We all have one of those friends. The kid who liked all the popular music before it went mainstream. The guy who likes all the old-looking clothes and dresses like a secondhand store mannequin. You may even be this person. They’re called hipsters, and they’re everywhere. Hipsters are a diverse lot, and I don’t like to generalize. However, they seem to have a few things in common: a distaste for anything popular, a love of all things “vintage”, and a sincerity to rival the most ardent fandom. As a style of fashion, “hipsterism” is actually pretty cool, but it’s the underlying philosophy of hipsters that I want to address today.
Where did hipsters come from? They haven’t been around very long, and yet they’ve already gained a cult following. Ironically, it’s extremely popular to be a hipster. To get to the root of this trend, we need to take a step back in time to the 1980s and the end of modernism. Modernism was a widespread philosophy in Western cultures that embraced technology, social structure, and traditional values of truth, family, and virtue. These beliefs stemmed from the great progress taking place in Western societies during the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. It is hard to pinpoint an exact date when modernism ceased to be the dominant ideology in society, but many sociologists and philosophers point to the 1980s as the time period when postmodernism took over.
During the 1980s and leading into the early 2000s, a new movement began: the postmodern movement. This philosophy was characterized by its radical rejection of most or all of modernist beliefs. Instead of embracing traditional values, postmodernists started to question whether objective morality existed at all. This period of doubt and questioning is also called the deconstructionist period, because Western cultures had begun to deconstruct their previously held beliefs. Postmodernism was a reaction to the horrors of World War II and the slew of wars following it. Where modernism was characterized by optimism and the belief that utopia was just around the corner, postmodernism rejected this and was characterized by pessimism, nihilism, and the belief that the world could not be saved.
Of course, an outlook on life that rejects meaning and purpose is bound to turn its focus from virtues and underlying meaning to the fleeting and the superficial. Eventually, postmodernism fractured into several different patterns of thought. Relativism, or the belief that there is little or no objective truth, is still alive and well, and continues to influence much of Western culture. Nihilism, the belief in nothing, while not embraced by many, is still accepted by a subset of the population. But perhaps the most influential offshoot of postmodernism is “hipsterism.”
Hipsters have their roots in postmodern, relativistic thought, a reaction to the superficiality of 1980s modernism and its focus on wealth and material goods. Ironically, in their haste to get away from modernism, hipsters have returned to the superficiality they once despised. “Hipsterism” is not a real ideology, because it says virtually nothing about the world or truth or how one should live. Instead, it is focused on clothing, music, and looking trendy. But at least hipsters were focused on these things before they were cool.