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How hipsters killed the hippies

By in Opinions

Opinions Writer

Despite frequent confusion and popular opinion, hipsters and hippies have nothing in common, nor are hipsters our generation’s answer to hippie-dom. The hipster subculture is a superficial bastardization of ’60s counterculture.

“But wait!” you say. “Hipsters go to music festivals, wear loud and unconventional clothes — they even denounce mainstream society.”

On the surface this may appear to be the case. But what is the hipster’s social cause? What is their philosophy?

Every year, it becomes harder to find people who dig what hippies were all about. Something like Woodstock brings to light how badly we fucked up. In 1969, half a million kids attended Woodstock — for free — to hear real rock music. Despite (or perhaps because) no police were present, no one was hurt. It was brotherly love in action: people uniting over music, drugs and common values.

Forty years later, I attended Coachella music festival in Indio, Calif., hoping to relive such glory. On one hand, it was incredible: I saw Animal Collective, and I saw Roger Waters play Dark Side of the Moon. But music aside, it was a shit scene: hipsters drinking $7 beer, cat-walking around to show off their impeccable fashion sense.

The pinnacle of the hipster subculture is to try to look “with it” — to give the impression that you belong to some elite, exclusive society. Hippies, on the other hand, wanted to be viewed as freaks (and I do not mean that in a pejorative sense). Though both groups wear strange fashions, their reasons for doing so could not be more different.

Hippies wore outlandish, psychedelic clothes to say, “Be wild, don’t follow societal norms.” Hipster fashion, on the other hand, is intended to proclaim, “I’m more chic and fashionable than you.” To be fair, both groups use clothing as a creative vehicle. What’s different today is how badly people want to be seen as creative and special.

Largely, hipsters went wrong in wanting to be perceived as “cool.” Elise Thompson of the LAist (a news, events, food and entertainment website targeted at young urbanites) put it well, describing hipsters as people “wearing expensive ”˜alternative’ fashions, going to the latest, coolest, hippest bar and listening the latest, coolest, hippest band.” Hipsters don’t want to hear gifted musicians, they want to hear “hip” musicians. They want performers with The Look: an emaciated body, unaffected face, and tranquil stage presence. In the hipster culture, superficiality supersedes substance; it is an elitist and shallow vortex of individualism which stands for nothing.

Hippies are the antithesis of this culture. In 1967, Time Magazine identified the hippie’s mission as “love (indiscriminate and all-embracing).” This hippie love made the world a better place. Their communities set up Greenpeace. They helped end the Vietnam War for Chrissakes. Today, what even remotely significant social or political cause do hip people stand for? Nothing.

The hipster’s main affiliation is to the marketplace they buy from. As writer Douglas Haddow puts it, “less a subculture, the hipster is a consumer group — using their capital to purchase empty authenticity and rebellion.” Hipsters show creativity by dressing and posing like artists (despite the fact that most aren’t). Their music, too, has less of an impact on society than did the hippies’.

Listen to any John Lennon recording and see what I mean; Lennon was a hippie through and through, and used music to change the world. His song “John Sinclair” got a political prisoner sprung from jail. “Give Peace a Chance” challenged the war in Vietnam. His messages were so dangerous that the CIA tried repeatedly to deport John.

Fast forward to 2011, where hip bands have little social relevance. Could Grizzly Bear or Vampire Weekend really incite the CIA’s wrath?

Like their favourite bands, hipsters are afraid of getting their hands dirty with revolution. Although many hippies grew up to become boring “straights,” at least they tried to defy the system. Only in its adolescent phase, hipsterism has already sold out, resigned to and content with the status quo.

Young hippies today are keepin’ it real, but it’s all very disorganized. They don’t look the part anymore. In fact, they probably look like hipsters. But the proof is in their actions, not their clothes. They still care about humanity, feel transcended by art and music, and are spiritual without being religious. Most of all, they will keep on keepin’ on.

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image: Flickr

  • Sam

    My cousin the hippie broke this debate down on my blog a few weeks ago:

    While there are many hippies still around, we just dont notice themas much because the vast majority of "follower" hippies just decided to follow what is now the "in" trend; the Hipster. I dislike Hipsters for thsi very reason, and call for a Revolution against the hipster:

  • Taylor

    There are so many problems with this article I don't even know where to begin.

    First of all, the author assumes a cultural, political, and moral homogeneity among two groups, hippies and hipsters, that simply did not, does not, and cannot, exist. Both "hippie" and "hipster" are such loosely defined categories that, to me, are impossible to assume homogeneity among either group. The author, through Time Magazine and John Lennon, defines hippies as people who endorse and propagate love and political activism. That definition is far too broad, as it includes countless individuals and groups that otherwise would not be described as "hippies" (like feminists for instance [that is not to say that some feminists aren't hippies — I'm sure some are, but, as you can already see, this definition causes all sorts of problems as to who should be included in it]). Even if both love and political activism are proper terms to describe hippies, what forms of love and political activism to we attach to them? Do hippies endorse violent forms of political activism?

    Furthermore, there was not a political, moral, or cultural homogeneity among hippies. Political attitudes may be modest or radical, far left, left, central, or even right. The fact that so many hippies have turned into political conservatives makes me question whether there was any political unity among hippies at all. The 1960s "revolutions" that the author describes, which would perhaps be more succinctly described as protests, involved different groups of people who were concerned about different issues. Furthermore, the majority of people protesting were not hippies. Are these 1964 UC Berkeley protesters the hippies you are discussing?

    I should think not. What about these Vietnam protesters?

    Also, don't you find it strange how the baby boomers, the generation that defined the 60s for its radicalism, are also the same generation known for their consumption? Isn't consumerism, according to the author, the distinguishing features between the hippies and the hipsters? To be sure, a great many hippies bought the clothing they wore, much like the "hipsters" now.

    I could say more, but, lastly, the author's argument falls apart in the last paragraph of the article. The young hippies who still exist today, those wonderful creatures who love people and are politically active–embodying all that feel-good sixties far-outness — "probably look like hipsters." Politically active loving people who buy a lot of shit and look a specific way, who you would call hipsters, because you would have to, because since hipsters are superficial, anyone adhering to that superficial form must be superficial. But hippies can't be superficial? or can they…

  • Joel

    Just thought I'd chime in and say that I strongly disagree with the author's charges laid against the bands that he identifies as the "hipster" bands of today. Since when do we have to judge the worth of works of art based on their political utility?

    I think the reason why many current bands may seem apolitical is precisely because many young artists these days are equally as off-put by preachy, overtly ideologically-motivated music, as they are by commercially driven top-40 radio singles. Your argument overlooks the fact that political statements can be made aesthetically; that is, they can be made perhaps more implicitly than the soapboxing of yore. In my opinion, to be escapist is to be political, in a sense. Additionally, your argument misses that many DIY spaces and labels can be seen as having political motivations, in that they purposefully do not partake in the commercial music market. This is a choice made by the people behind them, often for fairly profound reasons.

    I believe that the youth of today face a more complicated political climate – with often conflicting opinions being relayed continuously from a variety of different information streams. Is it possible perhaps that we can't write the great protest anthem that comes to so succinctly embody our collective "soul" (that you seem to be searching for), because our soul will never be as singularly focused ever again? or, if it happens to be, only while "worthy cause #1234" is trending on Twitter for a couple internet years?

    • Tsk Tsk

      "To be escapist is to be political". I just threw up. I know I'm taking you wildly out of context, but even the most purebred, Molotov-wielding anarchist would scold you for saying that. Escapism is why Canada has one of the worst voter turnout rates in the world.

    • HipsterBehaviourist

      Here, dear Sheaf readers, we have a classic case of what the psychology community calls "Hipster Denial." It is fascinating to actually be able to witness it live and in action, as this is clearly a hipster, who knows he/she is a hipster, yet is in denial about being a hipster, because being a hipster is now cool, and it is therefore uncool for hipsters to admit to being hipsters, as for hipsters to be uncool is to be cool and to be cool is to be uncool. Fascinating.

  • R F

    Wasn't someone killed at Woodstock?

    • There were two deaths and two births at Woodstock. The deaths were: (1) a guy climbed up the stage scaffolding and fell off, and (2) a guy in a sleeping bag was run over accidentally by a tractor pulling cars out of the mud. I think it's fair to say there weren't any fights. And I do agree with Taylor that generalizations don't work very well, e.g. ascribing some sort of homogeneity to "hippies" or "hipsters". And yeah, people change. But that's true for every subpopulation, including nationalities (e.g. Italians talk with their hands, Irish drink, etc) – there are *tendencies*, characteristics that are more prevalent in some populations than others, but that are not shared by all individuals in that population. That was true for hippies too…but the unifying, I'd say defining characteristic of hippies was the rejection of the dominant culture, especially the profit-hungry commercial aspect. Political activism among hippies varied a lot, in my experience — some hippies just wanted to play a flute in the woods and not sweat the war, others threw themselves on the barricades. (That's why the Yippies, whose declared identity was "political hippies".) But ask them about a career in advertising or money-making of any kind, you'd get the same response. And I also agree that that sensibility survives, in fact it's always been around and always will be, whether or not those who live by it share enough visible phenotype to be labeled a "movement". The moment of the hippies just happened to coincide with a savage imperial war and its draft, the civil rights and feminist movements, mind drugs, rock&roll, and the end of the Fifties. It was a heady mix.

  • Greg

    I like that you took a stand here, Mike. I think that's why you got all these comments, which is wicked. However, I think your argument would have been more persuasive if you focused on music. How many people prefer Neil Young, Bob Dylan, to anything going today? Most. And rightfully so.
    There are great elements in so-called "hipster" music, but a lot of the best stuff, in my opinion, is trying to emulate the music of the sixties and seventies: ariel pink, black mountain, wilco…. on and on and on (although I wouldn't call these bands a "superficial bastardization"). I'd still take Big Star or the Beatles over anything we have going now.

  • Greg

    I want to write an article detailing the dark side of the sixties and seventies Hippie movement… like that book The Elementary Particles…

    • Mike Cuthbertson

      Good points. Indeed, those bands satisfy us rock-revival kids as well as the so-called hipster. You (and others) argue well that my distinction is too extreme. There's nothing wrong with people enjoying trendiness and whatnot. I just wish youth culture today was more organized and had more of a mission.

      Also you should totally write that article. My eyes are too starry when I think about old music. I suppose that makes me pretty biased.

  • Faizaan Ghauri

    This article is baby-boomer exceptionalism at its best.

  • BarbarianSartyr

    Hipster bands have NO BALLS. They are not even a nominal threat to anything.

  • helloalliamalwaysright

    i think Obamacare should include wellness initiatives to include nutritionists, exercise incentives and hipster roundups to test new drugs by giving those things diseases.

  • Forest

    I was never under the impression that ANYONE confused “hipsters” with “hippies.” The two obviously have nothing to do with each other, in really any context.

    I agree with Joel, who said that the criticism of “hipster bands” was a little harsh. Some of these bands actually are very talented and artistic, and happen to also be hip bands. The Jimi Hendrix Experience would be a hipster band if they had started a few years ago and released Electric Ladyland this year. Hendrix was one of the biggest things that Woodstock had to boast about and he never wrote a single song about politics any more than Vampire Weekend has. In fact, I would go as far as to say that Vampire Weekend are MORE socially conscious than he was.

    Before “hipster” became a buzz word, a friend told me I looked like a beatnik. If anything I think the “hipster” movement is more a revival of that aspect of the ’50s and ’60s. Most of the styles and interests are the same. Also, thanks to Faizaan for his or her comment. If this writer really knew much of anything about John Lennon, he would do well to leave him out of it. I am a HUGE John Lennon fan and a HUGER Beatles fan, but I am well aware that outside of talking about love a lot, they mostly stayed out of politics, and Lennon himself sounded like a bleeding-heart if you only listen to his hits, but he was a cynical motherfucker who beat his wives, neglected at least one of his children, and only near the end of his life tried to reconcile any of this stuff.


    • Forest

      My comment is poorly organized, but if anyone wants me to clarify any of my points, I will do so gladly.

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