What it means to be a hipster

by Mr. Nobel

We all want to be a connoisseur or specialist in something, for reasons that are equal parts ego and insecurity. It just feels good to be a gangster the expert in your social circle, to know more than your best buds about, say, wine or prehensile toys. Having your friends come to you for advice and being able to out-articulate your pals is just a massive, massive ego boost.

At the same time, being your group’s resident French expert alleviates intrinsic insecurities and concerns about whether or not your friends need you, while also focusing more attention on yourself. Of course every group worth its weight in snot needs a singularity expert! Who else is going to lead all those Pabst Blue-fueled discussions about black holes?

In the end, these kind of passions and urges become a part of who you are. Deciding what you want to sink your time into is an incredibly revealing enterprise. Partially because these interests are usually antithetical or unrelated to your own career – friends generally tend to have at least somewhat similar career focuses – and partially because they speak to your failed and/or dismissed aspirations (the kind of shit your inner child would pursue without the pressures of bills, mortgages and social relationships to maintain).

It’s an understanding, if not entirely healthy, urge, like a desire to occasionally indulge in some candy.

Hipsterism, then, is taking this urge to extreme and extremely unhealthy places, like eating a god damned warehouse full of candy in one sitting. It’s mistaking and simplifying the reason why being a connoisseur feels good, i.e. the positive social feedback, to just taking pleasure in showing off. The definition of quality changes from how much pleasure you extract from something to how obscure something is, and you, instead, take pleasure from how much you think your friends are impressed.

This cultural tendency or, more accurately, affliction isn’t necessarily caused by a conscious choice. There’s an upper bound to the amount of mainstream goods/knowledge someone consumes before they get curious about the more obscure.

To be fair, the hipster movement isn’t just about showing off. True believers are motivated by a desire to be an individual and master of human expression. It’s about being disgusted by groupthink and striving to experience and define excellence on its own merits, outside of what the increasingly overbearing influence of pop culture tells people to like. True believers, I guess, are understandable. Maybe even respectable. It’s just that most hipsters get into this line of business for more shallow reasons.

It’s readily possible to navigate this jump without becoming a hipster. Two things to remember: Don’t delude yourself into thinking that you like something not well known simply because of its obscurity. Don’t forget that your friends aren’t impressed by your esoteric tastes.

Always remember that the usefulness of a connoisseur in social settings lies in his/her ability to dish out good recommendations and good advice, not in his/her capacity to show off.