They can be seen more frequently than ever before on college campuses, wearing flannel and thick-rimmed glasses while listening to indie music. One might find them playing unusual musical instruments, shopping at second-hand stores or expressing themselves in other unique ways.
They call themselves hipsters. Being “hip” used to mean following the latest fashion. But gradually the word has evolved into a synonym for “cool”, “edgy” and “quirky”.
Hipsters value independent thinking, progressive politics, an appreciation of creativity and intelligence. Hipsters take pains and pride in not being mainstream. However, their culture has become quite trendy. This irony is central to their culture and offers an interesting paradox.
“I do take things in the mainstream with a grain of salt,” says Ben Polson, a college student at Brown University in the US. Polson describes himself as a hipster and says he often questions what determines popularity, especially regarding music.
When lesser-known bands become popular they often lose their former fan base in exchange for a new one. There is a famous hipster cliché that goes: I used to like that band before it got popular.
According to Polson, bands’ music changes when they go mainstream. They become “less experimental, doing things just to save popularity and fans. The original elements that we were drawn to slowly dwindle for the sake of popularity.”
Many young adults have started to view hipsters’ outlook as cool and are adopting their counterculture mindset themselves. This has led to specialized brands, stores and music for the hipster niche. Ironically, some such stores, including clothing labels Urban Outfitters and American Apparel, have gained mainstream popularity. This has seemingly diluted the anti-mainstream culture.
许多年轻人开始觉得“潮人”的外形很酷，并自发接受他们的反主流文化心态。这产生了一批“潮人”专属的小众品牌、商店以及音乐。然而出乎意料的是，包括服装品牌Urban Outfitters和American Apparel在内的一些商店都受到了主流文化的欢迎。似乎这也冲淡了反主流文化。
“A lot of people that are self-defined hipsters aren’t really hipsters, they’re just trying to conform to the non-conformist to seem cooler,” says Amanda Leopold, a college student from Oberlin College, US. Although Leopold has many unconventional tastes and seems quite individualist, she refuses to classify herself as a hipster.
There is a conflict among hipsters about the very definition of the label. To some, to be a hipster is to be free from cultural constraints. To others, it means wearing a certain style and listening to a specific genre of music. The former constantly strives for uniqueness, while the latter strives not to be mainstream.
And yet, the movement is gaining mainstream popularity. “It’s kind of the trend these days; everyone wants to be hip so no one’s hip,” laments Leopold. “There have been hipsters since the seventies, it’s only become popular recently.”
Hipsters reject materialism and mock mainstream culture. But are they really beyond material comforts? Do they have any ideas of their own if they despise mainstream so much?
Christy Wampole, an associate professor of literature at Princeton University, US, is not so sure. She says the hipster is a contradiction in himself and an easy target of mockery. Writing in The New York Times, Wampole paints a less appreciative picture of a typical hipster:
“The hipster is a scholar of social forms, a student of cool. He studies relentlessly, foraging for what has yet to be found by the mainstream. He is a walking citation; his clothes refer to much more than themselves. He tries to negotiate the age-old problem of individuality, not with concepts, but with material things.”