By Rodney Barnes
In the Drake Hotel an indie band sings about the day their trash gets taken out. A tall blonde man in the crowd bawls out in a drunken slur, “A HIPSTER IS SOMEONE WHO HAS NO SEX. NO SEX AT AAAALLL.” Two girls cling to him, their eyes darting around the room. They’re looking to see if anyone’s noticed them yet without making eye contact.
The Drake’s “Elvis Mondays” are apparently a hotspot for hipsters, though even a crowd of them wouldn’t ever admit to being one. Once used to describe the youth ignored by society and in turn wielding irony in smirking revenge — taking the styles of fashions past, for instance, and calling them ‘vintage’ — the label has recently come under fire, the derision of any self-respecting trendster.
The hipsters are dead, if you believe the headlines, and are taking western civilization down with them. The critics say the irony driving the subculture for so long has finally devoured itself.
But all this points to is another round in the cruel cycle of discrimination that has followed the youth subculture since its inception. Theirs is a history of extreme prejudice rarely seen in other groups today, a discrimination of appearance that intensifies the effects of alienation and cripples our ability to form our own identity. They are a testament to the consequences of when our judgement of others goes too far, of when we forget our similarities and focus purely on the self.
The hipster scene exploded in the early 2000s with the intent to avoid the mainstream. Deriving from the youth that rebelled against the politics and media of the time, the culture was an extension of the idea of the ‘individual’ developed by their parents, many of whom came from the hippies of the 60s and 70s and who were now living middle-class, affluent lives. This sense of individuality was fuelled by the cynicism they put forward in response to being ignored.
“No matter how many protests, protest songs, demonstrations and documentaries, youth opinion no longer mattered,” wrote Joshua Erret in his piece about the end of the hipster in NOW magazine. This alienation served only to further corrupt an already destructive habit of putting the self before all else.
But it also helped unite what would have otherwise been a generation of misguided and ignored youth under a common mentality. Suddenly they were a group of youngsters who were far too cool to give a shit. They no longer cared about fitting in — in fact, they went as far as they could to stand out. They donned the shroud of irony, that leering shield. And the only price they paid was complete separation. In the end, they got what they wanted.
The almost pitch-black Wrongbar reverberates with slowly shifting feet, the bodies above them clothed in skinny pants, plaid shirts, hoodies and thick-rimmed glasses. The main act is two hours late to the stage and in their place is a band who look as though it’s the first time they’ve ever handled instruments. Maybe it’s all a big experiment. The drummer’s apparently never had any formal training—he just feels it.
Eyes assess the crowd without ever meeting one another. Two girls with pixie-cut blonde hair stare at another girl across the room. They’ve spotted her as the outcast. Their eyes pick her apart, trying to figure out what someone in heeled ankle boots, jeans and a pastel pink top is doing in this bar.
Around them are conversations about the latest political scandal in Europe, another about an upcoming photography show. They all have this tortured artist theme in common. There’s no enthusiasm; it is all nonchalance. None of them would admit to being too involved with something. That would be giving up some part of their autonomy, corroding the individuality they work so hard to maintain.
Striving to look individual works only in small numbers. With the rise of American Apparel commodifying the hipster style and making it accessible to the masses, hipsters went mainstream; they were sold out. The group, who were used to living on the fringe, found themselves joined by the rest of their generation. And because their identity rested on their outcast status, they did what any other group would do to remain exclusive: they moved on. It was no longer cool to be a hipster. The real hipsters, though they looked and acted no differently than before, denied the label and looked down upon it.
This is perhaps the ultimate irony. At first it seems like they missed the joke: fringe culture birthed and centred on the edge goes mainstream. Their mentality, so rooted in alienation, was in danger of being void at the accepting hands of millions — yet they went with it. By taking offense at the label they were trying to once again marginalize their group. They continued hanging onto the edge, albeit by the tips of their bitten fingernails.
A group of boys are staying in for a night of sexy actresses in horror movies — a somewhat rare occurrence, as they usually like going out to socialize at the bars around town.
Art posters showing the work of Munch and Dali cover the walls of their unit. Skateboards clutter the hallways. Speakers and various instruments litter the living room. In a wardrobe is a collection of plaid shirts of every possible colour and pattern — a collection the owner is proud of.
Others would call them hipsters. They would see their Macbooks and music libraries listing names of obscure artists and they would think these boys are the same as everyone else who wears tight jeans and over-sized beanies. They would say they are arrogant without caring to wonder if they are anything more than the stereotype being applied to them.
Look At This Fucking Hipster, a blog at www.latfh.com, displays photos of hipsters with snarky captions beneath them. “Look at this fucking love connection,” sneers the cutline below two photos of hipsters eating peanut butter out of the jar. No act, however innocent, escapes judgement. Playing their final trump card, hipsters have turned the callous eye of prejudice upon themselves.
What they didn’t count on in their ironic bent were the psychological repercussions. Extreme individuality came at the cost of their feeling of belonging, an important aspect of having healthy relationships with those around us. It makes us more accepting of others, and in keeping them in sight we develop an ability to empathize, to feel compassion.
But there were other effects. When individuality became a style the hipsters lost a deeper sense of who they were. The act of separating ourselves from others is the act of putting up walls. These walls became what defined them: seeing only the superficial in others meant they were shaped not from within, but from external forces. And since they were so disconnected to those external forces, who they are remains broken, and in pieces. They’ve forgotten the profundity of our experience as human beings; they no longer assume the depth within themselves.
There is an older crowd at the Drake tonight. They aren’t shy, like many of the younger hipsters. They seem comfortable, and in fact this is the reason why it’s hard to call them anything at all. Erret says that the hipster subculture is transforming itself into something new. Maybe they are maturing, growing out of their insecurities. Maybe they are growing up.
— With files from Rema Gouyez