A few of us here at Cyborgology have a running joke going about #HipsterStudies, so I thought I would compile a couple comics that likewise intellectualize this subcultural movement. The first, sent in by reader Letta Wren Page, is a comic by Dustin Glick:

Dustin Glick's "Theory of Hipster Relativity"

This image does a great job illustrating the inherent relativity of the hipster label. That is, as a largely pejorative label, one can only be deemed a hipster by comparison. Much like Thornton (1996) discovered in her study of UK youth raves, where club kids used pejorative labels to denote the bounds of group membership, the hipster as label serves to undermine attempts to mimic subcultural forms (and hence, it serves as a way to deny these actors any semblance of subcultural capital).

In Thornton’s (1996) study, “Sharon and Tracy” (a stand in for “the mainstream”) display their outsider status when they “dance with their handbags” at the local rave. That is, they interacted with the music in the wrong way and failed to display the proper forms of subcultural capital, outing themselves to others. These patrons were seen as the antithesis to “core” members of the club subculture, because they were attracted to the scene only after the press began sensationalizing these raves as dangerous, drug-induced frenzies.

However, unlike Thornton’s (1996) conception of “Sharon and Tracy”, who were seen as not informed enough, not involved enough, and not “down” with the subcultural norms, the hipster as pejorative label applies to those who appear too informed, too involved, and especially too concerned with appearance, status, and distinction. So in an era where subcultures have been “opened up” by the proliferation of web 2.0 and internet content (that is, increasing accessibility to subcultural forms and knowledges), displaying excessive concern for distinct subcultural forms becomes a blemish of character (Goffman 1963). It is the mark of a poser, a sham, and a fabrication. Hence, the meaning of authenticity is turned inside out.

So have subcultural distinctions been turned inside out? Perhaps. Although this second comic by Jeph Jacques takes the “underground = subcultural” thesis one step farther. Although the author conflates indie with hipster (which some disagree with), it does reveal a commonly observed sentiment about “indie” music. And he comes to a similar conclusion: That being a hipster is relative and in the eye of the beholder.

Jeph Jacques' "Hipster Theory"

What does it mean when the “long tail” (Anderson 2003) of music, fashion, and subcultural forms suddenly becomes visible through internet and new media? Does this mark the “death of subcultures” as we now know them? Will subcultural groups find new marks of distinction measured not by one’s knowledge of subcultural forms, but by commitment to “pure” subcultural content? How can one measure subculture in an age of increasing digital visibility? Will subcultural groups simply move offline to protect the integrity of their cultural forms?