Hipsters’ popularity defies counter-cultural roots

Originally published in the Los Angeles Loyolan. For original, please refer to: Hipsters’ popularity defies counter-cultural roots – Los Angeles Loyolan.

Cartoon Credit: Ian Zell | The Los Angeles Loyolan

They wear skinny pants and TOMS shoes. They listen to underground music and embrace everything retro. They wear wayfarer glasses and consider independent artists the golden standard. These are the stereotypes surrounding hipsters in today’s popular culture.

The term “hipster” is firmly engrained in the mainstream vernacular of today. Hipsters have become so popular that advertisers are embracing the hip ideal as a marketable brand. The hipster, which was once considered an icon of the counter-cultural movement, is quickly becoming an immovable part of pop culture.

“Hipsters want to feel special and superior. That’s a huge thing, being superior,” said sophomore film production major Zoe Gieringer, who dislikes the ‘hipster’ label. “A lot of the culture is counter-mainstream. Hipsters almost have an aversion to the mainstream.”

“I think, for some people, it’s an attitude, a feeling of superiority,” sophomore film production major James Weber said of hipsters. “But I’d say that’s getting into the pretentious side of it … I would say a hipster would be someone who would wear trendy clothing, listens to independent music, is under the radar and has an eye for anything counter-culture.”

The hipster culture first came about in the 1940s as what author of the Journal of the American Musicological Society article, “The Problem with White Hipness: Race, Gender and Cultural Conceptions in Jazz Historical Discourse” Ingrid Monson describes as a “hip subculture, comprising black Americans interested in Western artistic nonconformity and white Americans captivated by urban African American styles of music, dress and speech.” The word “hipster” became popular again in the 1990s as a term for who particularly invested in independent music.

Sophomore film production major Caroline Dunaway was less clear about the definition of the word thanks to the connotations that have been attached to it.

“The problem is it depends on how you’re looking at the word,” Dunaway said. “I feel like, a lot of times today, when someone calls someone a hipster, it’s derogatory.”

Perhaps because of that negative connotation, it’s difficult to find many who will define themselves as hipsters. Junior film production major Dan Fromhart is a rare breed: someone who seems to have a grasp on hipster culture while submitting himself to the label.

“I would consider myself a hipster,” said Fromhart, “but by doing that, I don’t think I am actually considered a hipster. I can call myself a hipster just because people would consider me a hipster. The way I dress is hipster, but the way I live my life isn’t.”

Today, however, the movement seems to be centered on retro fashion as well as with independent music. The stereotype also indicates a competitive nature among hipsters to discover small artists and wear unconventional fashion trends first.

“People associate being a hipster with trying to go against the grain as well as trying to find the super cool, underground bands that no one knows about and stay ahead of everyone else in knowing about things,” Dunaway said. “So I think in that sense, that’s where the negative connotation comes from.”

As the hipster label has evolved, however, it has increasingly  become part of popular culture, something Dunaway said was a contradiction of the very ideals behind the culture.

“People truly believe in the counter-culture aspect of it, but the hipster image reigns supreme in popular culture when it comes to our generation and what it means to look cool,” Dunaway said. “Advertisers cater to the hipster demographic. When you go to a store and say, ‘I’m going to buy this, it’s so hipster and counter-culture,’ thousands of other kids are doing the exact same thing … [and] you’re actually feeding the popular hipster culture. It’s not good, it’s not bad; it’s just popular.”

The marketing of the hipster image is what has caused so many to attempt to be hipster simply as a trend or fad. It is those people who have added a negative connotation to the word: the divide between real hipsters and posers.

“There’s a conceived true hipster and a conceived wannabe hipster,” Dunaway said. “A lot of people see a real hipster persona and a buyable, wearable hipster persona. You can buy the records, you can put on the clothes, but does that make you a hipster? I don’t know.”

“People go out of their way to dress the part of a hipster and make it look like they’re part of the culture because it’s becoming more popular,” said senior business major Brian Pede. “It’s cooler to be that way and dress that way.”

At LMU, according to Gieringer and Fromhart, hipster culture is a bit more limited, with most of the emphasis placed on the music scene versus the counter-cultural aspects.

“I don’t think there’s a strong hipster culture at LMU, but because there isn’t one, the people who have even the littlest tinge of hipster to them are immediately put into that box,” Gieringer said.

Fromhart added that LMU’s hipster culture was “suppressed, but growing,” largely thanks to the school’s population of wealthy students seeking a way to rebel against their upbringing.

“In regards to music, I think [the LMU hipster scene] actually has a lot to offer that you might not realize when you first come here,” Dunaway said. “As far as the bad hipster connotation goes, I don’t want to say sometimes people try too hard, but people can try too hard.”

As the hipster image continues to evolve, it will likely fall out of the popular culture once again. However, the culture of hip will continue on and possibly return to its counter-cultural roots.

“I think it’ll absolutely continue to evolve, but I’m interested to see where it goes,” Dunaway said. “Everything is influenced by something else. We can’t keep pulling out of thin air. It seems like we’ve gone through so many cycles – I’m interested to see what it’ll be. I’m certain it’ll be something from the past, just repurposed into something just a little different. Only time will tell.”


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