Columns / Discourse / October 19, 2011

Musings on Life: On the meaning of hipsterism

The concept of “hipster” originated from the liberal age of the 1940s, where they were supposedly associated with jazz and black culture. The real meaning of being a “hipster” is still rather (and should be) open to one’s own interpretation, but I would say it definitely centers around themes of rebellion, independence and self-identity.

Over the past decade, hipster culture has gradually expanded. Seeing that hipsterism grew more common after the Second World War, the abundance of hipsters possibly has a connection with how settled and established a society is.

This makes sense since if there is a general improvement in standards of living, more people could afford to make choices on, for example, the clothes they wear so that their fashion would differ from everyone else. In this case, more varieties of apparel would be made available to the market. An environment of growing facilities and resources gives opportunity and freedom for new styles of thinking and self-expression.

Perhaps it is at this point when the rate of growth and development in society reaches a plateau and people start to think and question and thus “rebel.” Perhaps, society reaches a point where there are just too many of us and it drives our need to feel original so that we don’t drown into the nameless, faceless crowd.

It is unclear whether the ancient empires that flourished in the past had their versions of hipsters. They probably did have them in the form of “radicals” or “liberals,” but the degree of freedom they had was probably not as high as what the modern era has; so it is possible that technology has greatly aided the movement of hipsters. Tumblr, iPods and things of the like have made contributions to the hipster crowd.

But if we keep heading in the same direction, it seems that the world would turn into an entire population of hipsters. When most people think of the word “hipster,” they could probably classify this person as a youngster in tight jeans and an eccentric graphic tee, wearing large, lensless glasses. It has come to the point where hipster culture is now found on Top 40 Music Billboard charts and music videos of people party-rocking. Now everyone wants to become the thing that they see as “hipster,” which only puts everything into a paradox because if everybody paraded in tight jeans and graphic tees, no one would be different.

Maybe the “laws of equilibrium” are starting to kick in since a new possibility arises – could mainstream be the new hipster? I admit that sometimes I like to be different by not trying to be different, so you would see a lot of pop on my playlists.

In a sense, this could be deemed as really hipster because the concept of being original is there, but I truly believe mainstream will always stay mainstream. This is simply because no matter how many people shy away from common goods, there is a high chance that a large number of people would still be, well, not-hipster, because they want their things economic, efficient, fast and cheap.

Also, hipsters can never truly be mainstream. The hipster culture boom we see now is only something society in general perceives as hipster, and because it has become a common idea, it is therefore not hipster. You shouldn’t be able to specifically define “hipster” in a constantly changing society if the idea is to think differently.

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