This post is somewhat of a stretch, but I think it remains applicable nonetheless. Below I have embedded three video clips, each dealing with “the hipster” as a relatively recent subcultural form and social type.
First, we have the “Hipster Olympics,” a viral video that made the rounds a few years back. The video makes a parody of the hipster, mocking their supposed elitism, pretension, dependency on new technologies, and obsession with authenticity as a source of subcultural distinction (note the subtle play on Pabst Blue Ribbon).
Second, we have a short clip from the “2 Broke Girls” a new CBS television series focusing on the epicenter of the hipster subculture, the gentrified Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY. In the clip we see the confluence of hipsters and homelessness, which ultimately serves to as a satire on the “Poor Chic” fashion trends of New York’s urban hipsters (Halnon 2002). We also notice the association between hipsters and personal hygiene (or lack thereof), a stereotype that has also been foisted upon the #Occupy protestors.
And last we have a trailer for the recent feature film “I Am Not a Hipster,” which is currently making the rounds at Sundance, the premiere site of “indie” film. This film is being touted as the premiere image of the hipster/indie subculture.
Based on these three pieces of media, it appears the hipster has finally made it into the comedic rounds of popular culture. And it’s only taken ten years. Since the “origin” of the hipster at the turn of the century, we have seen the subculture diffuse outward from its original birthplace in Brooklyn, NY to encompass nearly all urban centers of America (Weeks 2011; n+1). The subculture (and its related musical genre “indie”) has become solidified as a product of the post-9/11 consumer zeitgeist.
Stanley Cohen, writer of Folk Devils and Moral Panics (1972) coined the term “folk devil” to refer to the deviantization of particular subcultural groups in the 1960s, specifically the Teddy Boys, Mods, and Rockers of British youth culture. These groups were seen as a threat to the prevailing moral order, and were attributed as the cause of the decline of youth culture. The “moral panic” that surrounded these groups was largely a product of media spectacle, exaggeration, and moral entrepreneurialism. In the words of Cohen:
“But groups such as the Teddy Boys and the Mods and Rockers have been distinctive in being identified not just in terms of particular events (such as demonstrations) or particular disapproved forms of behavior (such as drug-taking or violence) but as distinguishable social types. In the gallery of types that society erects to show its members which roles should be avoided and which should be emulated, these groups have occupied a constant position as folk devils: visible reminders of what we should not be” (Cohen 2002:2).
This quote demonstrates nicely how folk devils become a distinct social type, a piece of public property that many individuals and groups draw from in order to symbolize what not to be. So here is what I propose: The hipster is the folk devil we all love to hate. We attribute to the hipster all the worst excesses of consumer culture at the turn of the century. And they supposedly represent all that is wrong with American youth: entitlement, rebellion, vanity, and naïve romanticism (Campbell 1987). They are positioned as the downfall of culture and art, the epitome of facile self-promotion, excess, and inherited privilege–those trend-chasing pseudo-bohemians that value aesthetic forms over content. Hence the traction such comedic mockeries of the hipster receive. Apparently nobody likes a hipster. And the lack of positive media about the hipster only solidifies its status as a “folk devil” of the new millennium.
However, where the Mods and Rockers actually had staunch followers, militant youth who identified with the label and associated subcultural forms, I have yet to find a very strong identification with the hipster label (hence the self-referential title of the film “I Am Not a Hipster”). Although many people seem to fit the hipster mold, none seek to identify with it (except those who seek to do so ironically, as the penultimate hipster move). This is because the hipster itself is largely a semantic label, or in the words of Weber, and “ideal type” against which many subcultural groups define themselves. It works similar to the concept of “the mainstream,” which is so often used by subculturalists as an expression of what they are not (Thornton 1996). So the use of the hipster as folk devil serves as a foil against which we can all proclaim our integrity and authenticity as creative individuals. “Hipster” becomes a deviant label to apply to those we denigrate as “posers” or “dandies.” It allows us each to safely proclaim with confidence, “I am not a hipster.”