I am of two minds when it comes to hipsters.
On the one hand, they are cute. I like their porno mustaches, their ironic 8-track collections, their penchant for Top-Siders and Yacht Rock despite an utter lack of nautical skills. "Aw look," I often think, when I see a mob of them slouching toward me in East London or West Toronto, their 20-20 vision obscured by Napoleon Dynamite geek frames, "maybe I could take one of those hipsters home and keep it for a pet! We could spend our days playing Twister and Donkey Kong and smoking lots of … "
That's usually where the fantasy ends and I remember I have a job, and that unlike the hipsters, I am not interested in cultivating my own "personal style," particularly one that makes me look like the bastard love child of David Sedaris and Joan Jett.
Hipster culture, you may have noticed, has gone global. What started with a few ravers turned graphic designers in Brooklyn's Williamsburg and Berlin's Prenzlauer Berg has been successfully marketed and franchised around the world. In a forthcoming collection of essays entitled What Was the Hipster? A Sociological Investigation (n+1 press), musician Jace Clayton recalls that while working in Mexico City he met a young film student (rocking a huge mustache) who, when asked about his city, responded dolefully, "My neighbourhood is too … hipstery. So I'm moving to La Roma."
And so, the backlash has begun. Ironically, no one hates hipsters as much as hipsters themselves, as illustrated by the Onion headline, Two Hipsters Angrily Call Each Other 'Hipster'. This is because hipsterdom is all about appearing not to care (while caring deeply), nor identifying with any particular tribe (while effortlessly fitting in). Also, it's important to know that before Caribou got big and won the Polaris Prize, he was called Manitoba. Obviously.
The war against hipster culture is now almost as ubiquitous as the cuddly indie bands it has wrought. The fall's hottest movie, The Social Network, about the beginnings of Facebook billionaire Mark Zuckerberg, is a morality tale about what happens when the desire to be cool trumps all else. "A picture of … hipster business enterprise, friendship and rivalry," is how The New Yorker's David Denby summed it up.
And a YouTube parody with the unsubtle title Being a Dickhead's Cool recently garnered well over three million views. It features a catchy pop song with images of kids playing synth in red pleather leggings. Toward the end, there is a series of truly hilarious voice-overs by so-called hipster "dickheads" saying stuff like, "I'm designing my own line of jewellery. It's like a mix of religious iconography with a Saved By the Bell vibe?" and "We're putting on his rave and all the proceeds are going to that thing that happened - you know, in the Middle East or Africa or whatever?"
But recently I was in a pub and noticed a group of banker types in suits and ties passing around an iPad and laughing at the same viral. Suddenly I felt protective of all those hipster kids, with their weirdo style and earnest tattoos (like the 23-year-old Web designer I met at a party, who had an entire passage from a minor Douglas Coupland novel inked in cursive on her forearm, bless). They're just trying to be different, right? Even if they do all look the same.
So are hipsters just a licence for Radiohead to print money, or are they our generation's counterculture? Are the bankers who mock them just like suits who shouted "Get a job!" at the hippy freaks who fought for civil rights in the sixties?
Not exactly, says Mark Greif, a professor at Manhattan's New School (a.k.a. Hipster Harvard), and editor of What Was the Hipster? Unlike hippies, he says, hipsters exist in "a post-sell-out moment. Instead of being avant-garde, it's about being an early adopter." So it's not about challenging mainstream culture as much as interpreting it better than anyone else.
But Sheila Heti, the Toronto novelist and curator of the lecture series Trampoline Hall - a secular church service for practising hipsters if ever there was one - is somewhat more forgiving. Her fascinating new novel, How Should a Person Be? depicts a group of young artists (Heti and her Toronto friends) talking, drinking, screwing around and struggling to make art outside the bourgeois conventions of middle-class urban life. These are truly creative hipsters - though obviously they'd never call themselves that.
"I honestly never think about it," says Heti, when I ask her if she considers herself a hipster. "I'm more concerned about being a good person than being a cool person."
And what could be hipper than that?