What is Hipster?

12 Mar

Q: How many hipsters does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: Two. One to change it in an ironic fashion and one to get it.

Last weekend at the Black Keys concert at the Joe Louis Arena, a mother and teenage daughter edged into their seats next to me in between acts. The mom was slim and freshly made up, the cowl neck of her slouchy metallic thread sweater hanging just so across her clavicles.

After extolling the virtues of the new women’s bathroom at the Joe and grousing that her daughter wasn’t going to get her some popcorn, she cast her eyes over the 20,000 people surrounding us and declared, “Ooh, look at all the hipsters.”

I bit my tongue. I mean, come on, it was a Black Keys concert. Who’d you expect would be there? It was as if she was standing outside the Roman Coliseum announcing, “Ooh, look at all the Italians.”

Q: How many hipsters does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: Some obscure number you’ve never heard of.

Harvard researchers have been getting a lot of credit for determining what qualifies one to be considered a hipster. (This is automatically suspect for, as my daughter will assure you after living with me for sixteen years, the last people qualified to define hipness is a bunch of Harvard grads.) The researchers followed 200 college students’ Facebook profiles over four years to track how they acquired or shared musical tastes.

Turns out that while college students become friends due to common interests in music, they don’t influence their friends’ future tastes all that much. As a kid starts to appreciate an indie band, he attempts to hoard the awesomeness of the discovery for himself. If his friends start liking the band, too, the spell is broken. The hipster moves on, leaving his friends behind to extoll the virtues of yesterday’s news.

In other words, Harvard spent years and countless thousands of dollars to prove what teenagers have known for years: you’re only as cool as the friends you’re cooler than.

Q: How many hipsters does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: Who cares? It’ll just be another tired rehash of the way Lou Reed changes light bulbs.

Dan Auerbach (left) and Patrick Carney (right) and Patrick Carney's hipster glasses (upper right)

But what happens when an indie band—let’s say one from Akron featuring a red-headed, sometimes bearded guitarist and a lanky drummer with Buddy Holly glasses—starts playing stadiums?  How could so many hipsters deign to show up, much less buy t-shirts, broadcasting their love of a band that is now appealing to the masses?

I can only hope it’s because they can put their Starbucks and flannel aside and be happy (without quotation marks) to enjoy an evening with two talented musicians who have gotten wildly popular because of the quality of their music.

I would have shared this revelation with the mom next to me, but she cut out before the encore.

Poser.

Q: How many hipsters does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: You mean you don’t know?

See you on the flip side …

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9 Responses to “What is Hipster?”

  1. Pam Houghton March 13, 2012 at 8:18 am #

    That was funny. I am definitely not hip.

  2. Hunter March 13, 2012 at 10:15 am #

    Actually the right answer to the lighbulb question is “an obscure number you’ve probably never heard of”

    • Hunter March 13, 2012 at 10:16 am #

      Nevermind I see you got to that answer later. I just knew it before it was cool.

  3. every record tells a story March 14, 2012 at 4:48 pm #

    Funny post – thanks. I like the idea of someone spotting “Hipsters”…
    My review of their London gig is on my site, if you’re not to cool to look: http://everyrecordtellsastory.com/2012/02/11/the-black-keys-best-band-in-the-world-right-now/

  4. vdafilms March 15, 2012 at 3:18 pm #

    Are they still considered hipster if they are the official band of NCAA March Madness?

    • lpon45 March 15, 2012 at 11:15 pm #

      Good point, Kat. This raises all kinds of existential questions:

      1. At what point does an indie band become mainstream?
      2. Does popularity extinguish a band’s hard-earned coolness?
      3. Is granting rights to the NCAA selling out or well-deserved pay for great material (especially in this age of pirated music)?

      What do you folks think?

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Howlin’ for You: The Black Keys at the Joe Louis Arena | LP on 45 - September 20, 2014

    […] Since I saw them in 2011, the Black Keys have cemented their status as a straight up, non-pop, 21st-century rock-and-roll band. For the two dudes from Akron, there wasn’t another choice. As Carney said in Rolling Stone, […]

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