There are few current archetypes more familiar, and more commonly criticized, than the hipster, that gentrifying, craft beer drinking, topknot-sporting city dweller. Through the emergence of an emphasis on local culture and cuisine, and the popularity of food trucks and plaid, the hipster has become a touchstone for current millennial counterculture, and through all this familiarity has become something of a cliché in its own right.
Of course, clichés are an important part of the way we interpret things and communicate. From “It Could be Worse” to “Tomorrow is Another Day”, clichés are the stock responses we frequently rely on when nothing else will do, when more personal actions and words cannot be found. It is easy to grasp at a string of words, their comforting lineage, and hope they will do their bit of good. And while clichés seem to shimmer when we’re young with their irrevocable truth, incapable of being tarnished, there are few that have the cultural currency of being “real” and true to oneself.
When you’re 10 or 12 and the world is made up of absolutes, they are a source of idealism and inspiration – there is no grey, there is only black and white, the defined truths that are unshakeable. However, while clichés exist because there is some measure of truth in them, they sparkle because it’s the only side they can show; from the vantage point of a stock word or stock way of being, there’s no darkness. It’s the undercurrent of experience that renders being true to oneself a more difficult, less light-infused task.
I wouldn’t say I have a problem with hipsters; I may even be taken for one on occasions when I write in cafes with $4.00 coffee or decry Corona. However, there is a strangeness in walking into a café and observing the bounty of topknots and plaid t-shirts, all looking very familiar, like something I’ve seen so many times before in other cafes that have wood beams and avocado toast.
Truthfully, I like most of the things that hipsterdom is associated with like craft beer and locally produced food and some semblance of environmental concern. Perhaps what seems unmistakable is an individuality so blatantly linked to its consumer good counterparts, in the form of tight jeans and chunky glasses and overpriced restaurants. In all likelihood, there has never been a time in recent history when a movement or cultural shift has not been linked to a specific style, but it is the high gloss countercultural individuality that is the problem, the revolution that seems to come pre-packaged that removes what’s real.
It is easy enough to define personal and societal revolts through the objects linked to them – whether it’s a pair of jeans or a cigarette – but being true to oneself exists well beyond all of the objects that can define it. Like the words that make up a cliché, there are elements of truth in a well-honed identity, but individuality surpasses both, moving beyond what can be pin downed in an image.