“Johnny Knoxville is a hipster!”
That’s what my sister said while watching a special on the “Jackass” franchise. I asked why, and she mentioned his Wayfarer sunglasses, tight-fitting plaid shirt, Converse All-Stars and cut-off “manpris,” capris for men — longer than shorts, yet shorter than pants.
Most consider hipsters to be pretentious, awkward narcissists (please note: not all English majors are hipsters) and, like my 16-year-old sister, also identify them by their attire: tight-fitting clothes, nerdy glasses and strange haircuts.
The hipster attitude of superiority is often thought to be caused by extreme liberalism, vegetarianism and a holier-than-thou-art knowledge of underground music.
Is Knoxville a hipster? I don’t think so, but where do we draw the nonconformist line?
Hipsters are usually identified by their peers on an instinctive level in a case-by-case basis. But it’s time we address what a hipster really is.
To do that we have to look at the origin of the term from the ‘40s, which referred to the counterculture of the time. Hipsters were middle- and upper-class white kids who emulated black jazz musicians in lingo, dress and drug use and were convinced that they fit in with their role models.
Basically, rich white kids who used their hip lingo, which the average conservative American could never decipher, in an effort to be like the poor and struggling black musicians they respected.
I know plenty of kids like that now, but I wouldn’t call them hipsters, I’d call them Eminem or Jay-Z wannabes.
People who grow ironic mustaches and wear shirts featuring grandmotherly pictures of tigers, lions or dolphins lying on keyboards — in space — who list bands that can’t possibly exist, are just college-aged emo kids with superiority complexes, parent-funded bank accounts and a bad taste in fashion — not hipsters.
When I first witnessed the word “hipster” outside of Beatnik literature (books by Jack Kerouac, like “On the Road,” and William Burroughs, like “Junky”), it was used derogatorily in reference to a music video by the band Animal Collective. I didn’t understand — and still don’t.
There seems to be a fashion/attitude subculture progression through the decades: It started with the Beatniks, which led to hipsters, then hippies, punks, metal heads, goths, emos, indies — and now hipsters again? It’s a long-running series of people defined by their effort to be unique and indefinable.
Burroughs said that hipsters were fascinating young people with a new perspective on life: carefree, progressive and “enlightened” (usually by marijuana and other drugs, like Morphine or Benzedrine, a form of speed). He said their lingo was unique (for white people). They used words like “weed” and “pot” instead of “tea,” the then-standard term for marijuana.
The Beatniks restlessly roamed the country, sleeping with whomever they found to be “hip” and consuming excessive amounts of wine and speed to capture an understanding of the beauty of life with poetry. But the modern hipster just complains about litter-bugs and their favorite bands selling out, all while endorsing Apple products.
Hipsters were, by definition, cool, and I am offended that these people, who shave half their heads, drink Starbucks religiously, and pretend they know what acid is for a facade of edginess, are now identified by the same word.