“Hipster” is a fun word. It’s still new enough to society’s vocabulary that a finite definition has yet to be nailed down. Until then, we can let “hipster” register in our minds however we like. Evoking visions of fixed gear cycling armies or stampedes of awkwardly waddling individuals in ultra-tight denim. See? Fun, right?
There does seem to be at least one universal requirement in dubbing an individual as a hipster. A fierce desire exists in these people to inform you that they’ve known about that band way before they were popular- they’ve been torrenting/pirating their music since grade school and watched the lead singer take his first guitar lesson at age seven. And it’s not just the process of informing someone of their discovery of a band before you found them years later, it’s the condescending tone in which it occurs. You can almost see them getting high on that superior air as they describe the “intimate venues” where they’ve seen that band perform.
I’m not that innocent. Britney Spears reference? Maybe. But what I do know to be true is that I’ve definitely been called a hipster before, and I’ve certainly called others hipsters, too – usually prefaced with expletives and rolling of the eyes. I’ve been on both sides of the “Hipster Spectrum” (it’s a real thing). When I was 14 years old, I was borderline obsessed with Green Day’s album, American Idiot. I don’t know if it’s because it was one of the first albums I bought myself, if the simplistic chord structure spoke to me or if I just thought that heart-grenade thingy was kind of cool. Whatever the reason, I memorized every lyric and preached the album’s brilliance to anyone willing to listen. My older brother, a musician, was neck deep in his punk-rock phase at this point. I remember being chastised by his posse for my newfound fandom of Green Day – told that the album was a quintessential example of selling out, and how they used to be good. They don’t even play punk anymore.
I’ve found my way to the opposite end of the spectrum, of course. A time or two too many. I recall seeing MGMT live, and this drunken kid started endlessly chanting “Elec-tric Feel”- two songs after the band had just played it. It bothered me so much that I think it actually ruined the concert for me. I remember thinking, they just played, it you assh*le. Don’t you know any of their other songs? Why the hell are you even here? Even though I kept my thoughts to myself, I was still breathing that superior air.
There are countless other times that I’ve donned the hipster persona. Cringing as I heard Old Navy and Honda commercially rape Vampire Weekend’s music. Wanting to punt a child every time I hear a teenage girl refer to Dave Matthews as “Dave,” followed by an anecdote about how his music has influenced their entire life. All the times I’ve ever said, “How have you not heard of [insert obscure band name here]?”
Now I’m wondering why? Why is it so damn tempting to act that way? Anytime I’ve heard the word “hipster,” I automatically associate it with music. But the truth is that hipsters aren’t anything new- and it is not quarantined to music alone. Think about it. Take sports fans, for example. How many times have you heard a fan describe in excruciating detail how long they’ve been supporting a team for? Is there anything worse than someone who proclaims themselves a fan of a team only after they’ve won a championship? Strikingly similar to announcing fandom of a band after a hit song.
If we make the leap to sports, we must keep leaping. Because it doesn’t stop there. Hipsters have long been weaved into the fabric of society. How about religion? Are new converts to any religion not somewhat looked upon as “lesser” by those who’ve been practicing their entire lives? What about relationships? Does a couple who’ve been married for 20 plus years not wince just a little bit when they hear the newlywed teenagers exclaim how in love they are? Don’t we tend to feel the need to say how long we’ve known a friend for when undergoing introductions at parties?
“Hipster” isn’t a new idea at all. It’s just a word we’ve finally attached to our human need to prove our commitment to something. That thing can be a band, a sports team, a religion, a person, etc. The universal root of it all remains: we’ve spent more time. Perhaps that is where the entire phenomena originates. The ultimate tribute an individual can pay to anything in this world is to dedicate time to it. Not money. Not support. Time. As mortal beings, we only have so much time to give. So of course, when we’ve spent large amounts of time following a band, rooting for a team, etc., we feel somewhat irked when we see the same passion in someone who has spent less time doing the same thing. Because if they display the same passion as you in a smaller amount of time- then well, damn, it kind of undermines your commitment. Wait a bloody minute now. Where were you when Pitchfork gave them 0 stars and condemned them to hell?
If “hipsterism” is essentially derived from a desire to prove a greater dedication to something, then there must be more constructive ways to apply this desire than to let it manifest in condescending tones and sarcastic laughs. And there is. Let’s take the “wise old man” cliché for a moment. The proto-hipster. Always some sagely advice to offer- that you might not quite understand at first. But never judgmental. Just offering new paths.
That could be the solution. How hipsters finally lose the negative stigma they’ve cloaked themselves with. When you hear a new fan talk about how much they love a band’s new, poppy, hit single, don’t reply by informing them that said band is complete shit compared to their first album’s work. Instead, tell them to check out that first album. Suggest some other bands they might enjoy too. Smile, and agree at said band’s awesomeness. I didn’t know it at the time, but American Idiot opened a door for me not only to Green Day’s classic albums, but to the entire genre of punk. We can facilitate that experience in music for others if we don’t take a new fan’s opinions as attacks on the time we’ve spent following a band. Be the wise old man. Offer the sagely advice. They might not have any idea what you’re talking about, but some of them- a few- may come to understand.