Steven Kurutz in the New York Times complains about how hard it is to be a non-hipster. I certainly understand what he’s talking about. He starts off by pointing out that almost all of male fashion looks hipster-y for a guy his age. Whether you dress up or dress down, you look like a hipster.
Although the point is somewhat exaggerated (he claims the only non-hipster fashions available are Rick Steves dork or sports fan/wigger — obviously he’s not considering custom suits as an option), it’s something I understand and sympathize with. I think suspenders look pretty damn sharp with certain shirt-pants combos, for example, but I rarely wear them because it honestly looks really douchey and hipstery.
Kurutz broadens the argument to point out that all kinds of stuff that should just be plain-old cool are tainted with the stink of hipsterdom: vinyl records, cooking, bicycling, photography, etc. He’s right, all these things are just cool in-and-of-themselves, but there is at the same time a sort of hipster miasma swirling around each one.
But of course, the answer is right in front of him: Who cares?
Mr. Kurutz, despite his protestations, quite obviously is a hipster, because he cares whether or not he seems hipsterish.
Cooking is “hipster”? Really? Fucking who cares? Just cook your damn food. It’s the act of caring, and the act of name-dropping both Williamsburg and Silver Lake, that makes you a hipster, Steven. It’s not cooking your food or owning a bicycle.
A little clue comes early on when Kurutz says, “as a 30-something skinnyish urban male there’s almost nothing I can wear that won’t make me look like a hipster” (emphasis added).
Now, I’m 30-something as well, male, and “urban” and I’m also white, which is implicit in Kurutz’s article but never mentioned of course. But I’m not “skinnyish.” (By the way, that “ish” — what a pussyish way to admit you’re skinny). My body is still not where I want it to be, but I’m 6’0″ and about 200 pounds, about 20% body fat (that last number is one I’m trying to get lower). I’m not super built, and I’m not super-ripped, but I’m bigger and stronger than about 95% of the non-fat guys in my “urban” (hipster-laden) neighborhood.
When I wear slim-cut dark jeans (slim, not skinny (nor skinnyish)), Wolverine 1000-mile boots, and a custom tailored button-up shirt, I don’t look like a hipster. I just look like a neatly-yet-casually dressed man. I also have good posture, I stand up straight, I speak with a firm, deep voice and I look people in the eye. I don’t make snarky comments, and I don’t check my smart phone every 30 seconds. That is why no one considers me a hipster, not because of my clothes.
The essence of being a hipster is being a non-serious person. It has very little to do with musical tastes or clothing or hobbies. If you are a man and you are worried about coming across as a hipster, it’s because you don’t have a deep and driving mission in life, it’s because you actually believe that we live in post-post-post-historical times and it’s all over except the snarky commentary.
I have a spiritual mission in life, and a personal mission; I also have a political mission that I haven’t decided whether or not I am committed to — but it’s a very serious mission if I decide to really dedicate myself to it. I have a mission when it comes to my relationships with women. I also have a ton of things that I love doing purely for the joy of it. Many of these “hobbies” are things that Mr. Kurutz is worried might make him seem hipster-y — writing letters to friends on my typewriter, for example, and becoming a better cook. Who cares?
On a deep spiritual level, if you want to break out of the hipster trap, you need regain your lost humanity. You need to shut off your smart phone (and do not write a blog post about it later, relating wittily to your audience what it was like to unplug — just fucking do it), you need reengage with the grand cycles of history and try to find something that people believed in 1000 years ago that you can get serious about — that you can get humble about. Prostrate yourself before the greatness of history like a novice before the master, and do not write a blog post about it later. Just do it. If you’re open to religion, learn about the religion of your ancestors and find time every day to pray or meditate; if you’re not open to religion, learn about the struggles of your ancestors, their wars, their art, their famines, and their languages. Study an ancient language. Read history books written before 1950 — almost everything published after that date will reek of unseriousness, and yet of pomposity at the same time.
Go outside much more than you currently do. Do hard manual labor. Do hard manual labor and do not tweet about it, do not tell wry stories about it, do not blog about it, do not post anything about it on Facebook. Work so hard your hands have blisters and your back is sore for days. Do it again; and again. Do not blog about it. Do not call yourself “urban farmer” or urban anything. Stop observing yourself doing stuff and just do stuff; it helps to pick very difficult stuff to do, because you will need all the energy you usually put into fretting just to finish the task.
On a practical level, if you want to break out of the hipster trap, lift weights hard and heavy. If you’re no longer “skinnyish,” you’ll find that no one mistakes you for a hipster anymore. I can’t remember where I read it (somewhere on twitter, I think) but a funny quote is, “Can we stop using the term ‘hipsters’ and just go back to calling them pussies?” In other words, hipsters are just pussies. Don’t be a pussy, and you won’t have to worry about being a hipster.
People have essences that we intuit very accurately without even trying. Some people give us the creeps, because they are creepy inside — even if we don’t know the details of their creepy secrets. Some people give us confidence and happiness, because they are full of love and strength inside — even if we don’t know how we know this about them. Hipsters strike us as ridiculous people, because they are truly featherweight souls inside — even if we can’t put our finger on why.
There are physical cues: bad posture, nervous/arrogant body language, adenoidal voices (this is a big one), and just a general lack of presence. It’s hard to explain in words, but you just know it when you see it.
I love all kinds of things that hipsters like — including knit caps, Nick Drake, local food, and gourmet coffee — but no one mistakes me for a hipster, and I don’t even worry about it. Because I’m not a pussy. I’m not trying to claim I’m the toughest dude in the world, but in this neighborhood (and in the neighborhood Kurutz lives in, I assume) it’s not very hard to be the toughest dude on the block at least.
Finally I’d suggest that Kurutz actually loooooooves worrying about whether he’s a hipster. It’s exactly the kind of thing that hipsters do all day long. It gives them a little erotic surge of dopamine to worry about crap like that. Observing oneself being observed for being observationally observed as a member of a group of people observed as being too observational about their lives. Vomit.
I will reiterate my thesis for emphasis: being a hipster is fundamentally about being an empty and unserious person. It has little or nothing to do with fashion, hobbies, or tastes. Become a person of substance — real substance, substance that great men of a thousand years ago would recognize as substance — and you will never worry about this kind of crap again.
EDIT: Here’s another perspective on the same basic question from Bruce Charlton: http://charltonteaching.blogspot.com/2013/09/the-astonishing-triviality-shallowness.html