Hipsters were straw men before it was cool
Though green hair and purple skinny jeans just aren’t for me, I feel I must mount a rare defense of mustache-sporting millennials in the face of Wampole’s overly harsh indictment. The illustration that accompanies the article is of a 20-something sporting garish, retro fashion trends. Commentary on hipsters’ clothes does not legitimize this implicit idea that they are some uniquely sinister social ill. Say what you like about style, but they are not fornicating in the mud at Woodstock or dodging the draft. When given context, there is nothing new or especially alarming about the hipster phenomenon. It is clear this critique is a straw man. What was their great cultural wrecking ball, Occupy Wall Street?
It is unclear why so much attention has been devoted to perhaps the least influential youth demographic. Apparently, a sinister undercurrent of shallowness, facilitated by technology, has corroded basic interaction. Wampole elaborates, “While we have gained some skill sets, others have suffered: the art of conversation, the art of looking at people, the art of being seen, the art of being present.” What? I assume here she is lamenting poor manners — an understandable complaint, but one hardly unique to or made worse by young people today. Herein lies the great flaw of the attack on millenial’s character: the attribution of universal obstacles of maturing to a largely irrelevant counterculture.
Wampole in particular undermines her entire argument by trying to elevate countercultural movements of the ’90s above today’s hipster experience. She insists, “The grunge movement was serious in its aesthetics and attitude, with a combative stance against authority, which the punk movement had also embraced.” If the chief indictment of today’s youth is their propensity to skirt responsibility, defending grunge is a curious way to prove it. Kurt Cobain embodied rock and the angst of his time, to be sure. But what exemplifies dodging accountability more, wearing neon with a tinge of disingenuousness or taking heroin? As much as she would like to assume some unique fault with young adults, Wampole fails to demonstrate how ironic living has spread beyond a small population that is quite foreign and obscure to most Americans.
In searching for lack of sincerity in contemporary culture, the media often tries to find flaws where there are none. Each generation has its little indulgences that are misunderstood by those older and younger. Instagrammers are chided constantly for infusing nostalgia into the present by photographing in sepia. But I scoff at those who lament the loss of print journalism simply because our children will not have to pay through the nose or get ink on their hands to consume news. And around we go.
Though we have divergent views of our generation, it is my hope that the media and I have common hopes for what my generation will become. There is something powerful in the vulnerability that accompanies sincerity. But this truth is lost beneath the older generation’s aversion to the millennials’ reality. When we point out the unprecedented emphasis on community service among high schoolers, this altruism is written off as a cynical trend to game college admissions. When we tout the record youth voter turnout in the 2008 and 2012 elections, young Americans are still portrayed as aloof. Still, authors like Wampole have the audacity to assert that we as a generation are not net contributors to the country’s culture. So, to the sarcastic baby boomers and generation Xers, I would say this: My generation is largely a hopeful one and one ambitious enough to better the country beyond the diminished future that you have left us.
David Will is a sociology major from Chevy Chase, Md. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.