I generally try to avoid writing or talking about hipsters. It’s overdone, sure. Everybody makes fun of hipsters. Portlandia makes fun of hipsters. But my main reason for not wanting to throw my hat into the hipster ring is because, once you start talking about hipsters, it’s kind of automatically implying that you’re judging them from a distance. Think about it, if I start commenting on the way hipsters dress or where they like to shop and eat, I’m writing from an outsider’s perspective, I’m saying without specifically saying: this is what hipsters are like, therefore I am not a hipster.
And the reason that this is important is because, although there’s no one way to define and identify a hipster, there’s definitely a flag that always guarantees to pass the hipster litmus test. If you have to say that you’re not a hipster, you’re definitely a hipster. Even if you’re trying to be clever, trying to make your observations without really making a specific point, if you’re not writing as a hipster, you’re writing as something else, which, by my previously stated rule, automatically makes you a hipster.
It’s tricky, but it’s the only reliable metric that we have, stemming from the irrefutable fact that hipsters despise being called hipsters. If you don’t believe me, try out a simple field experiment. Next time you’re at a bar, make conversation with most hipster looking people you can find. After a few back and forths, comment on their clothing, but in a really positive way, say something like, “I really like your shirt and your hat, I love the whole hipster thing you’ve got going on.” And try to make it sound genuine and warm. Watch how they recoil from you, it’s going to be an abrupt shift in both tone and substance. The conversation is going to be over in about ten seconds, watch.
Every once in a while you’ll run into a hipster who for whatever reason is just really lacking in self-awareness, and he or she might even start their own hipster conversation, about hipsters, yes, but about how they hate hipsters, how hipsters are ruining the neighborhood or something like that. I’ve actually had this experience, some guy lamenting the erosion of a neighborhood’s local flavor, whatever that means. And the whole time I’m thinking, man, this guy really doesn’t get it.
You might think an obvious solution is just to come out and say it, “hey everybody, I’m a hipster,” thus making you not a hipster. But unfortunately, the transitive property of hipsters doesn’t work in reverse. Saying that you’re a hipster doesn’t not make you a hipster, it just makes you a guy in a fedora making hipsters and non-hipsters alike really uncomfortable with your lack of social etiquette.
But like I said, this is all totally overstated by now. The only reason why I’m bringing it up at all is because, the other night at work, a hipster couple sat in my section at the restaurant. Before you think me a judgmental jerk, let me assure you, these two were as hipster as it gets: long-sleeve tattoos, she wearing a nineteen forties style haircut over her thick, pointy-framed glasses, he was decked out in all of your standard hipster accouterment, the fedora, the really well manicured giant beard. I took one look at them and thought, ugh, hipsters.
But then a short while later, I realized that I was totally being a judgmental jerk. Not only were these two super nice to me, they were by far the nicest, most pleasant customers I’d had all night. I’m not looking to make friends or anything when I’m waiting tables, but I’m just so used to snooty upper-middle class Manhattanites responding to my, “Hello, how is everything tonight?” with a curt, “Diet Coke,” or, “Sauvignon Blanc.”
No, these two said please and thank you, they were friendly, they left a good tip. The whole interaction left me puzzled. Why did these two obvious hipsters act so contrary to how I imagine hipsters to behave out in the wild? And then I thought about it, when have I ever really talked to any hipsters? I replayed a few interactions through my head and realized, no, none of those were real, they were all from movies or Internet articles or Portlandia episodes, everything making fun of hipsters in the same exact generic way that we always make fun of hipsters.
And it made me rethink everything, like who I think is cool, who I think isn’t cool. Maybe I should start giving more people the benefit of the doubt. Maybe I should stop automatically sizing someone up based on the way they act or dress.
All right, I’m getting carried away in the opposite direction. And everybody knows that if you get caught defending hipsters with a little too much gusto, that’s another dead giveaway that you’re totally a hipster. And so I’ll stop short of proclaiming that hipsters are actually pretty cool underneath their flannel shirts and thick-gauged earrings. In fact, I’ll refrain from making any proclamations of any sort, about hipsters and non-hipsters alike. I’m not saying anything, OK? I’ll only say that these two hipsters happened to be cool on this particular night.