How do you kill a hipster? You drown him in the mainstream. Or serve him boiling hot coffee, because he’ll drink it before it’s cool. Et cetera, et cetera. The point is, a hipster is so overbearingly in search of the obscure that he’s blind to irony. Which, coincidentally, is a huge point seemingly missed by Today when it put up a piece, titled: Excuse me, are you a hipster? How consumerism and affluence fuelled the rise of a youth subculture.
It’s a depressing article, first because as an ex entry-level hipster whose idea of tolerable obscure music was Bon Iver, it’s hit exactly zero nails on the head. Second, because it becomes quite clear a quarter way into this 2,400 word story that ‘hipster’-isms are being interchangeably conflated with a mix of bourgeois consumerism, trendiness, and a modicum of cultural appreciation. Which is to say that in a 2,400 word story about hipsters, the word ‘hipster’ has itself lost all meaning. So where do we go from there?
First, we argue about its definition. And this is tricky, because the hipster ethos I know and align it with is cultivating cultural cachet by being early adopters. With music – an “I was into them before they sold out” mentality. With fashion, by boldly taking up trends before anyone else dares. On and on. You get the gist, it’s about being first and about knowing it before everyone else. And for what? At its core, I guess it’s about two things: first, the simple joy of discovery; and second, simple smug satisfaction. That’s it! When all the hipsters have the same value system of discovering things first, they get to size each other up and casually scale cool. Or, as they say, street cred.
The definition of hipsters put forth by Siau Ming En is a little more unclear and neglects to look deeper beyond the surface. Never mind that the surfaces she describes as signifiers of hipster culture are about a decade late (early adopters, remember?) It’s not a question of what, so much as why. And in the case of the Singaporean hipster, it’s subculture/counterculture for a people with no subculture – timed perfectly with gentrification to fulfill its manifest needs.
Generally, the search is for ‘authenticity’ – which you could call a response to the times, ie. mass production, consumerism, sameness. Third wave coffee shops in response to a Starbucks being around every corner (and if not, then there would be a Coffee Bean.) Barber shops styled old-school probably as a reflex to evolving definitions of masculinity. Artisanal handmade goods as a counter to factory-made copies churned out for everyone to have a piece. Indie music and film to resist the Hollywood blockbuster machine and the Billboard Top 40 monster. To avoid the same same malls, they took to setting up shop in Tiong Bahru and Haji Lane – streets with architecture from the 40s and shophouses, ready to be mined for their nostalgia and character.
So it all boils back down to culture. Or a subculture, as it were, that is snobbish about the general culture it draws from. See, when a girl says she doesn’t read authors like Jodi Picoult or Nicholas Sparks and prefers local literature, she’s signalling a cultural sophistication and edge. Except things like Singlit have moved past early adoption and into its own form of mainstream now. At some point, the hipsters had to grow up and realize that the arts they were claiming as their own for its authenticity was actually being created and growing, developing and expanding. It’s why a cult brand like Maison Martin Margiela could be so mysterious and cool in the 90s and early 2000s, and now have 2.3 million followers on Instagram. Wes Anderson has been nominated for numerous Oscars – about as mainstream a film award as you can get. Even fashion changed when Vetements turned insider jokes on its head and started selling ridiculously overpriced DHL t-shirts that had everyone suckered.
We’re past all that now. The hipster is dead. The hipster died when Bon Iver collaborated with Kanye West. I’m kidding, that’s just the extent of my 2012 cool. (Not much.) But my point is: dredging up the hipster to make a point about consumerism is to miss it completely: the avocado toasts and kale salads are now just everyday markers of trendy conspicuous consumption made all the more visible by things like social media. The standard life cycle model of things goes as such: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and the laggards.
I suppose now that we’re complaining about seeing avocado toasts and eggs benedict all the fucking time, we’re probably at the late majority stage. Which is an interesting time, too, because it demonstrates perfectly gentrification, and how searching for and discovering a cool new thing will end up leading it down this very path. That is, everyone else is probably going to like it too at some point. Which is okay! It’s alright! Because sameness breeds individuality, and this cycle is going to renew itself and we’re all going to be on to the next thing again and again and again. The hipster as we know and love/hate, however, is a creature aesthetically confined to the 2000s that met its death by the start of this decade.
So: how to kill a hipster? No need, it killed itself. It’s served its purpose and we’re burying the dead now – it’s more fun these days to shit on millennials, anyway.
Illustrations by Claire Wong