In Defense of Hipsters

They're known to be politically progressive, environmentally conscious, anti-consumerist and feminist — what’s not to like?

At one time, I had total contempt for the old person, in the room of young people, who knew everything about youth culture — but now I am that old person. Recently I’ve been spending time with hipsters.

It’s not that I act like a young person — that, I really can’t stand. I don’t dress like a hipster, since only youth can pull off commie shleppy retro (ironically) or carefully mismatched nutty professor ensembles. If I wore that I would look insane.

I also don’t speak youthful jargon — “no worries” and “awesome” are not part of my vocabulary. In my youth, I spoke Anthony Burgess’s fictional language in “A Clockwork Orange” and, as a school kid Pig Latin, which in my neighborhood was the Jewish kids’ non-kosher retort to Yiddish, the language spoken when adults didn’t want you to understand.

I didn’t seek out hipsters nor did I even realize until recently that I gravitated toward them: Toward cafes where people in their 20s play board games, knit, read well-worn paperbacks, arrive on a fixed-gear bicycle, sit in groups and talk, actually talk. I’d been a fan of college indie and alternative music before I discovered that hipsters were, too. I’m proud to say that I turned my 23-year-old son on to Disclosure, the electronic music duo, and Daft Punk before they were famous.

My son, Theo, is a hipster but it took me awhile to realize there is a tribe of kids like him. He’s long been a reader of deep and eccentric authors, an experimental theater-meets-Shakespeare actor, a sensitive and romantic soul, an unplugged kind of guy. He lives in Bushwick, Brooklyn, sports a ponytail and facial hair, wears peg-leg pants, loves interesting cuisine, has a record collection and a record player, watches the Web series “High Maintenance” and hates “Girls,” and gets around on an old Schwinn bike.

Theo is one of the people who I most like spending time with. He’s a great conversationalist, is curious about so many things, and is used to having conversations uninterrupted by gadgets – but I find this to be true of many hipsters.

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Several years ago, I went to the holiday party of an acquaintance whose 25-year-old son made a 6-figure income as an innovator and shareholder of a hugely famous social media company. Up to that point, I had not met anyone who worked in social media but thought it amazing that such talented, smart, young people were responsible for making the world a smaller place, a global village, so I was looking forward to meeting him.

I was appalled. He sat with friends and they all interacted primarily with their devices, occasionally grunting monosyllabically to one another. His mother had to nearly hit him over the head with a pan to get him to look up and smile a fast and fake smile as he was introduced to guests. And the only time he actually spoke was to make fun of Occupy Wall Street, which was still nascent.

Granted, this is one person but it really opened my eyes to how alienating, how ultimately lonely, it is to interact with machines when people are on the periphery.

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People like to make fun of hipsters because of their self-consciousness pared-down lifestyle. Two jokes about hipsters are:

Why did the hipster burn his mouth?

Because he ate his food before it was cool.

How many hipsters does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

It's an obscure number, you've probably never heard of it.

I don’t really care that hipsters are a little show-offy about their knowledge of alternative music, draft beer, '70s clothes, gardening or authentic food. What youth culture is not self-reverential? It is a stage in becoming an autonomous person.

What I appreciate about hipsters is their nonconformity in this age of militaristic flash mobs, copycat school shooters and lax gun laws, and mind-numbing tech pastimes like video games. It might seem like they are conforming to the nuances of hipsterdom, but as with any cultural group, you have to adopt the codes to be legible. There is a lot of room for interpretation though, like hippies.

Hipsters are uber-menschs, meaning they are generally into really good things and earnestly proud of their affiliation. The Occupy movement was started by hipsters, and if you don’t know what "permaculture" means or why Monsanto is ruining the planet, ask a hipster.

Hipsters are known to be politically progressive, environmentally conscious, anti-consumerist and feminist. Though they might not outright use the term "feminist," women and men participate and are valued equally in the culture. Unlike hippies (which, granted, was a long time ago), the women don’t wait on the men or dress for them, and chores, hobbies and interests are not gender-coded.

I have a lot in common with hipsters, as do most progressive baby boomers. We are on the same page politically, environmentally and socially, and we generally have a raised-eyebrow attitude toward high tech. I’ve learned about things from indie music to community-supported agriculture (CSAs) from hipsters. And I no longer mind being the old person in the room.

Tags: memoirs

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