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Hipster Counterculture Not Unique

Posted: 03/13/2012 11:35 am

By Nathan Pipenberg

Today I have to discuss hipsters, and I'll start off by saying that I know this will be a difficult task because I have yet to meet anyone who willingly describes themselves as such.

I don't even want to talk about hipsters, mostly because they know what the term "post-modern" means and what kind of music the band MSTRKRFT plays. This upsets me.

Unfortunately, as far as social forces go, the hipster is actually important to try to understand. As their ironic moustaches grow longer and their ironic tattoos become more numerous, the formerly vivid world of American youth counterculture is disappearing.

Countercultures still exist. You don't have to tell me this. I'm a regular attendee of the hacky sack world championships (seriously) so I know what it's like to be a part of a strange group of friends.

But I'm talking about powerful countercultures that define a generation.

In the past we've had the beatniks, hippies, punks and b-boys. Clearly, I wasn't alive during any of the decades that these groups reigned supreme, but their influence on American society is clear. Beatniks inspired classic novels, like Jack Kerouac's On the Road. The hippies spawned the genius of Jimi Hendrix, and b-boys popularized urban art forms like graffiti. Punks almost succeeded in convincing us that the government sucks and anarchy is a good idea.

Countercultures attract some of the most creative and innovative thinkers. They mobilize the youth and accept novel ideas -- like the civil rights movement -- long before most Americans are willing to.

So, what does our generation have? The hipsters -- a vacuous hoard of faux intellectuals more interested in measuring the vertical drop on their v-neck than taking part in something real. How lovely.

Ask a hipster, and they'll swear on a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon that they aren't even a hipster, really. Sure, everyone else at the party is a hipster, but something makes them different. It's the first counterculture that purposely doesn't self-identify.

It doesn't make sense. Hippies prided themselves on being part of a peace-loving collective. Hipsters pride themselves on transcending a label that clearly fits them to a tee.

Really, hipsterdom is just the end product of all previous countercultures meshing into one. Part punk, part hippie and part old school hip-hop, hipster is indefinable and doesn't really exist.

Everything that's ever been cool over the past five decades is being rounded up, printed on t-shirts, posted on Tumblr, remixed in rap music and throttled to a very uncool death.

There's nothing of substance that makes a hipster any different from anyone else. There's no underlying social dysfunction they object to. Their primary emotion is apathy. Their musical tastes are based on fashion rather than an expression of their feelings. And, by and large, they accept mainstream culture, if only through the lens of witty condescension. In the name of irony listening to "Soulja Boy Tell 'Em" becomes okay.

Previous countercultures were important because they did things. The beat generation rode the rails. Hippies protested the war. Punks, for lack of a better term, f***ed s**t up. In every case, each counterculture engaged in an activity that broader society didn't understand. The clothes they wore were simply a way to identify a kindred spirit.

I'm not saying that hosting peaceful protests and hitchhiking across the country are the best ways to spend your time.

But it's infinitely more useful than posting pictures of your ironic moustache and fake black-rimmed glasses on Tumblr. This is an inarguable fact.

Obviously, there are more important things to concern ourselves with than the downfall of American counterculture. But countercultures reflect these larger issues because often it's the countercultures that tackle the issues head-on.

America relies on the youth to be impassioned, outraged, inspired. We're supposed to embrace high ideals and rage against the authorities that threaten those deals.

Well, I'm sorry, but I don't trust the hipsters to do that. They base their fashion choices on what was popular among 1970s-era lumberjacks, so what's the chance that they'll have a new idea when it comes to social protest?

Of course, you'll have to take this all with a grain of salt -- I'm really a closet hipster. I've been growing out my ironic moustache all week.

Nathan Pipenberg is a junior majoring in journalism and international politics. He is The Daily Collegian's Wednesday columnist.