On Hipsters and Curmudgeons
I thought I was becoming a curmudgeon, but now I don't think that is true.
A few months ago I was talking to a friend of mine about how I thought I was becoming curmudgeonly regarding technology. I have a notion (that many share, I might note) that the early web was better. Since I've been making webpages on Neocities, I think I am of the opinion that much of the current web has no soul. When I shared this with him, he asked me if any of the sites on Neocities were just ironic recreations of Geocities-styled websites, and if the irony bothered me. I affirmed that there were a lot of pages on the site that rely on that sort irony and that no, this did not bother me. He said that if the irony didn't bother me, then I'm not a curmudgeon. I think he is right. I'm no curmudgeon. If anything I'm some form of the dreaded hipster.
The "hipster" is one of the most maligned individuals in our culture, but the constantly shifting definition of the term makes it almost useless. It can be applied to anyone for almost any reason. If five people close their eyes and imagine a hipster, they will propbably have five different variations of hipster in their minds. The only thing that their envisioned hipster will have in common is that he is loathsome... and probably has a mustache. I think a redefinition of the term could be good. So here's a more optimistic and useful definition: Hipsters are individuals that employ a mix of sincerity, irony, contrarianism, and sometimes affectation to attain some level of cultural and emotional growth.
Curmudgeons value authenticity, sincerity, and contrarianism, but they never care about growth of any kind. Growth is antithetical to the curmudgeon. And they can never be accused of affectation, because they are absolutely sincere in their weirdness.
At first glance, hipsters can resemble curmudgeons due to some shared values. They both like contrarianism and authenticity. This is reflected in both groups' love of things that are outmoded. A hipster and a curmudgeon could conceivably both only listen to music on cassette tape, but for entirely different reasons that might look the same at first glance (the hipster to engage in contrarianism or irony, the curmudgeon because he thinks all new things are bad and dismisses them). Also, I will not dent that they can both be grating and annoying.
When my friend brought up the idea that if I embrace irony I can't be a curmudgeon, it seemed to fit. I'm not a curmudgeon. I think irony is an important tool to use to engage in culture. Irony bothers the curmudgeon because it undermines his complete authenticity. I think that that hipsters often wish they were curmudgeonly because that checks the box of authenticity. But it does not include the cultural and emotional growth that is also important to the hipster. Hipsters can only play at curmudgeonity because the goals of a hipster and a curmudgeon are different. The hipster wants to grow; the curmudgeon wants to stay the same.
I think this is lucky for the hipster because the curmudgeon is on a much darker path. A path that leads to cultural and emotional ruin: the path of the crank.