There was a time when being hip was avant garde. But the age of social networking, branding and media have made hipsterdom contrived and annoying, writes Oliver Roberts
Though they like to think they're underground, it's really easy to find them. Just go to some coolly besmirched bar where an obscure band is performing, or an art exhibition in the dodgiest part of town, or an Apple store.
They'll be there. Wearing skinny jeans and ironic T-shirts and Japanese-brand sneakers and thick-rimmed spectacles (most of them non-prescription). You might be afraid to approach them, but that's just the air they like to give off - slick, with it, super-cool and with a professor's understanding of Banksy's art and David Bowie's music (they have a collection of his LPs).
Go and stand near them - come on, don't be scared - and you'll hear they're all talking about the same things, which are, namely, some creative project they're "so amped" for, or some "lame-ass" party they went to the other night, or the new David Lynch film they got their friend in New York to download for them.
Mostly, they like to talk about themselves and how incredibly, amazingly, fantastically cool they are. But don't tell them they're cool - they don't like that. Thinking you're cool is uncool. Cool is the enemy. But, really, they're coool.
They're hipsters. We had them in the 1960s (tie-dye, peace signs, weed, anti-war demonstrator), the 1970s (big hair, big collars, LSD, porn director), the 1980s (big sneakers, luminous leggings, cocaine, advertising exec) and the 1990s (grunge, belly piercings, heroin, IT whizz), but the new millennium has produced a different breed of hipster. Social networking, brand consciousness and mass marketing means that coolness has become more constrained, more specific, more widespread and, dare I say, completely commercial.
Now there are Internet sites and Facebook groups dedicated to hipsterdom. On them you can learn all the things you need to become different from everyone else: the trademarks you should be wearing, the music you should like, the films you should watch, even the people you should like. You can look at photos of other hipsters and copy their style.
Some of these sites do it for fun, commenting on the irony of it all. Most, though, are serious. Most are dedicated global databases that millions of people log on to in an anxious quest to mimic uniqueness.
The pursuit of this bulk, Makro-like hipsterdom permeates almost every aspect of the cooler-than-thou's existence, starting with the way he or she speaks. Knowing the lingo and delivering it without sounding like the total berk you are is important if you want to fit into the hipster clique.
Favourite expressions, which are either descriptions for something that's cool, labels for other people, or verbs, include: wicked, peeps, sick, raditude, the shiz, amped, noob, kittens, fessing, macking, stunting... the list goes cringingly on. I've heard people use these terms, uttering them with a straight face, and it's agonising.
Unless your iPod is filled with indie bands from Ottowa and Chicago and have names like November Peel or Water Bomb or Nick's Panda Confession, don't attempt to discuss music with a hipster. If you like anything that's vaguely popular or even good, they will turn their noses up at you. And, be careful, what might have been a favourite hipster artist a few years ago - Coldplay, Jack Johnson, The Killers, everyone from the Garden State soundtrack - will most likely have been snubbed by a hipster because, through no fault of the particular band or artist, they have become popular. And popular means they've "sold out". Hipsters don't like anything that "other people" like because they think it makes you "mainstream", "mediocre" and a noob.
Essentially, a hipster never commits to anything and only ever has a flaccid, shallow regard for something they claim to love, for as soon as a wider fraction of people also want to enjoy the thing a hipster enjoys, the hipster drops it and goes looking for the next obscurity.
All hipsters like to think they are very artistic and they are usually involved in blatantly creative industries such as advertising, interior design, photography (film ONLY) and fashion. They love to flaunt socially the fact that they are "creatives" and "artists", failing to recognise that most of the world's truly great creatives didn't care if nobody knew who they were because they were too busy being artists.
Talking of busy, that's another thing you'll have to start being if you want to be hip. You must be in demand. But, don't worry, you don't actually have to be that important, or even talented; you simply need to get a BlackBerry (a white one is particularly hip) and fiddle with it constantly to make it look as though you are dealing with urgent e-mails. The truth is that you'll be on Facebook or Twitter - frivolities it's hard to imagine someone truly avant garde, such as Picasso or John Lennon or Yves Saint Laurent, giving a sh*t about.
And that is both the fallacy and the tragedy of the modern, mass hipster. Their deliberate efforts to be unique, elite and wanted have only resulted in them becoming common, low-rung and thoroughly disliked for all the wrong reasons.
But don't pity them. They love that.
STUFF HIPSTERS LIKE (OR PRETEND TO):
- Five authors other people don't understand because other people haven't had the life experience: Jack Kerouac, Bret Easton Ellis, Charles Bukowski, Hunter S Thompson, William Burroughs.
- Five musicians other people don't understand because other people are not artistically sensitive: David Bowie, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, The Doors.
- Five artists other people don't understand because other people are not artistic: Andy Warhol, Banksy, Damien Hirst, Roy Lichtenstein, Kandinsky.
- Five brands that are not just products, but art: Apple, Levi's Converse, Ray-Ban, Hello Kitty.
- Five directors whose nuances other people don't understand because other people only watch films to zone out: David Lynch, Wes Anderson, Gus Van Sant, Akira Kurosawa, Ingmar Bergman.