Colliding with Hipsters and their Origins

Posted on August 6, 2011 by

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Silver Lake in Los Angeles, CA was the first neighborhood my parents moved to when we moved to LA in 1989.  Today, Silver Lake in LA is considered a type of “hipster-ville,” and I lived there for much of the 2000s when the hipster meme started becoming popular, though I do not recall many instances of actually interacting with real-live hipsters.

We moved around Central Los Angeles, and ended up back there in 2000, and lived there for another 8 years, which overlapped my time in college.

In 1989 in Silver Lake, I was 5 years old.  I just remember being around brown people:  Latinos, Filipinos.  The physical environment was full of apartments and multi-unit houses.  My sense of geography ranged the one block that we were on:  Parkman and Sunset.  The places I remember going are the laundromat, the liquor store, Griffith Park, Thrifty’s, church, and my godsister Cheryl’s house next door.

By the time we moved back to our apartment on Sunset and Maltman  in 2000, I was in my 3rd year of high school.   My geographical range expanded considerably as I was a semi-committed runner:  I would run from the tip of Toluca Lake to Downtown LA.  With these runs, I gained a bird’s eye view of the demographics of the city.

I knew “what” kind of people I could find and where.  In Silver Lake, I starting seeing a lot more white people in addition to the occasional Latinos, and Filipinos.

I can’t say I know the origins of the first walking hipster or anything, but I can say what I experienced when I started noticing changes in the neighborhood and the people who accompanied those changes.

With this infusion of white folks around 2001, I started noticing changes in the neighborhood.   Along with them these trendy new eateries, bike lanes, weird shops. I saw a councilman’s office turn into some kind of furniture shop.  I noticed that a computer shop got replaced by some new vegetarian eateries.  I saw that a laundromat got replaced by some kind of clothing and antique store.  Didn’t mind any of this, but our rent was getting expensive and I was just wondering where this deluge of white folk, and trendiness all came from.

Somehow, I came across the term “hipster”, and they became the category of people I blamed for everything from not getting a “parking space” to changing the neighborhood.

A user on Urban Dictionary offered this description of who hipsters are:

The term “hipster” is cross-applied from the 1930s Beatniks. The modern hipster is a composite of individuals with a certain bohemian life situation and lifestyle. He or she rejects “mainstream” culture and embraces and contributes to independent culture, and prides him/herself on this. The modern hipster image has been proliferated through the internet, publications such as Vice Magazine, and sightings in the music, fashion, and art world. The image of the hipster is constantly changing, but several aspects have stayed constant over time. Lives in a young, artsy neighborhood of a major city such as Wicker Park in Chicago, Greenwich Village in Manhattan, or Williamsburg in Brooklyn. Usually has some degree of monetary conformability, although sometimes only because of their parents, due to cost of living in these areas. Works (or wants to work) in music, art, or fashion. Has “elitist” music taste and listens to nu-rave (i.e. The Klaxons, Cut Copy, Hercules and Love Affair), minimalist techno, independent rap (i.e. Spank Rock, Talib Kweli, Aesop Rock), nerdcore (i.e. YT Cracker, MC Lars, MC Chris), Elephant 6 (i.e. of Montreal, Neutral Milk Hotel, Apples in Stereo), garage rock, and punk rock in addition to all manners of independent rock.

The LAist gave it a shot.  As did Georgetown University Journal’s blog.

I don’t really know who or what a hipster is because everyone seems too busy hating them or not admitting that they are.

Though no one readily admits to being a hipster, I concluded from this research and synthesis of these definitions.  I think they are people who appropriate these symbols.

What do they do?

Hipsters generally have some money to participate in aspects of consumerism, from fashion to food to art to music.  They espouse working-class aesthetics and symbols but at their heart tend towards middle-class sensibilities and comforts.  Savatri, my partner, who is relatively new to hipster-culture, said  something along the lines of, “Over time, hipsters eventually become what they originally wanted to avoid becoming:  yuppies.”

Though not directly addressing the demographics hipsters per se, I think a quote from this Anthropologist Sherry Ortner, explains some dynamics that might have contributed to an individual’s appropriation of hipster symbols.

“At a practical level there is always the question of whether middle-class children will successfully retain the class standing the parents have provided them…But if middle-class parents see their children as embodying the threat of a working-class future (for the children if not for themselves), and attempt to control them accordingly, adolescent children respond in kind.  They criticize their parents’ values, which is to say essentially class values, and they resist their parents’ controls precisely through representations of lower-class affilitiation — language, hairstyle, clothing, music, and sometimes cross-class friendships and cross-class dating or sexual relationships.”  – Sherry Ortner, “Reading America:  Class and Culture”, p. 32, Anthropology and Social TheoryCulture, Power, and the Acting Subject

So, hipsterdom is essentially just the extension of a reaction by middle-class kids against their parents.  That appears to be the general genesis of all this.

They embody these counter-cultural aeshetics — language, hairstyle, clothing, music, partner choices for their novelties, but eventually transition their way into their own brand of yuppie-dom.