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Remember that crazy period in the United States when everyone was scared their next door neighbor was a communist, something that would supposedly never happen today? I had an English class from college that taught me never to compare two things that are relatively not all that similar (the specific example they used was Nazi concentration camps and Japanese American internment camps). Still, I can’t help but think anytime someone calls someone else a hipster, it’s the same foolishness as those dominoes falling upon Hollywood and contaminating our Charlie Chaplins. Sure, this is pretty much limited to the sexy and skinny youth of America, but we haven’t grown up that much, have we?
There used to be a time when the definition of a hipster was clearly defined: It was your older brother. He listened to MXPX, and was the first one growing up in your small, isolated town to have his eyebrow pierced and his hair dyed like a checker board for the Senior prom. However, now it seems anything is within the realms of possibility of what a hipster is:
“I like listening to The Beach Boys.”
“Because you’re a hipster, hipster.”
“Then I’ll just listen to something new from the Top 40. Rihanna?”
“You’ll listen to it ironically, hipster. Where are you from?”
“I live in Greenpoint.”
“New York hipster.”
“Oh no, maybe I’ll move to Jersey then.”
“Yeah, and you’ll be a suburban hipster.”
Seriously, I read an article about how Brooklynites are now supposedly moving to the Suburbs, and buying minivans and having children ironically. I’m not even sure what the definition exactly means anymore. When I hear someone carelessly bandy about a word like hipster, I immediately think of one of two images: Allen Ginsberg reclining in some obscure Greenwich Village café spitting over a cynical lust for urban decay, or Denzel Washington strutting through the streets in a zoot suit, like a cooler, less-Jewish Groucho Marx.
In fact, the only thing more infectious than calling people hipsters is when a band is decreed the music of choice for said hipsters. Hipsters must eat, apparently. If I were a musician, and I’m not saying I’d want to be, I would hate to be labeled as a “hype-band.” The path for almost every one of these bands it seems is as follows: A site labels you as one of these bands, yet almost with an air of sarcasm as if they themselves don’t like you, but then all that press about you seems to disappear just as suddenly because all those blogs that subtly derided you were actually the ones that secretly wrote about you the most and have already moved on to the next band they simultaneously mock and adore, leaving you to scramble to pick up the pieces as you try to recapture something that has already left, firing the rest of your band who were perfectly fine in the first place and recording a country album that is completely different than what got you noticed all because you still want to be noticed.
Easily the most dangerous contaminant in music journalism today, after masculine arrogance and sexism, is some primordial need writers have to single out a band, while in the process forgetting about the rest with an attention span as short as their own album reviews. The bands that survive throughout it all, and always will, are those that never pay attention to music writers in the first place. Please, for the love of god, don’t listen to us.
Whenever I see some post on a blog about new hipster trends, how said trends should be swiftly banned and abolished, or what new music hipsters are listening to now, I find myself having a major panic attack because, inevitably, one if not many of the things on such lists represent something about my own personality. I actually enjoy listening to bands like Wings, ABBA, and The Mamas & The Papas, I prefer listening to cassettes over CDs or mp3s any day, and I can play the ukulele. I don’t do it because it’s hip and ironic, but because I shamelessly love these things. Should I stop doing something because someone suddenly declares it’s what a hipster does?
There’s a book by Alan Harrington, The Revelations of Dr. Modesto, in which he represents two extremes: one in the form of a character who is so invested in fitting in with everyone else—also known as “centralism”—that he’ll do anything to blend in, even at the sake of losing his own personality; and another character who is the exact opposite, someone who cares so much about being an individual that he wastes his life by not living it as he actually wants to. Don’t do something, or even stop doing something, because someone tells you you’re just a hipster if you do or don’t do it. Do it because you enjoy doing it, or listen to something because you actually enjoy listening to it, and with any luck, calling someone a hipster will go the same way as trucker hats and The Ting Tings.