I first noticed the change a couple years back. I stopped being able to recognize my people by the way they looked.
It used to be that in counterculture circles, there were certain trademarks. There was only a small group who identified with being outside of the mainstream and if you met them you felt like they were kindred spirits almost immediately. It was easier to weed out the chafe from the wheat, so to speak.
I was searching the web for the term countercultural the other day and the term that kept coming up instead was hipster. Which led me to write this essay on why that irks me.
Hipster has become a word used at the very least to define the latest generation of a group of twenty and thirty-something’s taking over the markets of the world at large.
I use the term hipster to describe the vapid clusters of sneer-lipped, often very thin party goers I run into in the Mission District of San Francisco and all over Berkeley, drinking expensive boutique coffee, wearing over-sized prescription-less sunglasses and American Apparel spandex tights, covered from head to toe in recently acquired tattoos and scoffing at anyone who isn’t a part of this new so-called subversive scene. Except they’re not doing anything different.
I use it to describe people who’ve cloaked themselves so thoroughly in their accepted costume of the moment they cannot and will not talk to anyone they smell is not like them. And they’ve let me know, without a doubt, that I’m not like them, though I’ve been wearing components of their costume for most of my life. I use it to describe the people who make other people hate the words organic, vegan and sustainable as well as alternative, anti-fashion and buzzword.
They’re the people that give you that flat, non-blinking stare when you say something that makes complete sense in order to try and make you feel stupid.
The only thing annoying about (people who don’t call themselves) hipsters is that there are so many of them, and they’re everywhere. No longer can you judge a book by its cover, which was so easy to do in the ’90s. I can’t find my peeps because they’re obscured by the latest cult affiliation with fashion. They’ve made “alternative” and “countercultural” a marketing tool for mainstream media, which has so far pervaded our world culture you could probably go to Fiji and still hear about the latest pop celebrity.
There is no such thing as countercultural anymore when it comes to how you dress or what you buy. There is no such thing as different. We’ve reached the apex of mass consumerism and this is the future: a homogenized amalgamation of every fashion and thought that groups of so-called radical people wore in the past, boiled down like Chucky in Child’s Play and coming back to life before your very eyes. Think hippy mixed with punk mixed with ’70s disco porn star and add a bit of Hollywood tattooed pop star to the mix and you might be able to describe how it looks.
Its like the Andy Warhol thing all over again, but even more annoying.
I was trying to describe the visual part of the hipster thing to my friend who lives too far from the city to be impacted by it while I was taking her on a tour of San Francisco for kicks. As we drove through the parking lot of Trader Joe’s, I said, “It’s a little like trailer trash meets porn star at the moment.”
I pointed at a young man walking towards us with a leer on his face, a sleazy mustache, a beat-up trucker hat and butt-tight jeans, with a bag of Trader Joe’s groceries in his hand.
“Like that,” I said.
“Good description. You completely captured it,” she said.
Yet I hadn’t quite captured it. Because what I’m trying to capture, really, is the feeling that I’m slipping out of focus and nothing is what it seems anymore. Because of the mix of culture, fashion and marketing there is nothing I can buy, do, or say that isn’t subject to acquisition and regurgitation through marketing sidebars.
There is no such thing as a hipster, really. Just bands of people who have no movement but that of being twenty-somethings to thirty-somethings. Being young, annoying and snobby is a movement. Jumping on bandwagons that were already movements long ago is the new movement.
The term itself came about decades ago, supposedly when people were dressing like jazz musicians to be “hep cats.” Hipster is a hollow term, meant to describe a copycat population and an attitude as much as a dress code.
An article in Adbusters calls it “the dead end of Western Civilization.” The words that come to mind are vapid, cipher, hollow, pantomime, sieve. It’s what happens when new trends don’t occur anymore and the industries selling stuff and the people out there acquiring stuff don’t have any new ideas but that from the past cults of cool. When everything is accessible for money, nothing is new. I think it started back when department stores started selling pants with holes already in them, but I could be wrong.
You can’t see into it and you can’t describe it because there’s nothing there. It’s just a cloak used to disguise what has happened for every decade we’ve had a trend, yet this time there’s nothing the group is fighting for except their picture on the latest glossy or the recognition of their high-school-mentality stuck peers.
It’s the lastest generation indoctrinated from birth to be something creative and different, yet the only way they know how to do that is to be a part of a group. And the group in this case can’t stand out, can’t be different, can’t be individual.
And because I can’t read the signs anymore, because the fashion statements and tattoos don’t mean anything at all anymore, I can no longer find my people based on how they look. I can only find the people who aren’t my people by their reflections and assimilations of how my people used to look. The irony being that I have to wait it out with people, grow relationships slowly and can’t easily assess someone by their appearance. I guess this is really a good thing, because if I ignore the mannequin masses as a whole, I can weed them out.
They aren’t pretending, they’re out in the troops doing it. They aren’t getting their picture taken, they’re not making the news, they’re waiting in the wings sharpening their tools.
Used to be that a tattoo was a statement. Often now it’s just another brand you acquire to make you look like a rock star without doing anything to be one. And I’m not saying I’m above all this. We all have hipster elements, or it wouldn’t bother anyone at all. We hate what we see that mirrors us.
But before those elements were siphoned off into part of a mass statement I wanted no part in, there were true movements. There was meaning in music. There was a fight to progress and change things. None of this surrender to commercialism, this blatant consumer flock riding out into the city streets.
I used to be able to find my people.
Now it’s very hard indeed.