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One’s choice of straw man betrays the nature of his anxieties.
Much like the phenomenon it maligns, anti-hipsterism has become ubiquitous and homogenous to the point of nascent cliché. That is to say that “The Hipster” has become something of a stereotype-slash-punching bag. The probability of me batting an eye at my grandfather cracking a joke involving a PBR-drinking, Ray Ban-wearing, exclusively-earlier-stuff-liking individual possessing a degree in cultural studies and donning skinny jeans has fallen low enough to warrant further examination.
However, what interests me here is not the lazy anti-hipster that merely rattles off hipster iconography as though there were something inherently bad about obscure music, post-modern bricolage fashion, or PBR. Rather–why the curious choice of straw man in this alleged age of infinite ironic detachment, where the earnestness is uncouth and the religious (and I mean this in a broader-than-mere-theism sense) are treated like lepers? The Hipster appears to be the perfect crystallization of the tendencies of our age. That it has become our straw man of choice speaks volumes about the nature of modern discontent.
Our hipster straw man, he’s obsessed with authenticity. He pores over the works of cultures far and wide, present and past, well known and obscure, and appropriates anything that tickles his fancy. However, acute self-consciousness and a general lack of faith in his own validity as a human being prevents him from utilizing any of his influences in a sincere way. Doing so would render him vulnerable–to criticism, to accusations of plagiarism, or worse. So, all of these appropriated things are dispatched with a requisite wink, coated in teflon-grade Irony. No criticism sticks, because he’s like, not even saying what he really means. What he really means remains deep and like, mysterious, in that it’s never elaborated.
If what The Hipster is talking about seems obscure to you, he is happy. He is safe. If you are familiar with the subject at hand, The Hipster is probably speaking ironically, of course. By way of example: Captain Beefheart = patron saint of authenticity. Ke$ha = so bad, she’s good. This renders The Hipster as something of a reactionary. He is defined by the world around him, albeit inversely. He is whatever the mainstream is not. He dons the uniform of the non-conformist. This would seem to explain the ease with which hipster stereotype emerged.
The thing is, stereotypes usually have some relationship to reality, however tenuous. While The Hipster is indeed connected to reality in that there probably is a sizable demographic that consists of True To Life Hipsters, it’s astoundingly clear that in the past decade or so, “Hipster” has taken on an almost exclusively pejorative connotation. Nobody in their right mind self-identifies as one. And so, I’d argue, hipsterism is only marginally a real flesh-and-blood phenomenon. In reality, The Hipster is an abstract reaction to the milieu’s lack of and general hostility towards sincerity. He is the straw man of today, our philosophical punching bag. Whenever we feel stifled and simply want to let down our hair and exude true, non-winking earnestness, or when we want to dance but everyone else around us is standing still, arms crossed and blank-expressioned, we take it out on The Hipster. This appears to be a healthy reaction.
However, hipster-bashing also serves as a defense for spiritual laziness and mediocrity. My own lazy example would be fans of U2 or Coldplay. If the hipster attitude is good for anything, it’s for deconstructing the inauthentic, for smelling bullshit. And by golly, there’s a lot of bullshit out there. This drives the hipster towards eclecticism–seeking authenticity in remote places ignored by the pedestrian mainstream. Save for the self-conscious cred-seeking aspect of it, this is a valuable undertaking that cultivates openness to a variety of manners of living.
By this point, we are prepared to excavate that which our choice of straw man is a symptom of. It is but one of the central struggles of our time: to be on guard against the faux-earnest, the saccharine, the corporate, the mediocre—a task that is greatly assisted by a certain hipsteresque ironic detachment–but without stifling our inner humanity, without feeling ashamed for our emotions, without walling ourselves off and becoming empty shells of human beings with clever, self-consciously curated, teflon-ironic exteriors. To dance like nobody’s looking–effortlessly and unselfconsciously–around the trap holes of engineered corporate sentimentality, of lazy pre-packaged spirituality, and keeping-up-with-the-joneses pathology, fearlessly outside of our comfort zones, to places fascinating and remote, but without willful obscurity designed to puff up our egos.
To be not a reaction, or a reaction to a reaction, but wholly and truly one’s self.