My brother called me a Hipster recently. It honestly took me by surprise. As funny as Charlie Sheen’s mental breakdown was, I don’t really see myself fitting that mold. Then I thought about it. Ok I wear a fedora (very often), yes I enjoy non mainstream music and often don a patterned button up over a T-shirt and yes I’m agnostic… Holy crap, am I a Hipster?
Back in the 1940s the Hepster or Hepcat (later Hipster) was far from its current incarnation. Being “Hip” in the Jazz culture of the mid 20th century was synonymous with being in the new popular culture. Whereas Swing had dominated the late 30s and early 40s, Hot Jazz and Bebop were in and “hip,” and so too were Hipsters. Yet, it was much more than that. It also opened a sizable portion of young white middle class men and women to something they would have otherwise found difficult to embrace: African American culture.
Segregation in America is older than our country’s founding. Since the first slaves were brought to the new world right up to the American civil rights movements of the 1960’s, there had always been a strict division of black and white. People lived in different neighborhoods, went to different schools, attended different churches, dined and enjoyed music in different venues. That was until a small few started to break down barriers. Many of the most notable are the heroes and of the heroines African American movement, i.e. the Dr. Martin Luther King Jrs or the Rosa Parkses. However I can’t but think about the untold thousands of American youths that were either inspired to seek out and understand their fellow man or rebel against society. Either way countless young white middle class people made their way to black night clubs, bars, and neighborhoods. Thus the Hipster was born.
With new views and outlooks on philosophy and social barriers came a new freedom of expression. The freedom to just not care about the normal social structure of a post WWII post depression world. They said what they felt and did what they pleased. Sex and drug use weren’t off limits, and could be enjoyed as little or as much as was desired. Most of all was the total disdain of world ideologies, the “free world” and “communist iron curtain” be damned. Being “square” was paramount to being a pariah, the lowest of the low. Not that Hipsters saw themselves as being much higher; they believed that no one should sit so high up and judge so many, that truthfully we are all so low. Many even dared to publicly and loudly question the existence of even god.
However, as the times moved on so did the ideas and views that these Hipsters held so close. Rather then disappearing into obscurity, the beliefs became a bit less dire and melancholy, and more optimistic in nature. Allowing them to be more greatly absorbed by a larger population of American youth that took the outlook of equality and antiestablishmentarianism and ran with it. Hipsters became the Hippie ultramodern freethinkers of the 1960s and 70s.So what the hell do fedoras have to do with it? Being a Hipster these days seems a far cry from its origins. Christian Lorentzen of Time Out New York characterizes it as, “hipsterism fetishizes the authentic” aspects of the “fringe movements of the postwar era—beat, hippie, punk, even grunge,” and take inspiration from the “cultural stores of every unmelted ethnicity,” and “regurgitates it with a winking inauthenticity.” Is that really it? Do we have so little cultural identity to claim as our own these days that we must leach and bastardize everything of the last century. Or is it just that as each generation passes thoughts and ideas from one to the next, and in doing so embeds certain contributions to the inheritors, be they style, ideals, philosophies, or phrases.I really don’t know. What I do know is this. If being open minded with a love of fedoras makes me a Hipster then so be it. I’d like to think that the Charlie Sheens of the celebrity world don’t represent me. I think back rather to the barrier breakers of the 1940s who dared to be different; the same ones that inspired the next generation to fight for what they felt was right. I think I’d like that. To be a Hepster.