S.W.A.G. (What it means to be a Hipster)

Hipster : /ˈhɪpstə/ informal

i) A person who follows the latest trends and fashions, especially those regarded as being outside the cultural mainstream.

- Oxford English Dictionary

ii) Someone who listens to bands you’ve never heard of, wears ironic tee-shirts, and believes they are better than you.

- Urban Dictionary

It’s a word that’s brandied about by netizens and the modern youth like an unsheathed katana — ‘Hipster’. The word has trickled into popular consciousness to evoke images of a Macbook, skinny jeans, a shaggy beard, and music that you’re not sure classifies as music. Once used to refer to the Bohemians of Williamsburg, NY who chose to vehemently oppose mainstream culture, the word has corrupted itself today into an off handed jape and a passing fashion trend. This makes me wonder what the real Hipster is, especially in the Indian context. So I asked a few friends, including some certified hipsters what their take on all this was to try and defog the enigma of the Indian Hipster. Here’s what I got:

“I would say that the Hipster is dead! That’s what [Allen] Ginsberg said when he was asked about the Beat generation. But that is such a mainstream thing to say so I won’t say It.” quips Ritwik Deshpande, a student of Interaction Design who some people claim went so far out hipster that he came back full circle and became mainstream!

The pervasion of Hipsterity into public consciousness

The alternative lifestyle of a hipster would make it seem like the objective is to be different, but some beg to differ. “It’s not about trying to be different. A hipster is already different. It’s about trying to find other likeminded people so he can fit in.” says Abhinav Pathak, a student of Law in Pune. “In today’s world, everyone tries too hard to be different. So the alternative trend is to appear normal. Abnormally normal! That’s how trends like norm-core have emerged I think” he says, mulling over a cup of chai.

As I sought out more opinions, the contradictions only seemed to get worse. Debanjan Bose, a journalist in Bangalore says, “It’s all very relative. The stereotypical Hipster in the Indian context is a kurta clad, jhola carrying chap who prefers the poetry of Munto to Tagore. But in Kolkata, this is every other student on the street, so there’s nothing Hipster about it”.

From all this, I gathered that there are two factions of Hipsters, with a great divide in between. The first being the proto-hipster, the one who actually lives the lifestyle and makes every choice that subverts mainstream culture, thus forming a sub-culture of his own. The consequence of this lifestyle also percolates into their appearance, music choice, eating habits and way of speaking. Then there is the neo-hipster who just emulates the look and feel of the proto-hipster but is not the real deal. The former is a rare breed, full of scorn for posers and more likely to deny being a Hipster just to be more hipster-like!

To add do the growing discomfort of the proto-hipster, it is a fact today that the Hipster trend has pervaded mainstream culture in all aspects. Laptop skins and phone covers with vector images of the typical bearded hipster, chunky, colourful frames for spectacles, retro printed tie-dye leggings for men, organic foods and minimalist T-shirts with ironic quotes are flooding the Indian market and reversing alternative trends into mainstream phenomena at a rapid pace. The Hipster today is in the flux of an identity crisis.

When I told my mother that I’m writing about Hipsters, she asked me why I was writing about old fashioned pants from the 90’s! In a way, I guess Hipsters are like the evocative pants from the 90’s — slowly slipping off the hips and desperate to hang on to their culture. I guess it’s up to the Hipsters to adapt to this warping change in trends and recreate the enigma that made them who they were. Honestly, I pity them. They are the ones who tell you something is cool before it actually becomes cool. And when the said entity finally does become cool, they are inevitably disgusted by the loss of their treasured find and move on to the next cool thing.

Let’s spare a moment to mourn the fading swag of Hipsterdom…

The Hipster is dead! Long live the Hipster!