If you’re one of those people, like me, who mainly associate “hipsters” as low-slung, bootcut pants, you may want to continue reading. If you already know the alternate meaning and loathe what it represents, please be informed that, since a campaign via Facebook last year, June 1 is officially Punch A Hipster Day, so you can go out and seize the day. If you’re a hipster, you probably wouldn’t be reading this column anyway because it would be, um, beneath you.
The subculture originated by the late 1940s in post-WWII America, when disenchanted white youths found fresh air in jazz and blues, and the black musicians’ carefree lifestyle. Do note that segregation was still alive and well during that period — Rosa Parks didn’t refuse the bus backseat until 1955 and Martin Luther King Jr. announced his famous dream only in 1963 — so these youngsters’ foray into racial diversity was a bold, real, challenge to the prevalent norm and establishment, aside from being perceived as ahead of their time, of being “cool”.
These anti-mainstream, rebellious white youth, dubbed “hipsters” in Norman Mailer’s 1957 The White Negro essay, also eschewed the comfort offered by then-flourishing middle-class life. The hipsters’ lives were immortalized in various music and literary works; perhaps most notably Jack Kerouac’s iconic, semi-autobiographic On the Road. Their spirit carried over to the 1950s apolitical Beats and spilled into the 1960s anti-war hippies.
That chunk of history was pretty much my initial understanding, gained mostly through witnessing the revival of hipsterdom in the late 1990s while living in the US, scorned from Brooklyn to Seattle. Yet, aside from a fervent dedication to Pitchfork Media, wifebeater-plus-flannels — a la Urban Outfitters — or Wes Anderson films, I failed to sense a deeper, value-shifting angst beyond the classic case of struggling urban youths trying to cope with their better-fared peers. Suppose the new slew of twenty-something startup millionaires were much harder to chew than the usual preppy-turned-yuppie lot? Ironically, as a grad student I couldn’t afford most things in Urban Outfitters, so the revival failed to resonate with me.
Lately I’ve found myself again in talks about them, surrounded by supposed hipsters and gasp,
even having been mistakenly accused of being one.
No Facebook or BlackBerry? Privacy and over-exposure factors. Vintage items? Aesthetics and quality. Yoga and organic foodstuffs? Health and, to some extent, vanity — I gain weight easily when slacking off. My frequent aversion to overly-hyped things? Perhaps I was raised well to think independently; perhaps I’m just a freewheeling Sagittarian. For all the aforementioned habits or hobbies there’s a solid personal reason other than a burning desire to shun mainstream choices. After all, for all my eco-conscious practices and somewhat careful consumption, I still travel mostly by air and built the largest part of my career in the fast-moving consumer goods industry.
So I wonder; what actually defines today’s hipster? Someone who is into obscure forms of art and culture, someone who is always ahead of the trend, or both? In this age of 24/7 news cycle and ubiquitous Net access, all it takes is the luxury of free time in the comfort of your home to explore the virtual universe for the rarest, quirkiest things that might take your fancy, then spend more time to connect with likeminded souls and, factor in an Indonesian pattern of collectiveness, possibly spend even more time communing with these soul siblings in real life.
As for being ahead of the trend, there’s a big difference between being a first adopter and a trendsetter. A first adopter is someone with access and resources to scour, snap, and sport the latest thing that, when in luck, may be the next trend. A trendsetter has an eye to identify something that may or may not be new, yet sport it with such panache that everyone else can’t help to notice and want to emulate, birthing a trend.
If these are the prerequisites, then, except for pure unadulterated luck, today’s hipsters are mostly the ones with best access and resources (time, money and opportunities). Sounds like the good ol’ elites, doesn’t it?
Especially since I can’t seem to sniff the underlying major bone to pick with, to rebel against, today’s pretty diverse, relatively democratic society. Admittedly Indonesia is still going through its growing pains, and there are medieval characters like FPI around, but there are laws in place, however insufficient, to protect the environment, prohibit discrimination and promote better living for the underprivileged.
Worthy adversaries around are the likes of Somalian pirates, Colombian drug cartels and global religious fundamentalists, for which you need trained forces to fight. Challenging the 1 percent? Frankly, you might have a better shot by electing a new administration that will slap them through taxes.
Hipsters tend to refuse defining themselves to us mere “squares”, while internally have been known to accuse each other being less original (a fiery Twitter spat after Jakarta’s L’Arc-en-Ciel concert comes to mind) or trying too hard to be hip (n+1 editor suspected of consciously avoiding the fate of Slavoj Zizek’s trendiness among philosophical name droppers, as I read). The 2003 Hipster Handbook was cheeky, but not much else. Perhaps, if I dare ask, is this all simply some hipster hysteria?
While I’m waiting for enlightenment as to what today’s (Indonesian) hipsters are, let me rummage through the closet for that cool 1950s scarf. Have you heard? The movie of On the Road is coming.
Lynda Ibrahim is a Jakarta-based writer and consultant, with a penchant for purple, pussycats and pop culture.