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.