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What Do Hipsters Know That I Don't Know?

Posted: 08/21/2012 11:52 am

This question originally appeared on Quora.

By an Anonymous User

Hipsters know that culture makes progress, and they celebrate that fact. This knowledge leads to actions that can make them appear pretentious, fickle, and lazy, when hipsters' approach to culture is actually more democratic, consistent, and diligent -- and, therefore, better -- than that of their "non-hipster" counterparts.

The three most widely cited hipster flaws are, in fact, signs of vibrant cultural consumption:

  1. Elitism. Hipster taste tends toward the obscure. Almost every question pertaining to hipsters on Quora includes a jab at their penchant for liking things that "you haven't heard of." But did you ever consider that this perspective might be a result of your shortcomings, not theirs? I can guarantee that hipsters are familiar with both popular and underground culture, yet they overwhelmingly prefer the latter. You, on the other hand, only know the former. Hipsters have given everything a chance, and have settled on niches they consider superior (usually rightly so). You are afraid to venture outside the cozy confines of mainstream media. Who is the elitist in this situation?
  2. Capriciousness. Everyone values novelty in some aspects of their lives. Nobody wants to watch the same movie every night, or use the same computer until the day they die. This is because novelty broadens our knowledge base and makes us more productive. So what's wrong with actively seeking novelty in music, art, film, and literature? Maybe it is inefficient to dwell on works that repeat last year's conventions, as progress in any area of society requires us to reject clichés. Maybe hipsters' passion for the "new" is much healthier than your complacency.
  3. Laziness. Hipsters are often bashed for being consumers, rather than producers. But people forget that consumers are an integral part of any functioning economy. Hipsters limit their consumption of material goods, living five to a flat, shopping at thrift stores, and drinking cheap beer. But they provide a much-needed boost to the cultural sphere by eagerly buying records, going to concerts, and attending gallery openings. They represent what we could use more of in every area of society: critical, informed consumers who don't buy into something because "everyone else is doing it," but because they genuinely think it is better.

Therefore, hipsters know about a lot of things that you haven't heard of. But that should be considered a feature, not a flaw. And what's perceived as elitism is actually a public good. Hipsters tried to tell you, but you refused to listen.

If this seems like an outspoken defense of hipsters, that's because it is.

To be clear, I don't accept this label for myself, nor would most people identify me as a hipster. I don't wear hipster clothes, live in a hipster neighborhood, or work at a typical hipster job (or lack thereof). At the same time, I strongly identify with hipster culture. I listen to "indie" music, read Continental philosophy, and watch foreign films. In fact, my cultural knowledge puts most of my outwardly hipster friends to shame. But I don't seek out new media to impress others, as many would assume. I do it because I derive far more enjoyment and intellectual stimulation from "non-mainstream" culture. You could, too, if you knew what the hipsters know.

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