Shortly before I moved to Whistler a month ago I acquired my first iPhone. One of the benefits (and occasional drawbacks) of the new device was I could finally be part of a family group message that has morphed to include three of my cousins, their father and both of my sisters.
A string of messages pop up throughout the day. Some are serious, some tedious, but mostly it serves as a platform for ceaseless ribbing. One example: when the term "hipster" came up in a recent conversation.
"I am on the union bargaining committee," my cousin wrote, obviously referring to his job.
"For the United Brotherhood of Hipsters?" my uncle shot back.
(Context: the former is very stylish and the latter is very funny.) This devolved into an argument about which of us is the most "hipster," ending with an admission from my uncle, "I don't really know what a hipster is."
He's not alone. In the last few years the mainstream media has come up with some seriously embarrassing feature segments and stories about the advent of the insulting archetype. (One CBC Vancouver piece I listened to in passing last summer while getting ready for work comes to mind.)
Hell, I lived in Brooklyn, widely considered hipster capital of the world, and I still don't really know what to make of this useless term. Still, I found myself using it, almost against my will, to describe my local coffee shop, for example, its wooden benches crammed with 20-something graphic designers and freelance writers staring at laptops from behind their black-rimmed glasses while Animal Collective seeped from their headphones.
But even people who fit this description (as admittedly I sometimes did) won't own the title. More telling: Urban Dictionary, the bible of slang and dissector of pejoratives, also can't seem to come up with a simple definition.
That's why the B.C. government's ill-advised and widely panned "Hipster is Not a Real Job" campaign was a complete flop. As part of the initiative, a series of ads to promote mostly skilled-trade jobs by directing people to its Career Trek website were posted on transit lines and campuses around the province. The most contentious sign was the one mentioned above.
Don Draper certainly wasn't the mastermind behind this one. You almost have to feel sorry for the copywriter. Presumably, the government's intention was simply to appeal to a younger demographic, but instead it got a barrage of unfavourable media coverage and a collective "duh" from the group they were trying to target.
"Yeah, spend tax money making fun of our youth," tweeted one person.
"Insulting the unemployed isn't funny," wrote another.
Publications from the Atlantic to the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail also noted the misstep. As the Atlantic's Richard Florida wrote, taglines and campaigns that attempt to create a buzz "tread a fine line and can easily backfire. Hit the mark and they can stimulate interest and buzz. Over-shoot it, and the message can be missed entirely."
We know dressing trendy and acting pretentious about music and art isn't a job. To suggest otherwise is both unfunny and a little insulting. But there's a bigger lesson behind this missed marketing mark: it's time to retire the word entirely.
The contemporary term (not to be confused with the 1940s version, mostly associated with the rise of jazz) was coined in the '00s as indie rock — another vague and unhelpful tag, but that's another column entirely — and a new subculture was beginning to form. Since then, indie rock has become a mainstream catchall that includes white bread music that doesn't fit in the top 40 slot, and that archetype look can be purchased from an Urban Outfitters on every second city block. In short, the term that was originally meant to describe a sliver of youth perceived to be too cool now takes aim at an even larger demographic, all of which shun the title.
Signs that the word should have been banned from our lexicon were emerging back in 2006 with an article in the satirical publication The Onion (generally believed to be loved by hipsters). Under the headline "Two Hipsters Angrily Call Each Other 'Hipster,'" the story jokingly chronicles a fight that erupts when "local hipsters Dan Walters and Brian Guterman" start angrily calling each other — well you get the idea.
It's all so exhausting and ridiculous that I feel a little guilty perpetuating the conversation. So, here's what I propose: a complete ban on the word in the media, in everyday conversation and especially by the government of B.C. Let's be a little more creative when hurling insults or attempting to describe a demographic that's more diverse and nuanced than "hipster" captures.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go enjoy a nice, cold PBR while unwrapping my new Centipede Hz vinyl. Just don't tell my family.
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