Q: What do you call someone who looks just like you, who you’ve never met?
A. A stupid fucking hipster.
Yes, the hipster has long served as a convenient scapegoat for people who aspire to be hip without the “-ster”. Onto them, we project our insecurities about our own superficiality, inauthenticity, and even insecurity itself. What better way to spackle over one’s embarrassing desire to be cool, then to point at some guy wearing pants a millimeter skinnier than one’s own and say “see that guy? He’s obviously desperate to be cool. Sad, really.” But hipsters aren’t just a collective figment of our neurotic late-capitalist imaginations; they’re also a trend. Since hipsters are defined by trendiness, this represents a meta-trend, a trend in favor of trendiness itself. In “The Hipster Trap,” Steven Kurutz grapples with the contradictions and Derridean aporias created by his own internally incoherent mental conception of the “hipster.”
“After resisting for years, I finally gave in and began wearing glasses when I watch movies or drive.” It’s always wise to resist wearing glasses for as long as possible, along with visiting the dentist, buying a refrigerator, and getting vaccinated for polio. Modern life and its conveniences certainly do suck, but that’s not what this article is about: “More upsetting than this small sign of physical decay was the acquaintance who took note of my newly bespectacled profile and said that I looked like a hipster.” Hipsters are a group of people known for wearing glasses. Of course, they’re very vain and appearance-conscious, so they’d probably also wear contact lenses if they thought they looked better that way, the scamps. Kurutz wasn’t trying to look good; he was only trying to stop endangering the lives of his follow motorists, but he let the insult get to him.
“Mind you, the glasses are ordinary brown frames, not retro black.” Black is a hipster color. If you’re a substance, and you’re absorbing all visible wavelengths of light, you might as well be listening to 78’s on a gramaphone. Black is all like “I feel that by retaining energy from the sun and giving the spectator nothing to apprehend, I raise fundamental questions about the boundaries between perception and non-perception, as well as the nature of color-ness itself. When we recognize, what is it that is re-cognized? Who is the ‘I’ in ‘identification’? I’m doing a solo show of my work next month at The Tiny Frame Gallery. It’s called ‘The Sights of Silence.'” Whereas brown is a normal, meat-and-potatoes that the working man can appreciate and get behind. It’s a feel-good mix of all your favorite wavelengths, like 580 nanometers and 700 nanometers. (Although, the spectacles designer who selected that shade of brown would be crestfallen to see it described as “ordinary.” Its real name is probably something like Byzantine Umber or Tuscan Fig.)
“Architects would scoff.” Probably. If anyone had ever met one. Architects don’t interact with people in brown glasses, and that’s the way they like it. “Yet I’d been linked to the tattooed, headphone-clad, hirsute rulers of youth culture.” I thought youth culture was all about Skrillex and twerking and sparkly vampires. Don’t hipsters hate that stuff? Or do they like those things ironically because they think they suck, and that’s how they got so popular? Are hipsters serving as unwitting arbiters of teenybopper fashion, like so many Portlandian Pied Pipers in plaid?
“…and insulted, because anyone who believes he is genuinely cool would never want to be called a hipster, that slavish adopter of trends. ” Again, I’m confused. I thought the defining feature of hipsters was that they hate trends, and only like stuff that other people haven’t heard of. That’s why they’re always saying they were “into [X] before it was cool.” Or is that just a ruse they employ to conceal their slavish trend adoption, when actually they were never into anything before it was cool? How devious. But then the other thing everybody knows about hipsters is that they spend all their time immersed in obscure subcultures and learning about arcane topics that are of interest only to themselves and a few equally obsessive friends. Am I expected to believe that there exists an entire demographic of artistically inclined, culturally adventurous people….who spend their days watching art films, reading literary magazines and going to basement punk shows, all in the hopes of discovering lesser-known forms of culture…and yet have never once succeeded in doing so? How Ziggy-esque. I think the term “hipster” should be reserved for people who display a modicum of competence at actually being hip. These people sound more like sad sacks or lovable losers.
“Such is the pervasiveness of hipster culture that virtually every aspect of male fashion and grooming has been colonized.” Hipsters walk the earth constantly perceiving the hidden, subterranean hipness in everything, bringing it to the fore, and in doing so, colonize those things, making them part of an empire of narcissism and pretentiousness — an empire on which the sun never sets, probably because it’s “too cool” to rise in the first place. (The fact that they’re able to do this while also being too stuck up to enjoy anything normal people like just goes to show that hipsters are very clever.)
“Take footwear.” …please! My footwear is so ugly, when I go into a store, the clerk refuses to serve me until I take it off! I went to the Zappo’s website. The welcome screen told me to come back when I’d had more practice. I tell you, my shoes are so old, I tried to give them away to the Salvation Army, and the lady told me “I’m sorry, we don’t accept taxidermy animals.” My footwear don’t get no respect. I tried to give them away to a bum. He said, “listen, if I wanted a dead possum, I could find one in the alley across the street!”
“Every time I lace up a pair of Adidas or Vans, I might as well be saying I’m one of those hipsters with a closetful of retro ’80s street wear.” This seems like a far-fetched concern. Real sneaker collectors are probably aware that Adidas and Vans are commonly worn brands of shoe. Also, so are ordinary people with an average awareness of sneakers. So the only people mistaking you for a shoe fanatic who knows everything about shoes are…people who know nothing about shoes. Are you really that upset about incurring their scorn? “Wow, nice Chuck Taylors and Levis. How was the latest red carpet premiere, Sarah Jennifer Parker? It must be nice, starring in Sex In the City and strutting around in Menalos all day. Some of us have to work for a living. We can’t afford to keep up with the newest line of Converse All-Stars or spend a sixtieth of our paycheck on one pair of shoes. Ooooooh, high tops. Guess regular ol’ ankle-revealing shoes are out this season, huh, Anna Winter?”
“Top-Siders paired with a Lacoste shirt are the realm of Vampire Weekend-type preppy hipsters.” That, or old white guys who boat. Wait, people into Vampire Weekend are hipsters? Didn’t that band play on Saturday Night Live? If their fans are hipsters, people who like Mumford and Sons are the staff of Vice Magazine circa 2001. I suppose I should be glad he isn’t ranting about Pitchfork and asymmetrical haircuts. Being a hipster-hater means never having to abandon a cultural reference. The White Stripes…Urban Outfitters…ironic t-shirts…if something was a hipster thing once, it’s still a hipster thing after every frat boy in America adopts it. Why would you want to retain some vague awareness of what’s going on in the present sociocultural climate, when the whole point of hating hipsters is that people who pay attention to the current sociocultural climate* are idiots, for some reason?
*or old sociocultural climates…they’re hipster-y, too.
“Any kind of heavy boots smack of up-with-the-working-man proletariat hipsters.” Doc Martens signify a punk hipster. Cowboy boots suggest a faux-cowboy hipster. Christian Louboutins are the province of the fashionista hipster. Teva athletic sport sandals imply an outdoorsy hipster, probably, I mean sure, why not. Wingtips bespeak the presence of a Mad Men hipster. Loafers suggest a preppy, Vampire Weekend hipster, but a different one this time. Moccasins are the footwear of a hipster on an Indian reservation — how am I supposed to know why? Am I in charge of understanding why those people do what they do? Slip-proof waiter shoes are the rarefied purview of someone who’s too hip to get a real job. Oxfords? librarian hipster. Tap shoes? Ironic retro dance enthusiast hipster. Cast on one foot? Hipster who injured him- or herself while engaged in cocaine-fueled party antics. Jellies? Girl who wouldn’t go out with you in junior high because she was a total bitch (i.e., a hipster).
“I don’t have a beard or mustache, but if I did, I’d instantly signify as the rugged breed of hipster who stalks the mountains and hollers of Williamsburg and Silver Lake.” Ah, the pain of hypothetical profiling. Not only is facial-hair discrimination wrong, it isn’t even effective. You could mistake someone for a slovenly poet or musician who lives in a remote, eccentric region of Brooklyn, when really they’re just a normal guy, who lives in a regular part of Brooklyn and writes first-person essays about culture for the New York Times.
“For years, I wore a knit cap, starting early in the fall and extending late into spring, because I get chronic sinus headaches made worse by the cold. Now I can’t wear it without looking like the idiotic young-Hollywood hipsters whose wool beanies rest on their tousled heads year-round in sunny California.” The only possible way people will be able to distinguish Kurutz from the Hollywood hipsters is that he’s 3,000 miles away from where they live. And his hair isn’t tousled…or is it? Maybe he suffers from chronic migraines that are aggravated by applying brushes or combs to his scalp, and his physician has advised him to cultivate a devilishly insouciant personal appearance for the sake of his health.
“Even the basic building blocks of a wardrobe have been hipsterfied. Jeans, especially slim-cut denim, are a hipster essential. So are white T-shirts, leather jackets and hooded sweatshirts. I could wear suits. But they would have to be boxy styles from Men’s Wearhouse, because anything slim or tailored is the province of high-fashion hipsters.” I’m almost getting the impression that you don’t want to wear boxy suits from Men’s Wearhouse. Or baggy jeans. Or sweatshirts without hoods. Or embellished, Affliction-style t-shirts. Why is that, I wonder? After all, you’re so uninterested in hipness. I guess you just prefer a simple, classic, clean-edged look. But not like those people who prefer that look because they have, like, preferences in how to look. Those people probably just like looking that way because they saw it on other hip people. You like it because you’re you. It sprang from your consciousness fully formed, like Athena from the immaculately coiffed skull of Zeus.
“Hipsters have the market cornered on vintage and irony, so I can’t raid the back of my closet for the 20-year-old Smashing Pumpkins concert tee I bought at an actual concert, 20 years ago.” What a shame. That would suck, to be wearing your cool old Smashing Pumpkins t-shirt on the street, and then walk right past another guy who’s also wearing an old Smashing Pumpkins t-shirt, but he probably got his from the thrift store, because look at that guy, he’s OBVIOUSLY a hipster. Hipsters are the kind of people who love to wear vintage concert t-shirts, because they think it’s so cool to brag about having been at some concert. For the same reason, they also go to concerts all the time, usually to see some weird band nobody’s ever heard of (or some mainstream band that they only like ironically). But they never wear t-shirts of concerts they’ve actually been at. We know that, because they’re phonies. We know they’re phonies, because they’re hipsters. We know they’re hipsters, because what kind of DICKHEAD goes around wearing a Smashing Pumpkins t-shirt ironically? What’s that you say? “Circular reasoning”? Well, I guess you would know; circles are a hipster shape.
“Hipsters love their iPhones, yet swoon over antiquated technology like typewriters and record players, so Luddites can’t even stand apart.” Man, hipsters are REALLY good at disguising themselves as ordinary people with quirks and complexities. Well you know what they say: The greatest trick the devil ever played on the world was being all like “what do you mean, ‘the devil’? I’m just a guy eating a pita pocket. It’s got hummus and…why are you looking at me like that? No, I’m not the guy from LCD Soundsystem, either. This is starting to make me uncomfortable. Okay, you’re really in my personal space right now, and I’d appreciate if you… OW!” *runs away*
“Not long ago, I was visiting a big city, walking in what is considered a cool neighborhood, dressed in jeans and tennis shoes and carrying an old 35-millimeter camera. My father’s camera, in fact. I felt like such a trend victim I wanted to stop passers-by and plead, ‘I’ve used this camera since 1991. Please believe me that I’m not a hipster.’” Wearing the hippest clothes and carrying the latest hip accessory makes you look so…insecure. If only there were some way for the people around you to see into your soul, so they would know you’re actually not insecure. It seems unfair of passing strangers in large cities, to go around scritinizing every detail of one’s self-presentation and caring deeply about one’s motives. It’s just like in high school, how all the other kids could penetrate into all your hidden insecurities but didn’t have any of their own. Man, I hated those kids!
But Kurutz is not immune to self-examination. In the final part of the essay, his thoughts take an introspective turn: “…Or am I?” The suspense is killing me! “My friends and I express scorn for the way hipsters try too hard to look cool and continually take on new careers, interests, musical tastes, hairstyles and wardrobes in dilettantish fashion.” You and your friends sound like very self-actualized individuals. Oh and by the way, FUCK people who continually take on new hairstyles. And don’t try to give me some bullshit about “my hair is constantly growing, I have to get it cut sometimes anyway.” I’m on to you and your élitist follicles.
“…but underneath it lie uneasy feelings about our own identity and individuality.” No! It couldn’t be! “I live in Brooklyn, work in a creative field, have shelves of vinyl records, dress in vintage and designer labels…I’m indistinguishable from everyone else wearing the uniform of the freethinker.” Kurutz is so close to recognizing the ontological hollowness of his entire premise. Maybe we’ve all learned something here. Maybe the word “hipster” winds up implicating ordinary people because the mustachioed fiends it describes don’t really exist. Maybe all along, the problem wasn’t “hipsters,” but Kurutz’ own outsized desire to be special.
Then again, maybe not. “What keeps me going is the belief, deluded though it may be, that there are a few clothing styles or other forms of self-expression that haven’t yet been co-opted by hipster culture. What they are, I’m keeping to myself.” Try all you want to keep it a secret, but I’ve conducted extensive research into the least hip things on Earth, and I think I know what they are. Kurutz intends to start dressing and speaking like Guy Fieri.