By Kevin Clang
Do you have an immediate aversion to anything too popular? Were you wearing plaid shirts before it was cool? Do you get upset if you hear your favorite band in a commercial or on the radio? If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, you might be (read: are) a hipster.
Fret not; you're not alone. The hipster movement is a huge part of youth culture, affecting everything from music to television to fashion. Internet memes and blogs relentlessly mock them, and mainstream media constantly examines them. Hipsters are making a splash locally, too. College Magazine recently (and, frankly, unsurprisingly) ranked Emerson College the third "most hipster" campus in the country.
Every hipster's nightmare has come true: Being a hipster has gone mainstream. And while the trend is certainly not the first social movement to capture the attention of America's youth -- it openly borrows from the beat, hippie, punk, and grunge subcultures established in previous decades -- something about hipsters is particularly irk-worthy. Never before has the most popular subculture in the country been so easily mockable, gaining such widespread popularity with so little to show for it.
Over time, subcultures often devolve to become more about a specific look, sound, or collection of possessions and less about ideas and creativity. Hipster culture is a movement full of definitive style (a lot of it ironic) but containing little to no substance. Most people are able to instantly describe the "hipster look" but have trouble articulating the reasons or philosophy behind it.
If the foundations of those other above-mentioned movements were, in their own ways, a reaction against authority, what is the point of the hipster movement? Pretentiousness? Consumerism? More than any subculture that came before it, the hipster subculture seems to exist solely for the sake of itself -- a Sisyphean struggle to always be searching for art and media that is increasingly more "underground." Hipsters actively define themselves by the art and media they choose to love, rather than letting their tastes speak for themselves.
But how important an issue is taste ("cultural capital"), and should it be a determining factor when we're choosing friends? A recent Harvard University study examined that very phenomenon, keeping track of the Facebook profiles of over 200 college students over four years to determine if they sought out friends with tastes similar to theirs or adapted their tastes to suit their friends. Essentially, the study wanted to determine how much our friends affect our tastes and vice versa.
Unsurprisingly, students were more likely to become friends with those who shared their tastes in pop culture (particularly music), and friendships that began with this foundation had a deeper bond. But the more popular a student's favorite band became, the more likely that student was to start looking for a new favorite band. Evidence even suggested that students used Facebook as a gauge for what bands and songs were becoming too popular to like. The stereotype that hipsters can be shallow, pretentious, and egotistical now has science to prove it (unless Harvard is too mainstream for you).
The Harvard study also pinpoints the hipster movement's defining qualities: aimlessness and lack of ambition. The hipster subculture is the first of its kind seemingly satisfied to just be, without the drive to do or change anything. Without a cultural leader (think Jack Kerouac for the beats or Kurt Cobain for the grunge movement), it's difficult to determine the point of it all.
Like a snake eating itself, so-called "hipster theory" seems to be a self-fulfilling prophecy -- a never-ending quest to find the next underground hit. Throw on your thick-rimmed glasses and crack open a PBR; we've got a lot of trendchasing to do.
What do you think hipster culture is all about?
About Kevin -- I've spent the past three years honing my journalistic skills, telling people's stories across various forms of media, helping launch an online television network, learning all aspects of social and new media, editing a Student Emmy Award-winning sports show, planning and running concerts for nationally recognized artists, and recruiting volunteers for a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives. I'm focused on bringing traditional media into the future. Twitter: @kevclang
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