Hipsters never call themselves hipsters. Hipster is always a pejorative term. As Douglas Haddow wrote in a 2008 Adbusters article, "It is rare, if not impossible, to find an individual who will proclaim [himself] a proud hipster. It's an odd dance of self-identity—adamantly denying your existence while wearing clearly defined symbols that proclaim it."
Indeed, almost all writing on mainstream hipsters, from Time Out New York's ""The Hipster Must Die"" to the blog "Look at This [Expletive] Hipster," is loathing—and, inevitably, likely to be read with applause from hipsters themselves. If there's one thing a hipster hates, it's other hipsters.
As Haddow explains, it's easy to see why: "Hipsterdom is the first 'counterculture' to be born under the advertising industry's microscope, leaving it open to constant manipulation but also forcing its participants to continually shift their interests and affiliations. Less a subculture, the hipster is a consumer group—using their capital to purchase empty authenticity and rebellion. But the moment a trend, band, sound, style, or feeling gains too much exposure, it is suddenly looked upon with disdain. Hipsters cannot afford to maintain any cultural loyalties or affiliations for fear they will lose relevance …. The hipster represents the end of Western civilization—a culture so detached and disconnected that it has stopped giving birth to anything new."
Which is why irony is the hipster's core value. (Remember the "end of irony" memes that circulated after 9/11 and Obama's election?) The much-lauded original hipsters of the 1940s appropriated elements of black culture (especially jazz culture) as a way to identify with it. Today's hipsters appropriate other cultural artifacts (especially outdated rural white culture: mustaches, trucker hats, V-necks, and so on) to distance and mock the originators.
And that's largely why the Christian hipsters described in this month's cover story ("Hipster Faith," page 24) will never quite mesh with their secular counterparts. They may wear skinny jeans and unnecessary scarves, but they lack the utterly nihilistic detachment of their neighbors. Yes, they may be particularly prone to evangelicalism's original sin—a desire not to be seen as weird—but, as writer Brett McCracken points out, they are not mere consumers. They are as likely to volunteer at the Salvation Army as to shop there. They want to serve the poor even as they adopt "homeless chic" beards and caps. They want to identify with the downtrodden, not just steal their fashions.
So if "hipsters" as such are becoming the group that American urban culture most openly hates, perhaps Christian hipsters should start using the label as a self-description. Wouldn't that be ironic?
Next month: Al Mohler's different kind of culture war, William Wilberforce's dirty little secret, and Joni Eareckson Tada on the blessings of suffering—including her breast cancer.
Copyright © 2010 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
See Brett McCracken's cover story on "Hipster Faith," CT also posted "Spotlight: Before We Were Hipsters" and "Stuff Christian Hipsters Like" today.
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