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Hipsters and Philosophy

What is deck [hip, cutting edge, up on the latest trends] and what is fin [whack or lame, undesirable]? Is it deck to get shellacked [drunk] on bronsons [beer] or chowder [mixed drinks]? At the very least, it would probably be pretty midtown [uncultured] to boggle [vomit] in your own bennie [hat]. Is it deck or fin to bust a moby [to dance] behind a chipper [a woman who’s easy] with a semi [a partial erection]? Do you give the frado [an ugly guy who thinks he’s good-looking] the fridgidaire [the cold shoulder]?

On the one hand, to get liquid [have sex] with a tassel [girl] who has a nice nancy [ass] could pull some heat [influence] on the clothesline [gossip on the scene], but on the other hand so could liquefying a carpet [lesbian Hipster] or Maxwell [gay Hipster]. Moreover, the same flogger [coat] or flubber [breast implants] could be deck on one and fin on another. One must even be careful when selecting what piece [cell phone] or raphaels [glasses] to accessorize with in order to polish [impress] a wally [an attractive male Hipster] and not appear Hilfiger [having no fashion sense]. But then again, it all depends on what kind of kale [dollars] one’s carrying. Bipsters [blue-collar Hipsters], WASHs [Waitstaff and Service Hipsters], and UTFs [Unemployed Trust-Funders] alike can enjoy the immortality of the Hipster [one who posses tastes, social attitudes, and opinions deemed cool by the cool]. The main thing is never to get lazy on keeping up with trends.

With these neologisms in our tool belt we can begin to undercover “what it means to be deck—or, depending on your age, groovy, nifty, fresh, chic, savvy, fly, bodacious, jazzy, cool, righteous, hip, and hep” (Robert Lanham, The Hipster Handbook, p. 2). Did you graduate from a liberal arts school, do you use the term postmodern, carry a should-strap messenger bag, wear horn-rimmed glasses, are you exceptionally cultured, do you blur gender and sexual orientation stereotypes, spend time in local dive bars and restaurants, maximize cowlicks and unkempt hair, do you collect vinyl’s or pride yourself on being fragile and sickly-looking? If you answered yes to most of these questions, chances are you are a Hipster.

As Lanham has pointed out, and as many have discovered for themselves, “all Hipsters choose a personal style for themselves that helps them to stand apart from the masses. Why so many Hipsters tend to look like each other is a subject for another discussion” (p. 12). But that is precisely what is up for discussion on this post—Lanham, in fact, betrays even himself when he makes this gesture because his work is exactly the outlining of stereotypes that pan across the diversity inherent to hipsterism. As he puts it elsewhere, “Underneath their apparent individualism, Hipsters conform just like everyone else” (p. 13). One consistent thread weaving between all Hipsters is a disdain for “franchises, strip malls, and the corporate world in general” (p. 12). What Hipsters are positively interested in, rather, is social causes and the environment. Likewise, they are “more culturally aware than most” (p. 13). We might speculative however, as Lanham does, whether this is merely due to the edginess of choosing a side that has not traditionally been embraced by conservatives. In other words, are they not simply attempting to be oppositional for opposition sake?

In continuation, Hipsters generally tend to relax and socialize more than the average person in dives that are “dark and musty.” “They emanate a stale-booze-and-cigarette stench that is tantalizing to most Hipsters” (p. 37). Furthermore, they choose social locations that are distinguishable from “other run-of-the-mill establishments” and are “designed and decorated to give the illusion of age” (p. 37, 38). Moreover, Hipetsters enjoy being ironic and tongue-in-cheek. They will throw dinner parties, for instance, in which they try to “outkitsch one another when preparing a meal” (p. 30). Moreover, “Drinking Budweiser while bitching about Gap ads and corporate America can make you seem mysterious rather than hypocritical” (p. 39). On the whole, Hipsters show “nonconformist flair” in their lifestyle choices and attempt, above all, to set themselves apart by being provocative in contrast to conventional culture.

What affinity, if any, does philosophy share with Hipsters? As I will argue in what follows, Hipsters and philosophy are analogous in their strengths and weaknesses alike. As a starting comparison, Polits—extremely literary Hipsters who have philosophical approaches to politics and existence—readily fit an apparent affinity with philosophy on the whole. “The term Polit (pronounced pah-lit) is an amalgamation of the words ‘political’ and ‘literary’… Polits also carry a copy of one of the following: The Stranger by Albert Camus, The Commuist Manifesto by Karl Marx…Che’s biography…” (p. 99). As Lanham goes on to describe, Polits “spend most of their time away from home writing and smoking hand-rolled cigarettes in coffee shops” and are prone to carry a melancholic and cynical disposition (p. 100). Even outside of Polits, Hipsters pride themselves on being conversant with culture. As such, they are interested in shedding light on the privileged cultural ideologies that they have inherited as well as destabilizing the complacent apathy of the elite guardians of the status quo. The unofficial philosophy of this group, and one that I support, is the deconstructivist ethos of bringing regimes of exploitation to the threshold of crisis.

However, Hipsters “seem caught in a doctrine of individual uniqueness” (Spivak, The Spivak Reader, p. 101). As Spivak points out, correctly in my estimation, the generalizable result of such individualism is the “lack of any conceivable interest in a collective practice toward social justice, or in recognizing the ethico-politically repressive construction of what presents itself as theoretical, legal, benign, free, or nature” (ibid.). Otherwise put, Hipsters are too concerned with their own existential issues with the social that they are in no position to unify in a political front that could potentially upset business as usual. In fact, I think the same can often be said of philosophy students.

Existentialism, moreover, is parallel to Hipsterism insofar as the axiom of the former is “Change yourself!” Given the contradistinction Sartre makes in Being and Nothingness between the “in-itself” and the “for-itself,” existentialism implicitly affirms the everlasting project of recreating one’s self. This, doubtless, pleases market capitalism quite well. In fact, it appears that counterculture disruption is easily appropriated and commodified as a popular lifestyle choice. That is to say, corporations can market diasporic identities for those wanting to add a bit of edge to their persona, viz. Che t-shirts and Rage Against the Machine producing under major record labels.

For more, see this parallel post here.