(Editor’s Note: This article has been more or less in the works for months. Not because it’s that good, but because I’ve been procrastinating. Looking back on it now, I can’t help but smile at my “kids these days” attitude, but I do sincerely believe that (American) youth is in trouble. Also, I want to point out that I use the terms “Hipster” and “Millennial” interchangeably, although I do draw a few distinctions. Lastly, I realize that I didn’t really address Gen X – to which I belong – that falls in the middle of the baby boomers and the Millennials. Truth is we straddle both lines, and are therefore just as bad.)
Young punks. The “Kids.” Slack-jawed youth roaming around doing nothing productive. The same criticism every older generation levels at the one beneath it. A subject that had been addressed myriad times, but regardless I deem it necessary to express my hypothesis if for nothing else, peace of mind. In this piece I’m broadly addressing most Americans currently between the ages of 14 and 30. To differentiate, Hipsters are a culture, whereas Millennials are a generation, but in our rapidly homogenizing society, they are in effect one and the same. Not – as you’ll soon see – that it really matters.
The Hipster. Ah, the designation everyone uses for someone else, no one admits to being a part of, and is absolutely everywhere. In case there was any doubt or confusion, Hipsters encompass 90% of everyone in the United States approximately 30 and down. Of course this is generally speaking, but it is safe to say you know at least ten. It would be impossible not to. The culture is everywhere, but what is it all about and what does it mean for the future?
Do you wear Waldo glasses, sport a handlebar moustache, and enjoy sassy/ironic tee shirts? Have a penchant for girl pants, gauged ears, random tattoos and you like sports? Is your favorite music “everything?” Can you spout clever one-liners with Daniel Tosh-like precision? Are you “madly” in love with your significant other? Married before 25? Divorced? Done enough opiates to land you in sanitarium if this were 1900-1960? Bored by everything? Chances are you’re a Hipster. Don’t feel you fall into that category? Chances are you’re still a Hipster.
I’ve been mulling over the Hipster issue since it truly became a presence in American society, that is to say circa 2005. That’s the year when the first wave of Millennials reached adulthood, and devoid of any defining accomplishments of their own, they decided to pirate bits and pieces of every other generation. Retro everything, Family Guy-esque obscure quips, and a manic attention span became the cornerstones of the American Zeitgeist. With all this rehashed culture to showcase, and all this irony to express, what more efficient way to exploit their cleverness than with the aid of available technology? Or more specifically, technology as it’s used for self promoting over-exposure.
I would trace Hipster beginnings back to the first wave of Social Media programs, notably MySpace. What started off (and remains, to some extent) a good idea, quickly morphed into an anonymous platform on which – ironically – one could promote the hell out of oneself. Collecting friends, customizing your page with videos etc, and the perpetual popularity contest that was the “top eight” list, were the way of the future. This became in a very real sense the only form of validation for many. The problem, of course was (and still is) information overload.
Hours and hours spent on quizzes, writing clever blurbs, uploading pictures and videos. All this geared at 100+ friends that were impossible to have an actual relationship with. I should know. I had several hundred friends on MySpace at one point, and when I cancelled my account in 2006, my social life didn’t change one bit, except perhaps that it became a little less complicated. Fewer people could trace my activities. I didn’t have to be as clever anymore. Soon, MySpace was replaced by Facebook (which I’ve never used, so I can’t really describe) and the circle of life continues.
The rapid fire pace of a life lived inundated in hi-tech everything has led to everything being “played out” within minutes (hence no attention span) and human interaction has been reduced to a detached self-centered quest to advance oneself. Collecting friends, advancing status, dating up, “friending” up, “liking” things for no reason. There’s no time to waste when everything is flying by in fractions of a second. But to not be involved was unthinkable, because that’s how people lived now. This is life, right?
This brings me to my next topic: relationships. Of course, hipsters can’t live 100% in anonymity. No, but things have changed quite a bit. Interpersonal relationships have taken on the manic pace of their online personalities. Relationships blur by, and consequences are seldom considered. Case in point is the Gloucester High School “Pregnancy Pact” where several years ago it became cool to get pregnant sans job, high school education let alone husband. What would have been unthinkable 40 years ago and was still incredibly taboo during my adolescence in the 1990’s is now a badge of honor to some. Why? I would argue it’s the most extreme form of self expression for a teenage girl. After all, without identity or consequences, what’s the big deal?
To be fair, it’s not their fault. The Baby Boomer imposed “Self Esteem” movement that most of these people grew up with left them with little hope. There are no consequences. Someone else can always be blamed. Someone will take care of it. Here’s a medal for losing. This lack of personal responsibility manifests itself in adolescence/adulthood into a hopeless attitude of “who cares?” And truth be told, who does? If something bad happens, it’s someone else’s fault. Parents who can’t cope with adolescent emotions immediately turn to drugging their children. Whatever it takes to keep the kiddies feelin’ good.
The problem of course is that behavior like this is just polishing the proverbial turd. How can someone be expected to relish victory if they’ve never lost? Raw ugly emotions can just as easily be beautiful and fulfilling. But that rocks the boat, interferes with second and third marriages. Gets in the way of yoga class. This mass lobotomization of an entire generation has left the world with the bland mess we have before us. Cleverness will only get someone so far, and when it’s completely aimless, then what’s the point exactly? The point is that there is no point.
In fact, that there is no particular way to describe a Hipster fits perfectly with what the Hipster movement is all about: everything and nothing all at once. Which brings me to the “point” of my diatribe: what’s going to happen when the “someone” who takes care of everything is gone? What will happen when the pills wear off? What happens when rapid-fire living fails and irony just isn’t as clever as it used to be? In short, what happens when all of a sudden this generation becomes responsible for everything?
The wealthiest generation in American history – that is the Baby Boomers – is finally starting to retire/die and is leaving their money to the most hopeless and least educated generation in American history: the Millennials. What this means for the rest of the world, only time will tell. A pessimist by nature, I don’t expect anything good unless a mass change in social consciousness takes place. But what do I know? If such a thing as the sociological equivalent of the efficient market hypothesis exists, then perhaps American society will simply right itself and all this was just the rambling of someone who’s having a hard time accepting that he’s getting old.