"That bar's a total hipster enclave."
"Look at that poseur over there. What a hipster fag."
"I don't know much about them. They're just another hipster band, as far as I know."
"Portland/North Portland/This restaurant/This bar/This trivia night/This strip of Mississippi/etc. used to be cool, until all these hipsters took over."
Chances are if you're reading this newspaper, you've heard somebody utter a sentiment very close to the above. And there's an even greater chance that the person who said it was a bona fide "hipster" as well. (Far be it from me to point fingers, but by extension, the odds are that you're one, too.)
Count us in, too. Our presumably hipster-free readership here at the Mercury calls us hipsters all the time. And indeed, our I, Anonymous column—a forum for people to vent their frustrations—is dominated by people slinging the word around with astonishing vitriol. Here's but a small sampling:
• "This should be obvious, but you hipster people with faux-nerd clothing are still totally dumb. There are two people staying at my house right now, both are hipsters, and both have faux-nerd clothing."
• "You fucking retarded, hipster Joan Jett-lookin' bitch: Bringing your snake to my favorite bar isn't cool."
• "Stop dropping $30 at overpriced hipster pubs every night and you might be able to afford a deodorant stick once in a while."
• "Now it seems the white, overeducated hipster/yuppie fucks deem it necessary to build (how many?) coffee shops, condos, and overpriced food markets."
• "This is to you ignorant hipster scumfucks who walked out on Little Richard during his first song at the Bite of Oregon."
As my shrink would say: I can tell you're angry. But let's look at what's really going on here.
In each of these cases, the perceived offense doesn't actually have to do with anybody being a hipster, but something else entirely.
(1) Wearing faux-nerd clothing: This is just an annoying fashion move, no matter who commits it. If my physician walked in wearing faux-nerd clothing, I'd automatically hate him, too—but I wouldn't call him a hipster. (What's the difference between nerd clothing and faux-nerd clothing, anyway?)
(2) Bringing a snake into a bar: When I think of every possible hipster stereotype, not a single one involves somebody bringing a snake into a bar. In fact, I think that doing so would get you kicked off the hipster roll call altogether.
(3) Stinking: Not to perpetuate stereotypes, but the last two god-awful stinky people I smelt at "hipster" shows (Spankrock, Girl Talk) were dyed-in-the-patchouli-wool hippies who looked like they wandered into the wrong club. Though similarly named, the hipster/hippie communities have very little cultural overlap, aside from an affection for the herb.
(4) Gentrification is a complex issue that affects many socio-economic groups, of which hipsters are but a tiny slice. Few deep-pocketed developers fall under the hipster rubric.
(5) The last complainer is furious that "hipsters" walked out on a Little Richard concert during the Bite of Oregon. To this, I will concede that Little Richard's Bite of Oregon concert was indeed most likely a hipster-free zone.
The ubiquity of the word "hipster" as a pejorative in this city, as seen in the previous examples, illustrates that people are playing fast and loose with the term, using it to mean anybody annoying who's not a total square. (And nobody loves to use the term more than hipsters themselves.)
HIPSTER OR ASSHOLE?
The truth is, it's all too easy to conjure a mental image of what people mean when they use the word "hipster" derisively. We likely imagine someone overly concerned with fashion, possessive of a condescendingly dismissive attitude toward everything outside their insular realm, a sheep-like trend follower, and an infuriatingly non-individualized personality who likes whatever band Pitchfork tells them to and whose shoes cost more than a day's wages. When I think of the worst end of the hipster sliding scale, my mind goes straight to the too-cool-for-me guy at my video store, who's always too involved in watching the collected music videos of Hall & Oates on the overhead TV to make eye contact while I rent my movie. He's always wearing lame ironic T-shirts, and his attitude reeks of smug... hipsterness. There's no other word for it. And if I perceived the city to be overrun with hipsters like him, I'd be an angry, I, Anonymous-writing citizen, too.
But the truth is, what rubs me the wrong way about this guy has nothing to do with his relative level of hipsterdom. The fact is, the guy is a self-absorbed narcissist who's overly vain about his wardrobe and hairstyle, and is generally unfriendly. As evidenced by sororities, law firms, sports teams, country clubs, sewing circles, and virtually every other social group the world over, this is by no means an exclusively hipster phenomenon. The fact remains that every demographic is composed of roughly 10 percent assholes. Buddhists, DJs, gourmet chefs, Freemasons, and ceramicists—all groups of humans are littered with pretentious twits. But intelligent, non-bigoted people generally refrain from decrying rock climbers, for instance, based on the shitty attitudes of a few. When we speak condescendingly of hipsters in reference to people like my video store clerk, the chances are that what we hate about them is that they're annoying little fucks. That they're a so-called "hipster" is entirely beside the point.
However, all the aforementioned subcultures are a relatively clearly defined lot. When you label someone a windsurfer, a lesbian, or a jock, there's usually little ambiguity there. But I have yet to meet one person who defines themselves as a hipster, which begs the question: What is a hipster, anyway?
The Hipster Handbook, a gently satirical book that only hipsters would (discreetly) chuckle at, vaguely defines hipsters as "One who possesses tastes, social attitudes, and opinions deemed cool by the cool... The Hipster walks among the masses in daily life but is not a part of them and shuns or reduces to kitsch anything held dear by the mainstream. A Hipster ideally possesses no more than two percent body fat." Besides being unfunny, this definition doesn't tell us nearly as much as does their personality test, "Clues You Are a Hipster." Among the clues are:
"You graduated from a liberal arts school whose football team hasn't won a game since the Reagan administration."
"You have one Republican friend who you always describe as being your 'one Republican friend.'""You own records put out by Matador, DFA, Definitive Jux, Dischord, Warp, Thrill Jockey, Smells Like Records, and Drag City."
What confuses me here is how any one of these qualifiers would be deemed a putdown. The first indicates to me that you're interested in learning—presumably about the arts or social sciences—and didn't choose to go to a party/jock/frat school. The second one tells me that you typically don't associate with peers who support the ongoing invasion in Iraq, the Patriot Act, or anti-abortion measures. And finally, you listen to bands like Cat Power, Aphex Twin, and the Sea and Cake. Based on all this, I only have one question for you: Do you want to get together for coffee sometime?
By and large, the term "hipster" is used to point to somebody who enjoys art, good films, and music that you won't hear on most Clear Channel stations. They are generally uninterested in climbing corporate ladders and would instead rather work somewhere that allowed them the freedom to pursue creative endeavors, like their band/crafts/activism/MP3 blog/whatever. They're probably down with recreational drug use, prefer bikes to cars (at least ideologically) and have more interesting homes than decidedly suburban non-hipsters. As it stands right now, we have no term to designate this group of individuals, except for the word "hipster."If I ask somebody what a bar is like, and they tell me it's a hipster bar, instead of recoiling, I figure there will be good music, as well as a lot of people who share my interests. I won't expect it to be full of BMW-driving fatcats with McMansions in the West Hills, or guys who want to chug beers and yell at the football game on TV. If I'm crashing on a friend-of-a-friend's couch out of town, and I'm told in advance that my host is a hipster, I'll breathe a sigh of relief that they'll probably have a good record collection, a lot of books, and a healthy hatred for George W. Bush. If it turns out he has a serious attitude problem and acts like he's the king of Williamsburg, then the problem isn't that he's a hipster, but simply that he's another generic fuckface.
DON'T CALL ME HIPSTER, HIPSTER!
All that being said, I still get my panties in a twist when somebody slaps the H-word on me, and I instinctively list myriad reasons I'm not a hipster. I haven't had a drink or done drugs since the Twin Towers were still standing; as such, you never catch me hanging out at bars, unless I'm seeing a show. I buy most of my clothes from the Gap outlet store. I go to church (yep). I have a small circle of friends, and when we get together, it's usually to go to art shows or have dinner at somebody's house. My Reeboks are the cheapest, comfiest shoes I could find at GI Joes. And I have never worn a trucker's hat in my life. Not once. Clearly, I am no hipster.On the other hand... I moved to Portland in 2002 and work for the unofficial hipster newspaper here. I was present at Sleater-Kinney's last concert. I check Pitchfork every day—but don't think it's as good as it used to be. I read Haruki Murakami and McSweeney's. I've got no patience for manual labor, religious zealots, or Steven Spielberg movies. Holocene and the Doug Fir are my two favorite venues, and you're damn right I can tell the difference between Stumptown and Starbucks. If this makes me a hipster, fuck it: I'm a hipster and I wouldn't have it any other way. That tightening you feel in your chest when somebody drops the H-bomb on you has nothing to do with your taste in music or fashion. It's that you've been stripped of your individuality and reduced to a stereotype, which is patently demeaning, no matter what the classification (walk up to someone who's independently wealthy and call them "rich guy"). The word "hipster" has been so abused—by hipsters, mind you—that it fails to designate anything specific anymore, if it ever did at all. Trust fund boys who dress like Interpol and do coke in overpriced lofts could be called hipsters as easily as the dreadlocked chick in PBR flip flops buying organic spelt for her kid's birthday cupcakes. How can both of these people fall under the same stereotype? It's a pretty simple equation if you boil it down: Neither one (happily) works in a cubicle in the 'burbs; they're united by a general distaste for mainstream popular culture (though each has their guilty pleasures [hello, Top Model!]) and a vehement hatred for George Walker Bush; and though their individual tastes may differ, they wholeheartedly concur that there's nothing good on the radio.Remember the last scene in Revenge of the Nerds? (I know you do, hipster.) The one where they reclaim the word "nerd" and vow not to be bullied by the term anymore? If this ridiculous hipster-on-hipster name-calling is ever going to end, we need to have one of those moments now. I'm sure this essay will prompt plenty of emails calling me a hipster (or the charming variation "hipster fag"). So preemptively, I say to you finger-pointers: "Sure, I'm a hipster. Call me that all you want. In the meantime, enjoy your Olive Garden, your Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway, the Tim McGraw and Faith Hill show coming at the Rose Quarter, the Da Vinci Code, Rachael Ray, bloomin' onions, your middle management job that you'll probably die with, the new Rod Stewart box set, and Renée Zellweger's upcoming movie with Hugh Grant. I'll be back here in the middle of the city with my hipster friends talking about art and books, going to see live bands, searching for new experiences, and drinking better coffee than you. Signed, Your Hipster Friend, Chas Bowie".