What is a hipster? How do we even begin to define the hipster? Is it the skinny jeans or the tinted Instagram filter that gives it away? Or is it the coffee shop abode and the weekend hiking plans? In a campus swarming with canvas Herschel backpacks, bleach white Stan Smiths, and comments like, so hipsturr naman and am I a hipster yet?, let’s pause that Drake song to clarify some things and address the prolific use of the word, “hipster”, its origins, associations, stereotypes, and rise in recent years. The story of the hipster may be one ridiculed in irony, but somewhere in this blurred subculture lays a core of today’s human condition and a whole lot of style.
If we were to ask a hypothetical time traveler from the 40s about the hipster, we would get a very different answer from people today. This is a textbook example of how words gradually change and evolve through the years. And evolve they did.
Hipster beginnings started not too long ago. In the early 20th century, hipsters were those who were knowledgeable about jazz cultures, or those who followed the footsteps of these musicians. “Hip is a word used to describe someone trendy,” says legendary professor Victor Gojocco of the Philosophy Department. True enough, hip became a term used to describe someone in the know, particularly of hot jazz back in the day.
Today’s hipsters are unrecognizable from those of yesteryears. Creeping into prominence in the late 2000s, a new hipster subculture is alive and kicking, ready to redefine an entirely new generation. Gone are the 1940s, which had seen hipsters living like jazz musicians in self-imposed poverty, with an air of sarcasm and irony around them.
It seems the only two traits that have remained consistent for this century old demographic was that familiar sense of sarcasm, and a profound appreciation for weed. The start of the 21st century now welcomes “millennials” who embrace the alternate lifestyle and the non-mainstream. This is the group collectively known as the modern hipster subculture.
The first rule of being a hipster is you do not talk about being a hipster
When picturing the modern hipster, the image of a privileged millennial comes to mind—someone who owns a plethora of vintage collectables, goes to third wave coffee shops, and attends local band gigs. However, anyone who has ever been branded as one knows that it comes with the array of negative connotations and stereotypes the word has strung along. Associating oneself as a hipster isn’t cool because it’s socially unacceptable to explicitly try to be cool.
To be a hipster today, to put it bluntly, means to reject the mainstream. The moment a band, a restaurant, a fashion trend, or even an app becomes popular and widespread, is the moment the hipster drops it and seeks to venture into the other newer—cooler things to dabble with. It’s ironic how the hipster’s interests are loosely based on retro vintage pop culture and simple folk, yet there’s nothing innovative about living everyday like a throwback. And the paradox lies in the shared need to be unique, making everyone inevitably belong.
This has paved the way for so many other terms we loathe to say and be associated with. Millennials for one, is used to describe the twenty-something’s generation of 90s kids who grew up in front of the TV but now torrent 99% of the movies and shows they watch. There’s a new kid on the block, ‘normcore’, coined by trend agencies to describe the back to basics-movement displayed on Instagram and proudly worn by UNIQLO and Zara. In hues of blacks, whites, grays, and the occasionally acceptable pallets of blue, normcore is the new cool because it gives the impression that it doesn’t have to be; it doesn’t even try. And the list goes on for fauxhemians, yuccies, fuccbois, basic bitches, and we won’t even get started on the mga conyo.
So you won’t find many self-proclaimed hipsters anymore. However, it’s easy to spot one. They’re innovative people who have a tendency to reject the norm. They’re freethinkers and sometimes quite possibly activists. They’re creative pioneers and people-smart leaders. They’re always up for change, sometimes being change itself. But doesn’t this sound so different from its pejorative public image? Perhaps because society’s been resistant towards the ideas we’ve vandalized all over the hipster with a can of spray paint. But it’s a shame because there is so much more to being a hipster. Rather, there is so much potential in the evolving subculture. We mustn’t forget it descends from iconic revolutionists.
So a hipster and a hippie walk into a bar
“Hipster…” Dante Leoncini trails into thought. “In all my years, I’ve never come across that word. Hip, I know,” the philosophy professor says pointing to his own hips and waist. “Hippie with the long hair, well that’s another thing altogether,” he clarifies.
You probably have an uncle who may not have been a hippie but certainly dressed like one. Look through old photographs of relatives in bellbottoms, fringes, and Lennon shades, during the period when the baby boomers wanted to roam free and peaceful. When bourgeois poets, writers, and musicians hitchhiked to just about anywhere and everywhere, chasing after new age spirituality and good vibes.
“[In the Philippines] people wore the clothes and yeah, we had the love bus, but that was it. There wasn’t any war. They didn’t have to go to Vietnam, unlike Americans, so it was definitely just a trend they picked up,” mentions Gojocco.
These similar movements between the hipsters and the more popular hippies are results of very western influences and ideologies; in fact, they’re quite existentialist in nature. They live carpe diem by example and encourage individuality, with an underlying sense of rebellion. But, just like the hippie, American hipsters are quite different from our local breeds—often, he’s depicted and mocked by media as a bearded man, with a pair of thick-framed glasses and a v-neck undershirt from American Apparel, ready to live off the land and reduce his carbon footprint.
Everything is a copy of a copy of a copy
Mirroring our ancestral Filipino hippies, who couldn’t care less about whatever it was their fashion influences were fighting for and singing about in Woodstock—the war that didn’t affect them—many of today’s hipsters go about their day just as senselessly. Perhaps this is why we accuse each other of being posers. A lot of society frowns upon today’s generation of empty hipsters precisely because of their lack of purpose and direction. While it may be easier to argue about labels and stereotypes, this might just be an earnest call to find meaning in our lives despite overhauls of trends.
“I consider myself one. I think we’re all hipster at heart,” says an anonymous, AB CAM 112 student who bravely owns up to something many couldn’t do.
We can’t be a generation that’s only pride is multitasking, winging it, and legalizing gay marriage and pot. We may be a generation branded as hipsters, but we have the potential to go beyond referencing illusory bygone eras, and create new things within reach.
With that, it almost seems appropriate to end with a quote from one of 1985’s most exploited films, but one that’s still pretty good.
“Spend a little more time trying to make something of yourself and a little less time trying to impress people.”
The Breakfast Club