Excerpts from the Hipster Law Treatise
“Hipster” is a word holy to some, yet bandied about by many who view it as a kiddy-club; joinable by any post-undergraduate, Lower East Side-moving gadfly with greasy hair and a Puma jumpsuit. This Treatise seeks to clarify and define “hipster,” a goal as elusive as the finding of Waldo, Nemo, or Devo1. Yet through a historical analysis and a review of the black-letter law, this author hopes he has at least separated the good from the bad and the ugly.
§ 1.1 Forms of Hipster:
The debate over “hipster”’s etymology has raged for decades, however a clear timeline of its derivation can be captured with clarity: “Hipster” first came on the scene in the 1930s, initially as part of elitist parlance2. The word conveyed a brash, lucid state of courage, confidence, and intellect3. During that era, hipster too was often used in cloak-and-dagger manners: In Vichy France in 1942 “hipster” was a codeword at the door of the Le Lune, an underground meeting hall/burlesque show. One recited, in casual tones, “Je suis l’hipster,” to be admitted. Although the exact purpose of the meeting hall remains unknown to this day, there are firsthand accounts from Shmuel DeGaul who believed it was a method of keeping out the contra populare, or, the unpopular. Shmuel, in 1943, was quoted as saying of the meeting hall, “Toujour je sais qu’il y a beaucoup drole chose dans l’interior. Mais pour moi je n’ai vu rien” 4—roughly translated, “I always know there are much fun things in there, but for me I saw nothing.
In the early 1950s the protean meaning and usage of “hipster” took its first radical shift in meaning. Jazz musicians traveling from New Orleans to New York used the term to connote a “hep-cat,” or “one who had both rhythm and soul.” 5. In 1951 at the World Famous Cotton Club in Harlem, Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Fats Waller, Billy Holiday, and the Count Basie Orchestra went up on stage in an unprecedented fusion of styles, both old and new to the jazz form. At the end of the set Louis was quoted as saying, “For a fat man, a Jew, a broad and a Drag Queen, these kings and queens of swing are the baddest hipsters this side of the Mississippi. Doo Bee Doo Da, Diddly Dop, Ba Wa!” 6.
Louis Armstrong’s words reverberated off the walls of the Cotton Club and into the vocabulary of the mainstream. Soon after, various sub- and countercultures attempted to shape “hipster” in their own image. Andre Breton, in his waning years, called Marcel DuChamp “the worlds greatest and only hipster.” The agèd DaDaists later denounced this as hyperbole. Reflecting upon their nihilist aesthetic the group released a public statement in 1954 saying, “The Hipster is nothing O0o0O, the Hipster is ~everything~, no-one & everyone. The hipster is +Jesus+, and the *Devil*, light and dark. But most of all the hipster is ﴾vaGina﴿.”
The bohemians and beatniks of the 1950s took Louis Armstrong’s pronouncement literally. Congregating in clustered Manhattan, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and others set out to explore the essence of what it meant to be “a fat man, a Jew, a broad or a drag queen.” Kerouac declared, “If hipster is a fault, then I don’t wannabe right,” and thousands of poets and writers of all varieties followed his lead, swarming cities like an infestation of vermin. And it is in New York and other metropolises such as San Francisco, New Orleans, the Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C., and two city blocks in Los Angeles7 where they remain.
§ 1.2 Norms of the Hipster:
By now, it should be apparent that “hipster” is an umbrella term, concerning a variety of disciplines all with important historical theoretical and operational differences. Rather than derive the various strains of hipster discussed above, we provide various black-letter laws that unite these diverse fields, giving a sense of cohesion and boundaries to the lifestyle and its rules. These rules are delineated in terms of what is the hipster is and what it is not. Via this method we hope to highlight the image, etiquette, and ethic of the hipster, elucidating its content while concurrently distancing it from its banal, and ubiquitous doppelgänger: the pseudo-hipster.
§ 1.3 The Art and Lifestyle of the Hipster:
§ 1.3.1 Fashion:
A Hipster does not shop at Urban Outfitters to find faux Goodwill clothes to jauntily stroll the streets of the East Village in high style; rather a Hipster shops at Goodwill because, you know, you spent your last $4.35 on a 40 oz. and three games of Bubble Bobble, and, besides, the old guy who puts out the clothes always hides the cool shirts with the faux-mother-of-pearl buttons because several weeks ago you bought him a 40 as well.
§ 1.3.12 Hairstyle:
A hipster’s hairstyle might resemble, say, that of Squiggy, the goofy character from the sitcom “Laverne & Shirley,” because, perhaps, you cut your own hair, wasted at 3:00 a.m., because you spent your last $4.35 on a 40 oz. and three games of Bubble Bobble, where feeling dejected on account of failure to attain the high score, you sought to reïnvent yourself through your shears and, let’s face it, you barely escaped with your ears intact.
§ 1.3.2 Charity/Concern for Others:
Hipsters do not donate blood for the good and welfare of society; hipsters give blood because when you give a pint it takes fewer to get fucked up. Further, if you stand up from the gurney real quick right after the nurse takes out the needle you get a pretty mean almost-whip-it-like buzz going.
§ 1.3.3 Ecology:
The hipster recycles, not for concern for the environment, but because of the cost benefit is not even close when it comes to letting cans sit in the house attracting fruit flies vs. killing three birds with one stone by (1) taking out the trash, and (2) making $4.35 in refund money.
§ 1.3.4 Nutrition:
The hipster is not a vegan for health’s sake or for hippie love of cows. Hipsters eat vegan-style because, again, you spent your last $4.35 and all that’s in the fridge is your roommate’s broccoli, lettuce, soy milk, and Fakin’ Bacon.
§ 1.3.5 Alcohol:
Hipsters love Pabst Blue Ribbon, not because it is cheap swill; hipsters buy Pabst Blue Ribbon and non-ironically love it because of Captain Pabst, a steamship captain on the Great Lakes who had a “strong belief in the future of American industry,” who married a local brewmeister’s daughter named Marie, bought the father’s business and subsequently turned the little micro-brewery operation into one of the most successful transnational corporations in American history8, and because it is on special.
§ 1.3.5 Art:
Hipsters do not consider anything art that objectifies woman. Hipsters do consider pornography art.
§ 1.3.51 Morrissey:
Hipsters love Morrissey for his lyrics, and they dig the asexuality (and deny the homosexuality)9.
§ 2.0 Identification:
The hipster never refers to him- or herself as such—ever! The hipster does call your own voicemail to remind yourself not to forget your (1) job interview; (2) obligation to pick up your grandmother; or (3) rent check is past-due ten days.
1 . Devo’s last known public appearance was its Oct. 26, 2001, performance at Tony Hawk’s Boom Boom Huckjam in Anaheim, California; the band has not played since. To learn more, visit the unofficial Devo fan club Web site at http://www.freedomofchoice.com/devo/ [last updated Mar. 26, 2004].
2. See J. SMILEY, Hash House Lingo, 31 (hipster: a know-it-all) (1941); MEZZROW & WOLFE Really Blues, 374 (hipster: man who’s in the know, grasps everything, is alert) (1946 ); Partisan Rev. XV. 722 (Carrying his language and his new philosophy like concealed weapons, the hipster set out to conquer the world) (1948).
4. SeeFrancois Lorand, LE VIN ET L’AGONIE, 1972 (Random House, Paris).
5. See OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY, THE FIVE STAIR STEPS, “Ooh, Ooh, Child…” (1970).
6. See Jonathan Richter, “Louis Armstrong; A Biography of Beedy Dip Bop, Deedily Da,” 72, 1959 (Penguin, New York).
7. Note L.A. is a city empty of soul, originality, and art, but Vermont Avenue between Los Feliz and Sunset is cool.
8. See http://www.pabst.com/flashsite/history.htm for the full history of Pabst brewery [last updated Mar. 26, 2004].
9. See “Wide to Receive”, Maladjusted: “Because I’m lying here/Wide to receive/Almost anything/You’d care to give/And I don’t/Get along with myself/And I’m not too keen/On anyone else/Turn on, plug in/Then just walk away” (Note the hipster’s response in defense of asexuality.”)