STYLIST: Jennifer Tse
The era of cynicism, skinny jeans, gold lamé onesies, Wayfarers, Williamsburg and writing words without vwls is over.
Hipsters are obsolete.
On the evening of November 4, as the hipster movement was in its final throes, a boisterous Trevor Coleman led a march across Yonge-Dundas Square armed with a megaphone, a bottle of discount sparkling wine and an American flag.
Usually seen (and being seen) at parties, after-parties and on photo websites devoted to parties and after-parties, the 27-year-old party promoter oft called King of the Hipsters was making a rare political statement.
He and dozens of others were gathering to celebrate Barack Obama's election victory, and with it the implosion of the forward-looking, irony-loving, style-obsessed, Internet-famous, carefree, cynical-beyond-cynical, all-hail-the-party hipster movement.
Like every other subculture of cool (hippie, punk, grunge), the modern hipster went from irreverent to irrelevant without actually changing what they were doing.
After Obama won the White House, Robert Dobbs Jr., a blogger and self-described hipster who lives in Brooklyn (ground zero for hipster cool), wrote the definitive end-of-days manifesto for the movement.
Writing under the name Blognigger (ironic decontextualizing of the word "nigger" is extremely hipster), Dobbs argued that there is no more room for laissez-faire attitudes or "being cynical about shit and listening to Interpol," and that a lifestyle of not caring is no longer tenable.
"Being cynical is FUN, and it gets you pussy, but that's not an actionable world view," he wrote as BlogNGR (his slightly less offensive yet vowel-challenged alias). "As far as the actual, important, REAL issues are concerned, your cynicism is as useless as a hippie's blonde dreads - and from now on it is obsolete."
It was an impressive essay, partly because it appeared on the site Street Carnage, managed by the ultimate hipster, Gavin McInnes, co-founder of scene bible Vice Magazine. Mostly it just made sense. At some point during Obama's presidential campaign, an earnest, productive, engaged youth class was born out of a real desire for change.
Hipsters essentially became hopesters.
Hipsterism began in the early 2000s, when the youth reaction to George Dubya was one of cynicism. No matter how many protests, protest songs, demonstrations and documentaries, youth opinion no longer mattered - and not just to the U.S. government, but to record labels, movie studios, newspapers, TV stations and other purveyors of popular culture.
The protohipsters of eight years ago turned to the Internet, downloading songs for free instead of buying them, following Internet celebrities instead of movie stars, reading (and writing) blogs instead of newspapers.
"Technology has played a huge part in shaping this culture. People don't necessarily rely on major media outlets like they used to," says Eve Fiorillo, one-half of Toronto DJ/promotion duo A.D/D. As if to prove her point, Fiorillo, who appeared with her breast exposed in a local publication recently, forgets the name of the magazine.
While Vanity Fair declared that the post-9/11 period would be the end of irony and the beginning of the "new sobriety," the hipster response was "What the fuck is Vanity Fair?"
Unlike the hippies of the 1960s and early 70s or Generation Xers in the 90s, this counterculture made a statement by making no statement, because no one was listening anyway.
At least until a young, black Democrat named Obama started showing up on T-shirts, posters and YouTube.
By early 2008, hipsters could be found in the downtown of any large city in North America. They go to parties at dingy Chinese restaurants that turn into bars in the morning hours, guzzle discount brands of beer and take photos of themselves to post online - without a thought to what their bosses at American Apparel or Urban Outfitters might think. They show no reverence for anything, decontextualize everything and generally view the world through a thick lens of irony, even though they wear only non-prescription glasses.
"With the Internet, you can reach 4 per cent of the population and still be pretty famous," says Trevor Coleman. "Andy Warhol said everyone will get their 15 minutes. Now it's more like 15 megabytes."
Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, blogs and most of all party-photo websites like lastnightsparty, thecobrasnake and, locally, sharkvsbear have exposed hipsters to an unintended audience of the too old and too young, not to mention corporations like Red Bull and Skyy Vodka, some of the many companies that see profit potential in sponsoring hipster parties. The counterculture became a consumer culture.
When the media take note of a subculture, it always spells doom. Ask the grunge movement of the 90s. A few well-placed newspaper stories and the plaid shirt/ripped jeans image was bought and sold in stores, understood by parents and, most importantly, no longer on the edge or of the moment.
So far, hipsterism has avoided that fate because there is no singular hipster identity. Hipsters adopt and discard different fashions and music at breakneck speed, embracing trends so rapidly that no one label can be applied: from metal to MGMT in less than a week.
Some say it's moving too fast. Fiorillo cites once-trendy Brazilian baile funk as an example. "Nobody ever mixes that any more, and that's too bad."
Beginning last year, the mainstream media began a concentrated effort to define the new party-obsessed subset - or at least pick a label that would stick.
"Hipster," a term first applied in the 1940s to young, urban, middle- and upper-class whites who shunned wealth and privilege in order to emulate hep African-American jazz cats, was generic enough to work. The inevitable spinoffs followed: "blipster" is what the New York Times called a black hipster, for instance.
"There definitely is this pulsing culture with a really colourful, powerful vibe, with a look and a sound," says Fiorillo of things under the hipster umbrella. "It references all these other cultures and blends them in a kaleidoscopic mix."
Yet "the whole thing about hipsters," says Fiorillo, "is that everyone refers to hipsters, but no one with any integrity would ever call themselves one. It has, um, lame connotations."
Sarah Nicole Prickett, a Toronto blogger and journalist who was once a fringe hipster ("I never got too deep into it") says the end is nigh for hipsters, and uses the term almost as a form of therapy.
"For a long time I really didn't like saying the word ‘hipster,' but now I do because I feel it's the first step toward rehabilitation," she says.
Like BlogNGR, Prickett has her own controversial blog on the subject, connecting the end of hipsterism to the proliferation of American Apparel stores, the hipster clothing label of choice.
"In the hipster hegemony, so uselessly defined by anti-establishmentarianism, an empire falls merely by becoming one," she argues on the torontoist blog. American Apparel has become an empire. Hipsterism, she says, has done the same.
Kavin Wong, a T.O. party photographer who runs the site sharkvsbear, seems less convinced the subculture has reached its apex, or that hipsters even populate his photos. (He describes his subjects as "youths.")
"There will always be a few kids who are more stylish and innovative. And there will always be adopters. Right now, this particular look and feel has passed the limping point," he says of the increasingly homogeneous dress code at the parties he photographs.
But these young people aren't just marked by the same fashion, but also by the fashion in which they party. The archetypical photo on sharkvsbear and similar sites shows a barely age-of-majority female willingly posing on the bathroom floor of some club.
"When I was 20, I was doing the same thing. It's not a big deal at that age," says Fiorillo. "It's not really a bad thing unless you go off the deep end."
The careless (reckless?) debauchery, ever-changing fashion and photographic documentation of it all is unsustainable.
"I don't think this kind of economy can support hipsterism. It's at once superficial and superfluous. Those are the first things to go," Prickett explains. "If you're smart, you can see through it pretty quickly: hipster is not a career. Being on party blogs won't get you anywhere."
But being visible on the Internet does have its pluses. Obama's online presence helped make his image, and now it's iconic to hipsters all over the world. Eventually, he made the hipsters care.
With their candidate running the free world and their style and party choices finally accepted by society, hipsters have nothing left to not care about.