I’ve been thinking about hipsters a lot lately. For the record this isn’t exactly normal behavior for my brain. Most of the time I concentrate my neurons on solving world hunger (Solution: people should maybe be eating more food). But the other day writer and all around awesome guy Joseph Devon tweeted something that got my mental gears going.
“Has anyone actually met a real hipster? Sometimes I feel like we’re all mocking a made up group of people. Like with Canadians.”
I was going to reply to him, but I was too lazy, so instead I ended up thinking about hipsters a lot and writing this blog post instead. (Also, by the by, you should be following Joseph Devon. Because this kind of boundless hilarity is the rule with him rather than the exception).
So here’s the deal people. What exactly is our problem with hipsters? I know the first thing that probably pops into your mind when you think of hipsters is probably something like this image:
But frankly wearing ridiculous clothes “ironically” is only a tiny subset of this cultural virus we call hipsterdom. (Somebody calls it hipsterdom anyway; it’s not like that’s a word I made up just now. *Cough*.) The thing at the real root of the issue is the desire to experience things that others haven’t, to seek out cultural tropes that are uncommon enough to be considered nearly unique.
And the question I keep asking myself is, “Is this necessarily a bad thing?” Since we’re talking about Joseph Devon, I’ll use him as an example. Joseph Devon is an independently published author of a great series of books (I did a review of one of them a while back you should totally check out) with a small but devoted following. Now the books are great on their own, but for me there’s something special in the fact that I had to “discover” them. He hasn’t got his books facing the doors as you walk into Barnes and Noble. Probably the only way you’re going to find out about him is if somebody like me tells you about him, or by slogging through the twisted and uncertain underworld of self-published books on Amazon.
In other words, “I like Joseph Devon. You’ve probably never heard of him before.”
“But Albert,” you’re saying. “Liking something because its obscure doesn’t make any sense. The thing itself is still the same regardless of how many people like it right?”
To which I have two responses.
First, yes it totally does make sense. Lets imagine that you’re rich. No, strike that, lets imagine that I’m rich. Now being a rich dude I’m into sailing, so one day I take my yacht out on the water and by chance I happen upon this beautiful island with sugar white sand, emerald water and perfect palm trees blowing in the breeze. I dock my yacht and spend the day wandering the dunes, lazing under the palm trees and diving in the cool water. Things are about as perfect as they can be, and that night I go to sleep under the stars and let the sound of the crashing waves lull me to sleep.
But when morning comes I’m wakened from my slumber by the sound of splashing and yelling and hundreds of feet crunching on the sand. I look up bleary-eyed and see that a cruise ship has anchored itself right off the coast of my beautiful island, and it’s passengers are coming ashore in swarms. Now your argument says, “Well yes, but its basically the same island. Same sand, the same water, the same sun. What difference does it make if you’re alone on a beach you’ve found on your own or in the middle of a gaggle of tourists and their bratty kids?” And if you subscribe to that view then great, but I’m pulling up anchor and sailing for somewhere else, thank you very much.
The second problem with this line of reasoning is that it assumes people do things that make sense. For the record, they do not. Man is not what you would call a logical animal. Logically your taste shouldn’t change with the circumstances. If something tastes good in a green can with a picture of a surfer on the front it should taste just as good in a brown can with a picture of the dog on the front. But it doesn’t. Because we don’t process things that way.
Objectively speaking more people like the taste of Pepsi than Coke. Blind taste tests have confirmed this over and over. But. You don’t drink Coke out of a white paper cup. You drink it out of a can with that iconic red and white logo and because of the connections your mind makes with that logo suddenly taste alone isn’t the deciding factor. Change the label on a can of spaghetti sauce or the shade of color on a can of soda and people will insist that the taste has changed.
And maybe they’re right. Because taste, whether we’re talking about food, music or books is something in the mind. It isn’t fixed and objective. It depends on a whole subset of cultural connections our minds make without even knowing it. We like and dislike things for a whole host of reasons that sometimes have very little to do with the things themselves.
And as someone who occasionally like obscure things because of the sense of discovery it gives me, I gotta say, maybe we should be laying off on the hipsters yeah? After all we don’t always have to agree on what things are good or even why they’re good. If you’re fine with the mainstream, Stephen King, Stephanie Meyer, J. K. Rowling, etc. that’s fine. As for myself, sometimes I like to stray off the beaten path in the hopes that I might discover something obscure and amazing. And if that makes me a hipster, then so be it.