Hipster defined.

Table of Contents:

(1) Statement of Question, (2) Instant Anthropological Data, (3) Formal Analysis, (4) Discussion of Analysis, (5) The Hipster’s Problem, (6) Formal Proof of Hipster’s Paradox, (7) ‘Hipster’ Defined, (8) Discussion: Hipsters are Absurd and Insulting, (9) Tragic Though Hopeful Admission of Author, (10) Clarion Call to Action.


The majority of the mainstream literature about hipsters is negative in tone but really asks a question of definition. What is a hipster?


Using convoflow.com and interceder.net I searched for the term ‘hipster’ this morning and found the following videos:


This is the Hipster’s Formula:

x e H : [not (x e M)], where M = {m1, m2, m3…mn}

x is a member of the set H such that it’s not the case that x is a member of the set M, where M is a series of various mainstreams.


To be a member of a set, a thing must have at least one quality. This quality is represented by predicate expressed in natural language: “…is (blank).” For example, let R be the set of all red things. To be a member of R, a thing must have the quality of redness. The predicate here is “…is red.”

Let H be the set of all hipsters. Given the Hipster Formula, the predicate on the hipster set is “…is not a member of M,” where M is the set of various mainstreams.

That is, the quality a thing has to have to be a member of the hipster set is that it doesn’t belong to another series of sets. The predicate on on H is more akin to “…is not a member of any set.”

The hipster is therefore defined by non-belonging. This is problematic. In the Hipster’s Formula there’s the membership sign ‘e‘, which denotes belonging. A hipster is defined by not-belonging, but yet belongs.


From the above videos it’s clear that hipsters desire not to be included in any set but their own. They claim independence from any other set. Represented formally:

x e H : [not (x e S)]

x is a member of H such that it’s not the case that x belongs to any set.

Here, S is a placeholder for any set in the set of all sets. S could be any set. Observe that H is a set. This is the hipster’s problem. Their desire constitutes a paradox.


(a) Every member of the hipster set belongs to a set, H.
(b) The predicate on H is “…doesn’t belong to any set.”
(c) H is itself a set, belonging to the set of all sets.
(d) Hipsters, belonging to a set and the set of all sets, define themselves as not belonging to any set.


I offer line (d) in the above proof as a definition of ‘hipster’. A hipster is someone that belongs to a set that defines itself as not belonging to any set.


What we find constant in the hipster literature (videos, music, fiction, non-fiction, etc) is a desire to not be part of any group. This is a constant state of irony, the most appropriate definition of which may be found in Donald Barthelme’s short story “Kierkegaard unfair to Shlegl.” To paraphrase, Barthelme writes that irony occurs when an individual takes away the reality of a thing in order to be free from it. Hipsters are ironic about everything because they desire to be free from everything: free from categorization, free from definition, free from any association. This irony is the subject of criticism for good reason. The hipster’s irony is founded on a non-sensical ground: they attempt collectively to not be members of any collective. Their group is composed of members that want not to be members of any group. They are, in Camus’ sense, absurd. Their desires and actions are convinced of a reality that is clearly not the case. They live a farce of independence, believing they aren’t members of any group while defining their group in this way.

This existential absurdity is compounded in a Marxist light. Living in a hierarchically capitalist society, hipsters are members of the middle-to-upper-middle class. They are bourgeois. They are the bourgeois who, by definition, don’t want to be bourgeois.  But their membership in the bourgeois is what enables them to want not to be bourgeois. Beyond absurd, this makes the hipster an insult to every other economic group: those that have wealth and want it and those that don’t have wealth and want it. Beyond absurd, the hipster is insulting. This explains why the term ‘hipster’ is more commonly used as an accusation than anything else.


I admit to being a hipster. I have many qualities that identify me with this group. I’m therefore tragic. In my definition of “them” I’ve described hipsters from a removed, third-person voice. I attempt not to be hipster by being ironic, but in this attempt I become hipster.

However, there is hope in this tragedy.

If I say I’m a hipster I negate the hipster’s absurdity. When I include myself in the group that wants not to be members of any group, I include myself in a group. If I do this then I’m no longer absurd because I recognize that I am a member of a group that wants not to be members of any group. If all hipsters  do this, if we say that we are in fact hipsters, we will no longer be absurd. If we include ourselves as members of a group that recognizes its desire not to be members of any group we will achieve authenticity.

If we unite in the truth of ourselves we will become ourselves.




10 responses to “Hipster defined.

  1. I would argue that Hipsterdom has followed the general path of many topical or trend based mass-identities:
    – Pioneering
    – Backlash (in a good way), proud to be hated
    – Mass adoption
    – Bastardization
    – Dilution
    – Fragmentation
    – Backlash (in a bad way), defensive or evasive to avoid hating

    Fragmentation is what leads to the current state of confusion, i think… that within this “non-set” Set of Hipsters, there in fact exists several subsets (ie the “trustafarian,” the “self-loathing hipster,” the “escape my midwest roots” hipster, the “me-too” hipster, the “self denying” hipster, the “weekend” hipster (my favorite), etc)

  2. I can’t help but feel that this is a bit unfair. Owing to computer circumstances, I can’t see the videos, so maybe I am slightly mistaken, but it seems to me that the reason that no one would self-define as a hipster is because this is a pejorative term used by people to describe people that they view as being fashion obsessed and engaged in the pursuit of seeming cool (that is to say people that they consider vapid). You’re own article makes it seem like a pretty unsavory category to find oneself in. Also irony is a negative trait that can be attributed to some, but in my experience by no means all or even the majority of hip people, and here it is held to be a defining characteristic. I think it might be a bit more fair to examine smaller traits ie defining fashions, music tastes, and cultural habits and build from the ground up rather than from a logical definition down to a large subculture that is ultimately filled with diverse people.

    Also, it seems a bit classist to say that because the hip largely come from a bourgeois background that they should inherently be comfortable with their inherited wealth. It seems natural for a person, especially an educated and liberal/left-leaning person, to feel some sense of tension and even guilt at the knowledge that by accident of birth and often-times a largely unfair and exploitative national history, they should be presented with vastly more advantages and comforts than other people who did not have the luck of the draw. People have all sorts of motives and goals, and I don’t really see how it is insulting to a poorer person who desires wealth, for a middle class person to seek meaning in life through creative endeavors (which I think is a hallmark of most bohemian movements from the Romantic period on). To put in another light, suppose instead we were talking about someone from a middle class background who, say, became a monk. It would be hard to seriously say that this is insulting to people who desire the material wealth that he has apparently renounced. Why should this religious goal be treated any differently than a creative one? I would even go as far as to say that the creative one is loftier due to its involving real things rather than supposed beings that are only taken to exist on faith, but that is merely my own irreligious-ness speaking.

    As to the possibility that the videos really disprove this thought, I’m not sure a selection of youtube videos which were likely uploaded in the interest of humor/being-outrageous-so-as-to-generate-hits should be taken as presenting a fair and nuanced picture of a vast subculture.

    Sorry for clogging your comment section with this rant. It just seems really harsh to me to make a really negative description of an entire subculture. Also it just occurred to me now, that perhaps your whole post was merely meant in jest and I missed the joke and instead wrote a long response. If that is the case then Whoops!

  3. adding to the depression of hipsters everywhere reading this article. good read tho!

  4. The error I see is that the author attributes a volitional element to identity when in fact the relationship is inverse. In my thinking, the nature of an insult doesn’t lie in claiming that X is Y and Y is bad, but rather in X is Y. The minute you tell me that I am this or that social identity, I’m immediately put on a strange ground wherein I’m either falling short of being just that (the popular liberal nonchalance with respect to identity, “I’m just me”, etc) or I try harder to be that (fundamentalists, over zealous patriots, ethnic groups that intensify their belonging to a group to the point of approaching stereotype [as an educated black male, I actually find myself doing this out of nowhere]).

    It’s as if language and becoming are asymmetrical, and the reason why I think this is a purely modern discovery is because it was only after the Enlightenment that we threw off parochial identity, which everyone thought was completely natural, and discovered a more universal element to human nature (which we obviously didn’t learn all at once!).

    Now, I don’t mean to say that hipsters are philosophically profound in their listless existence, just that they highlight a particular problematic of modernity that has yet to be solved and is of highest political/social relevance: how do we belong together without belonging to any particular thing at all? How do we belong together without having to be any X at all (and I dare to say, even human?)

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  6. Great piece – I loved it and sent it to several friends who enjoyed it as well. As for your anthropological data, A+; but you should also check out the hipster olympics on youtube. It’s kind of long, but pretty much covers every aspect of hipsterdom (I particularly enjoy the bit about the atm).

  7. This is fun and all, but I think you are making it overly complicated. A hipster is a person who attributes worth to something based on its hipness rather than any other value. And liking something just because it’s cool ain’t cool, man.

  8. I don’t even know where to start here, but I do know one comment made me bristle: that ‘hipsters’ are some form of sub-culture. I don’t see anything ‘sub’ about them. I tend to agree with the author–they are (largely) privileged enough to “know” their privilege through and through, yet they can’t seem to muster enough courage to confront the very thing they despise (which, ironically, is themselves). Instead they try to rationalize a new ‘hipness’ that really just stands in for a corporatized media in prescribing what is and what is not acceptable.

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  10. Pingback: The Beauty of Hipster Porn | davidbackerdigitalin-itself

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