Saturday, April 27, 2013

Of Hipsters and Nerds

I found this video on Youtube a few weeks ago while watching one of Gigi's videos from The Lizzie Bennent Diaries.

Oh, hipsters. How we love to hate you. But as I've said before, the line between hipsters and fandoms and/or and nerds is so fine. Both may have very selective things they are interested in. Both may have a superiority complex. Both might really, really likes scarves and alternative rock.

Part of the issue is that hipster can mean a variety of different things. It's the flannel wearing, organic-eating, mustache-loving, craft beer drinking sort exemplified in the video above. On Tumblr, it's fashion-loving, Starbucks drinking, YOLO lovers. If you're Russian, it can refer to a subculture where "stilyagi" (the Russian word for hipster) were kids who wore brightly colored 1950s style clothes that contrasted greatly from the Soviet environment around them (there's this great Russian film called Stilyagi which I've had the fortune to see and I recommend it. It's great in its own way). The one thing about all of these ideas is that it's a sort of surface, appearance-based idea of what makes someone hipster. Sure, there are certain strains of thoughts that are considered hipster but usually identifying them comes from appearance and dress (especially the website "look at the fucking hipster"). There's something sort of performative about it, as the video noted. But obviously there are different ideas of performativity and different ways its carried out. Which makes things complicated.

I could now go on to discuss the issues of hipsters and various ways of thinking about them and why they are so hated, but that's a dissertation, not a blog post. And I think I've talked about hipsters on here somewhere before and I want to try to keep from rehashing things I've already said. So, instead I'm going to mention one last thing before moving on to the blood feuds of Tumblr, and that's an essay I just read for my graphic novels course, of all things, by Susan Sontag on "camp" (like campy films) and ways of thinking about it (and look, I found it on online! Yay!). Some of the stuff she said reminds me quite a bit of hipsters, some of it not so much. Some of it bothers me just because we were using it to discuss two characters in the book Ghost World and I happen to not like those two characters very much at all. But overall the essay is interesting and there if you like reading literary/cultural/philosophy stuff.

But on to blood feuds. Here's the deal: Tumblr loves to pit the hipsters and the nerds against each other. Well, at least the people of Tumblr love to do this. Of course, hipsters on Tumblr are different than how this above video thinks of them and more along the lines of fashion-loving, Starbucks drinking sort, known for posting photos focused around glamor, music, love, and "artsy" sort of photos. If you're a Tumblr user, this might all be second nature to you. If you're not, this sounds a bit strange, I imagine. But there are different sorts of genres present in blogs and it's assumed that you're either one genre or the other.
Of course, this is a problem if you happen to be... well, me. I am pretty much a fandom blogger. I follow a lot of fandom blogs. But one of my best friend's sisters has a hipster blog and I enjoy most of the stuff she posts. And a lot of the time, I see fan blogs and hipster blogs post the same stuff *gasp*. And considering I like pretty photos (predominately a hipster thing) and TV shows/films/British actors (fandom things), and then have a whole slew of feminist and cultural posts (social justice blogs?) I feel like I kind of float in between clear boundaries of these blogs (not that I think these boundaries are at all clear or ever have been).

But the whole thing of disliking hipsters, especially from fandoms, has me especially confused. I
know with mainstream hipsters (okay, that's a beautiful oxymoron), sincerity is an issue with their "ironic" like of everything (which makes my head hurt - do hipsters think Arcade Fire is a good band or do they just ironically like them or do they like that Arcade Fire is ironic?) But the hipsters of Tumblr aren't really like this - they aren't the typical hipster. They aren't pretentious, from what I see. They aren't exclusive. They seem pretty chill. What I do unfortunately see are fandoms sometimes being rather hipster - "ruining" hipster posts, which is all fine and well at first, but gets to be kind of redundant and annoying after a while (why do you feel the need to do that? I'm asking that honestly, not angrily - I simply don't get it), flouting their fan status, judging hipster blogs that follow them.

Maybe hipster blogs come off as superficial and fake-y, but I don't really get that. They seem pretty sincere. Maybe it's about performativity, as the YouTube video above mentions. But I seem fandom as way more performative than Tumblr hipsters. Inserting this status into hipster posts, expressing their love of their fandoms through various means. I mean, for example, this is what I wore to class on Friday:

This photo took like ten tries. Do you know how hard it is to get an extended shot on an iPhone so you get more than just your face? It's really hard. Or maybe I just suck at photography.

Anyway, it's a Redbubble shirt, courtesy of geothebio on Tumblr. And when someone in my graphic novels class recognized what Tumblr artists made my shirt, I had a moment of euphoria, feeling almost vindicated and understood. I didn't expect anyone to recognize the Loki drawing, but when they did, it was a great feeling. Is this performative? Well, according to certain cultural theorists, everything is performative, so let's say yes for now. But just because it's performative doesn't mean it's insincere. I could go on a tangent about gender performance right now but that's a discussion better saved for another time.

What does seem kind of insincere is when fandoms hate on hipsters. It comes off more like a "my cultural capitol is better than yours" than a need to share their interests or an actual tangible dislike. Maybe they see Tumblr hipsters as shallow, but I'm not really getting that vibe - they have the same levels of shallowness and depth as the fandoms or any other group of human beings. It's a battle for superiority which, given how hipsters have more of a mainstream cultural scene than nerds do. Don't get me wrong, it's a great time to a be a nerd, but it's not so easy to just go out and be super-enthusiastic about something - it makes you vulnerable, especially to haters. Ironically something gives you a sort of shield. You have a buffer, because you don't really like it, you just like it because it's *insert adjective here.* Despite this, not that many people identify as ironic hipsters (aka mainstream hipsters; not the Tumblr ones). Part of this reason seems to be due to the idea that hipsters have a bit of self-loathing. Or so I've been told. Ironic hipsters don't really like themselves and thus try to represent something they can (ironically or not) like. Wow... guess what? That sounds incredibly like me as a teenager, before I got attached to nerd culture and found ways of expressing myself in ways that allowed me to grow to like who I was. Again, the differentiation is kind of lost on me.

And oh my God, this video my friend Danielle recommended just said the thing I said about vulnerability:

Okay, this video is one of the sweetest and sincere when discussing hipsters. Four for you, Nerd Writer.

Here's the conclusion I've come to: Hipsters are people who exhibit things that we don't like about ourselves - nostalgia, cynicism, dislike for mainstream - all of which we've likely felt ourselves. But we don't want to admit it and may not like these parts of ourselves and thus we hate on the hipsters. Because we're all hipsters, in some shape or form.

What makes my head hurt is how fandoms pushing hipsters aside on Tumblr seems... well, more ironic hipster than the Tumblr hipsters. This all bothers me because - wait, no, there's a gif:

Thank you for existing, Mean Girls.

Hipsters are us, we are hipsters. It might drive us crazy, but it's the truth. And I may not understand ironic appreciation (except for maybe in the case of the movie The Room by Tommy Wiseau which is so catastrophically over-dramatic that it becomes a side-splitting comedy) but I do really, sincerely like things that are considered hipster - mustaches, Arcade Fire, big sweaters, tea, fancy beers, and flannel (but I live in Minnesota; that comes with the territory).

So I like things. Guess that just makes me a human. Cool. :)


  1. Like this post a lot. I never fully understood the ironic hipster, hipster-loving, hipster-hating, look-I'm a hipster, no you're not... stuff. And I never knew Arcade Fire was hipster... I just tried them out after reading that Matt Smith likes them, and I wanted to see what his taste in music was like. I did the same with Sinatra, and now I love listening to both! But I'm not a fan of rap (sorry Mister Smith!). In a way, I do think every one is "hipster" because I just see it as being individual, exploring your likes and sticking to your likes beyond what is trending other people like, i.e. not trying to fit in but just being yourself.

    1. Thank you for reading and so glad you enjoyed it! I like what you said about everyone being a hipster through being an individual; it definitely has a lot to do with individuality and taste preferences, interests, etc.