What Was the Hipster?
The new book “What Was the Hipster? A Sociological Investigation” takes an unexpectedly scholarly look at a subculture that doesn’t even take itself seriously.
“The hipster” is necessarily difficult to define, partly because it’s constantly changing, and partly because nobody wants to admit to being a hipster.
On April 11, 2009 a symposium, “What Was the Hipster?” was put on at The New School by editors of the writers’ journal, N+1, to dispute the origin and definition of, and the attitudes towards, hipsters. The book by the same name is born of the conclusions drawn at the symposium.
“What Was the Hipster” is an analysis of how hipsterdom came into existence. It explores the historical, economic, political, and psychological influences that led to such a large and enigmatic subculture, and whether or not it is still developing. “The purpose of [the book] is to analyze a subcultural formation while it is still happening, from the people who are close to it,” Mark Grief, co-editor of N+1 and Lang professor, wrote in the preface.
There are a plethora of books out there (several of which can be found at the nearest Urban Outfitters) that attempt to define the modern hipster in a funny, ironic way, befitting of the subject matter. “The Hipster Handbook” is a popular parody detailing what characterizes one as a hipster and offers comical definitions (i.e. “WASHes- the waitress and service ‘hipster’”) of hipster fads and terms.
“The Hipster Handbook,” while entertaining, is nothing like “What Was The Hipster?” While “The Handbook” is a kitschy self portrait and inside joke, “What Was the Hipster?” takes an academic and researched approach, dissecting the subculture from a sociological perspective.
Using Norman Mailer’s famous essay “The White Negro,” “What Was the Hipster?” analyzes the origins of the term “hipster.” “The hipster was a white subcultural figure of the 1950s, explicitly defined by the desire of a white avant-garde to disaffiliate from whiteness,” the symposium established. The book proposes many different explanations for the development of “the hipster” ranging from classifying the modern incarnation of “the hipster” as a response to the economic and political attitudes of the 1990s to psychoanalysis of a particularly nostalgic generations’ attempt to rebel.
Jennifer Baumgardner and Pulitzer Prize winning author Margo Jefferson are additional Lang writing professors whose essays are published in the book, as well as a discussion of the hipster epidemic that is taking not only the U.S., but the entire world by storm. The table of contents is packed with prominent names in the literary world, including articles pulled from Time, The New York Times and Esquire, to name a few.