Tag Archives: hipster

If You’re A Hipster And You Know It, Clap Your Hands!

N+1 held launched Mark Greif et al’s “What Was the Hipster? A Sociological Study” this past Friday. Greif, a professor at the New School and N+1 editor, brings the philosophical discourse on hipsters to an academic level in this series of essays and commentaries.

It’s important work. Hipsters, though the butt of many jokes, are the occasion for engagement with our time in history. Though not everyone may have been a hippie, for example, that group is still a locus for important questions that define a historical period. By identifying or not identifying with the group– analyzing the literary, musical, fashion, philosophical, and psychoanalytical  streams present in it–we explore what we are and aren’t members of. It’s a locus, an opportunity, an occasion to explore how we’re participating in history.

Hipsters, for better or worse, are a window to our own moment. Getting clear about what they are will help us get clear about what we are. Greif’s project helps us do this. It covers important ground. But we should go further.

A few weeks ago I wrote my most-read blog post ever, a short essay called “Hipster Defined” where I define hipsters set-theoretically as the group whose members believe they’re not members of any group. This definition entails a formal set-theoretic paradox (what I call the Hipster’s Paradox) since hipsters compose a group, but to be a member of this group one must believe one is not a member of any group whatsoever.

This definition also entails an existential explanation for the term’s pejorative use. Here we are, a group of people trying not to conform but doing so together according to rules we must follow. We’re non-conformists conforming. In that sense the hipster is absurd: there’s a clear reality–that we’re part of a group–but we behave and speak as though we’re not members of any group.

In this way I found Greif’s account histiographically rich but definitionally clunky. His approach doesn’t offer a clear definition. Rather, in line with most of the critical hipster cannon, he provides lists of colorful exemplars alongside a variety of relevant social theories.

In addition to being complex (and possibly ironically self-reflexive) I find this approach politically deflating. It doesn’t offer anything for the future. It doesn’t tell us what to do next, what to make of this hipsterism, how to evolve into something new.

But there is a way to do this. Let’s say we are, in fact, members of a group whose members don’t believe they’re members of any group. If we identify as hipsters, if each of us says “Yes. I am a hipster” then we’ll no longer be absurd. We’d recognize ourselves as being members of a groWe’ll recognize our place in history and achieve a radical authenticity. Our public selves will merge with our private selves and we can just be. We can live in the world, be in it without lies or apathy or disappointment. This would be a psychoanalytic revolution. We’d feel a release. A relief. The heaviness of the hipster would dissolve into self co-incidence and self-centricity.

It doesn’t end there. When I admit I’m the member of a group whose members don’t believe they’re in any group, I’m not part of the group anymore.  I believe I’m the member of a group. The hipster definition is violated. I no longer fit it. I can move on. Once I admit I’m a hipster I’m no longer a hipster. I’m just myself.  And this is a radically human conclusion: I’m a contradiction. I’m part of a group and not part of it. I’m free of society but still bound by it.

At the book release I told Greif about my argument. An extremely warm individual, he laughed and nodded and took it seriously. He said my idea begins where his book ends, that he can’t admit he’s a hipster because he just can’t identify with the group. He said this was a function of his age. He told me that he gave a lecture on hipsters at a university recently and during the question/answer period a young student, obviously a hipster, asked him: “I’m a hipster, what should I do?” Greif said he couldn’t sympathize with her. He told her, “I’m not sure.”

That student had the answer. She admitted she’s a hipster. In that moment of self-awareness she produced the possibility for an answer to her own question. When you admit you’re a hipster you’ll no longer be one and the time for a new moment of authenticity arrives. You’re yourself. You’re free. Celebrate this! If you’re a hipster and you know it, clap your hands!



N+1 declares hipsters dead. This fact is proof to the contrary.

N+1 is publishing a sociological investigation of hipsters.  They argue there is no such thing. (Via Huffington Post)

Though I haven’t read it yet, the book is probably proof against itself. The argument that hipsters are dead is evidence that hipsters are alive and well. Since a hipster is a member of a set that believes it’s not a member of any set, s/he will obviously affirm that there is no such thing as a hipster. According to the formula, by definition, if you assert that there’s no such thing a hipster then you’re actually denying that there’s no such thing as a hipster–which means that there is such a thing as a hipster. By extension if you believe hipsters are dead then it’s actually true that hipsters are alive. Further, by extrapolation, the reason you believe that hipsters are dead is probably because you’re actually a member of the group. This is intuitive: only hipsters talk about hipsters. Only people who have disdain for group membership would make such a claim.

The only way to prove that hipsters are dead is to never think or talk about them.  But this is very difficult given the concept’s powerful grasp in contemporary (elite) discourse.

As I argue in ‘Hipster defined’ the only way to negate the hipster-concept is to admit that you are a hipster. Then you achieve authenticity. So long as you fail to accept your hipster-fate along with the rest of us you’ll be going in skinny-jeaned circles, whether you’re wearing a pair or not.

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.