Friday, August 24, 2012

A Little More on the "H Word"

I touched on what defining the word "hipster" a bit on my post a couple days ago, which was ostensibly about indie-centric shopping in Las Vegas but (as is my way) started with a bit of digressive a rant about the dreaded H word. Because it's still on my mind, I wanted to expand my ideas on the subject of hipsterdom a lil' bit. This post isn't strictly Vegas related, but it does related to anyone in Sin City who might be filed under H for hipster, a population that's growing every day as Downtown grows cooler, quirkier, indier, and uniquer.

So this will most likely be semi-incoherent, but I've had a desire to get my thoughts out on the subject for awhile, to at least start a discussion. Even though I've branded my blog as the Vegas site for hipsters, I've grown incredibly wary of the "H" word as of late. It's become incredibly over-determined and contradictory in meaning at this particular point in history, to a point that all of those hipster everyone loathes are really a straw-men that largely don't exist.

Just this week, a friend asked me which Beach Boys album is my all time favorite. When I enthusiastically endorsed Pet Sounds, he said that I had chosen the "hipster answer" because it's the "obvious one for people who don't really know the band's entire disocgraphy." His choice was Smile (which I'm completely obsessed with as well, having listened to bootleg versions over the years, the remake version Brian Wilson and a new band made a few years ago, and every track of the recording sessions included in recent definitive release that finally came out less than a year ago), which in itself seemed to be a hipster attitude in the opposite side of the spectrum. Choosing an album so experimental and ahead of its time that it was shelved for over 40 years is the kind of thing an obscurity obsessed hipster would cling on to in order to prove their cred points. Because as amazing and revolutionary as Smile is, few pop records can approach the beauty of Wilson's "teenage symphony to God" that is Pet Sounds. Sometimes the most obvious answer is obvious because it's the right one.

And again, I tumble down a pit of digression. What unites these two contradictory definition of hipsterdom is that they seem to both define a person who is obsessed with the image they are projecting first and foremost, making their music choices to show off their knowledge (whether it be real or faked) to reflect a personal brand. People who operate in this way do, in fact, suck. And yes, we've all met many of them. But I submit to you, dear reader, that I personally haeven't met that many hipsters who live their lives this way. Even the ones who I initially think are just into strange and obscure music just to be different have turned out to be genuine in their love and have even opened my eyes to cool new stuff I wouldn't have explored otherwise. And I really don't know that many people who fake their knowledge of music just to show off. Sure, we're all insecure and want to fit in. That's human. But most people love what they love for good reasons that they can easily defend.

My point is that, to me, hipster has become an unwieldy and almost undefinable term that people throw around at others derisively and in judgement. Yes, there are a few hipster signifiers like fashion and facial hair, but most of the people who rock these looks have a lot more to them than what first meet's the eye... which is, you know, the whole point of not being prejudiced against any group (please don't read this as me equating hipster with persecuted minorities, though I'm sure there is a funny web video that could be produced on that subject).

While the idea of a person living their lives in a perpetual phony cool pose is dispiriting, most people are just into what they're into. That doesn't mean that they have to be into what you're into, and judging their motivations for liking something different from what you like is exactly what made people hate "hipsters" in the first place. You see how quickly this thing becomes "the snake eating its tail" (or "totes meta," as the hipsters like to say)? Sometimes I think that the hipster label says more about the person doing the labeling than the person being labeled.

At this point I think a "hipster" can be defined as a young person (usually living in a city) with an interest in things that are cool, interesting, different, and outside of the mainstream (and I'm not talking about elitism above anything that is mainstream. Non-evil hipsters can un-ironically acknowledge the indisputable pure pop pleasure of Call Me Maybe while grooving on a limited edition boxset of obscure Krautrock tracks from the 70s at the same time), so why is it so often used as a pejorative? Enjoying good things over mediocre things is a bad thing now? Yes, there are hipsters who are assholes. But there are also assholes in every type of group that people can define themselves in.

Maybe I'm just not that deep in the "scene." I'm not cool enough to be photographed by The Cobra Snake, wearing too skinny jeans and doing blow in the bathroom every ten minutes at a local band's record release party while we all fret about our relevance and hope Julian Casablancas or Ariel Pink will show up. But I don't encounter people like that who live their lives that way all that often. They exist, but they're not actually a factor in my life.

It's time to retake the word from the jaws of negativity and don the label proudly. Stand up and be proud of your plaid shirts, thick glasses, asymmetrical haircuts, penchant for craft IPAS, and vinyl collection, if that's what you truly love. But do it because it's the world you truly and honestly identify with. I think the real hatred of hipsters comes from the fact that people feel they're posing as something they're not... which is equally ironic, because the stereotypical hipster hates anything that's not authentic. Don't be a cartoon easily parodied by Hipster Runoff, chasing some trendy image. Be your true self, and if your true self is a hipster, then own it and mean it with your heart.

Love things not because you're supposed to do so in deference to defining your "personal brand." Love what you love for the only reason that anything (or anyone) deserves to be loved: because it's great and worth loving.

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