One of the most common or mainstream words today is ‘hipster’, even McDonalds acknowledges that with its advert for a coffee, where they mock the hipsters’ coffees and how they sell it.
But what does ‘hipster’ truly mean today or even in the past? Is it just another product of the culture today or is it something with much deeper and wider meaning? Some claim that ‘hipster culture’ is in decline but what would follow after that is still a mystery to us or is it?
Never mind what comes next, let’s delve into the past and look at the history surrounding hipsters’ culture.
The earliest usage of the word can be traced back to the jazz era of 1920-30s in America when the word had been associated with someone who expressed particular knowledge and interest in the jazz music. Moreover ‘hipster’ had been equally interchangeable with the word ‘hepster’ as both of them hold the meaning of being ‘knowledgeable’. New York Tribune wrote in the 1920s:
“How can twenty-five men keep Chicago dry, when it would take that many to watch the hipsters in one hotel dining room?” This is the question heard among those who already have obtained table reservations.
—New York Tribune, 22 Dec., 1920
According to some, New York Tribune made a reference to the people who used to carry with them hip flacks in New York during the Prohibition period of the 1920s when it used to be illegal to drink something strong in public place.
Other people relate the word to particular dance movements during the 1930s while others make bolder assumptions that ‘hipster’ had evolved into hippie during the 50s and the 60s.
During the 1940s a new era of bohemian youth emerged as they drew inspiration from the jazz culture, and artists (for example, Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker, pianist Thelonios Monk and trumpet player Dizzy Gillespie) with its much more liberal view towards sex, marriage and the culture in general.
They wanted to be bold and to rebel against society, and they did with their provocative dress-style with stripe suits, berets, and dark glasses, they tried to escape from the mainstream culture. Later on, they would be known as the Beats (the Beat generation). (Please read Jack Keroack’s ‘On the road’ if you want a vivid representation of the spirit of the jazz culture).
Kerouac made a poetic illumination of what exactly was the hipsters’ generation back then:
“of a generation of crazy, illuminated hipsters suddenly rising and roaming America, serious, bumming and hitchhiking everywhere, ragged, beatific, beautiful in an ugly graceful new way–a vision gleaned from the way we had heard the word ‘beat’ spoken on street corners on Times Square and in the Village, in other cities in the downtown city night of postwar America–beat, meaning down and out but full of intense conviction…”
Probably one of the first people to call himself a hipster was Harry Gibson, who was a jazz pianist famous for his wild music filled with songs about drugs and sex, he even had a song called “Handsome Harry the Hipster” and made a reference to his fans as “hipsters”.
But what has changed so much and what does it mean to be part of the hipster culture today? An open question with many answers and series of speculations.
The Beats made the image of the hipsters quite dandy and eccentric according to some, but undeniably they made an immense contribution to the literature and to the art culture in general. What they made cool them back then was the level of contribution they made and the impact they created, starting from the jazz music to their literature achievements (like “Howl’ by Ginsberg and ‘On the road’ by Kerouac, for instance). They rebelled against the society and they expressed their discontent through passion and enthusiasm, they created and destroyed things at the same time as some of them hold strong political views and engaged in heated discussions as they were above all intellectuals.
But what is it to be a hipster during the 21st century? Does it hold the cultural characteristics of the previous century or it has abandoned all of them? Well, the answer to this questions is not so easy, because no one can provide you with a definition at the moment, but only with some major hints, so I guess that’ll do for now. First of all, the media seems to have a thing or two for the hipsters’ today, from hipsters’ food to clothes and coffee *(Don’t forget about the McDonalds advert, please).
The modern hipster today is apparently very stylish creature- wearing round glasses- love Instagram-eat avocado on toast-have a cacti- have tattoos- listen to obscure music bands- shop at urban-outfitters – and drink more coffee than necessary. (This is not my opinion, just what the Internet says about it!)
According to many, the hipsters today are a group of people in their twenties, who are fashion trendy, seeking attention and even pretentious. And they would say ‘no’ if you ask them whether they are hipsters or not. If that’s truly the case, if the hipsters today are just a product of constructive narrative of the market, and they do not want to be defined as ‘hipsters’ at all, that means that they are the opposite representation of the hazy-jazz-writer- hipsters back in the 1940s and they do not stand against the status quo but quite the opposite, they support it and contribute to it.
After all, is that not a little bit too convenient to be true or we just would like to ignore it? Does the hipster today represent just another piece of ‘stereotype’ in the long line of blocks in order to produce a domino effect?
Whatever the answer is, the image has changed significantly since its arrival due to a cultural or market demand.