Taken from urban dictionary
Someone who listens to bands you’ve never heard of, wears ironic tee shirts, and believes they are better than you!”
Obviously urban dictionary is not the place to go for knowledge, but it is a good place to stop to hear the young public’s opinions on various subjects. Which is why I went there to get that definition. There is among mainstream culture a general negative feeling towards ‘hipsters’. This modern emergence of the subculture is berated for being arrogant, lazy, ironic, social climbers. If one looks towards history however, this is a pervading idea.
The counterculture is, historically, always criticized by the main culture, just as immigrants are when moving to a new country. Today’s ‘hipster’ subculture is the same counterculture that has existed in America since the 1920s, just dressed in different clothes. Although you won’t find them wearing flapper dresses, the black turtleneck characteristic of beatniks, or the psychedelic tie dye of hippies, the hipster is in essence, a continuation of these seemingly very different cultures.
The first counterculture to reference back to would Dadaism. What the hell is that, you might say. So I’ll sketch out a brief intro to Dada.
Dadaism was a reaction to the horrors of the First World War. It was an international (and largely European) movement started by a group of European artists and writers. They rejected the traditional modes of creation, and they adopted collage and photomontage among others as means of expression. The Dadaist were chaotic, they glorified the irrational, nonsense, and intuition. They were disgusted by violence, and the horrors that became of wealth and concern for keeping the status quo.
So, although born out of a specific time period, this group pushed ideas that would be eternally glorified by a string of subsequent countercultures: group collaboration on art, adherence to violence, and a glorification of the kind of “stream of consciousness” intellect, among them.
Another interesting subculture that arouse around the same time in Germany were the “Wandervogel”. This can be most easily translated to mean “migratory birds” these kids yearned for an escape to nature. They roamed freely in search of a more simple and free life. (Hm sound kinda similar to some hippie philosophy perhaps?)
so apart from being dressed like your stereotypical German, they do seem like hippies eh?
And then of course you have the flappers of the 1920s. Their culture was, as Dadaism, a product of the times, but it to ran along the same threads. A shedding of traditional roles and ideas, disdain for those in charge, and a belief in the spontaneous and irrational.
Ah the 1940’s hipster…here’s where the parallels really start to kick in. These guys were heavily influenced by jazz music, and somewhat sought to replicate the lifestyle of the jazz musician (much as modern hipsters are largely shaped by indie music). These were the zoot suit guys, the ‘play the sax on the fire escape’, ‘smoke a cigar’ guys. They were also anti-violence, anti-war, amoral, and cynical. They used words such as “cool” and “like” to convey ambiguous and illusory undertones that shaped their attitude. 1940’s hipsters also sought freedom from racial discrimination, and on a smaller scale, sexual roles. Oh, and lots of drugs, sex, and parties.
Beatniks were a largely misunderstood culture, culminating in the 60s. Publicized by the media, they were given an image that was largely untrue and commercialized. The “Beat Generation” was the underground, philosophical, and anti-conformist youth surfacing in the cities starting in the late 40s. Beatnik culture was not in actuality, how it was portrayed by the media (unless they were the imitators that tagged on at the end of the era). The Beat Generation was mostly a frame of mind, a dissatisfaction with the current status quo and materialism. A yearning for change and an escape into the world of art and music. Many Beatniks also sought religious change in the form of Eastern religions such as Buddhism. I think the Beatniks are the most closely connected with modern hipsters, they have that same, highly educated, nonconformist, moody, vibe about them. I think the biggest difference is today’s lack of writing skills…
Lastly, to conserve time, and your attention span, I’ll address the Hippie’s of the 60’s and early 70’s.Freedom, peace, and love was the motto (with substance abuse thrown in). Like all subcultures they were formed around their general dissatisfaction with current political and social standings. At the height of influence during the summer of love in 1967, the hippies had a large impact considering their relatively small numbers. But this is what the subculture is, its a small but loud group, defying the conventions and traditions of the time.
Is it not striking how similar these groups are? One very gently transforms into the next. Fashion and music taste modified to fit the times, little else changes. While some stress a natural escape, and others one of the intellectual variety, most of the wide-sweeping counterculture groups have developed with the same roots. Focusing on anti-conformity, looking into the mirror, questioning society, religious experimentation, artistic and natural escape, and heavy philosophical background. These are the people that question was society has laid before them, and then they link arms to create a microcosmic community to cherish lost and ignored ideals.
The counterculture has always received heavy criticism from the rest of the population, just as it has been inaccurately stereotyped by the media and contorted. When you step outside of the horn rimmed glasses, fixed gear bicycles, PBR, and skinny jeans, the ‘hipsters’ are the beatniks, or the hippies, or the jazzy hepcats. Fashion changes, but the principles of society do not.