
I’ve purposely skipped the biker culture for several reasons. The biker culture is fluent, not static or locked in a period, basically a moving target for anyone trying to define it. It has evolved over the decades, but remains a constant stigma in the eyes of the general public. As I have often done, I will use a quote from Bruce Lee regarding his style of martial arts. “Remember that Jeet Kune Do is merely a name used, a mirror in which to see ourselves. . . Jeet Kune Do is not an organized institution that one can be a member of. Either you understand or you don’t, and that is that.” That’s how I see the biker culture. If you have to define it, you are probably not a biker. It’s not the definition that’s important, it’s the freedom of any definition that counts.
So now we come to the modern day hipsters, who feel they are too cool for anyone else. They copied the style of the greasers, arrogance of the beatniks, and perceived intellect of the hippies. They have done nothing original, are no more educated than the average 20-30 year- old and wear beards to fend off questions about being transgendered. They have stolen most of their identity from bona de sub-cultures, calling it their own while looking like a cross between Pee Wee Herman and the Amish. And these pretenders, with no originality, consider themselves too cool for anyone other than a fellow hipster. And so this is what a hipster is.
So there you have it, hipsters are so cool they are un-cool, in a cool way of course. Maybe I’m not cool, in fact, I know I’m not. I don’t strive to be and wonder why anyone would? I just want to ride my bike and to me, that’s the coolest thing on earth. And if you see me riding my chop down the highway snapping my fingers, please ignore me, I’m just having a flashback.