As one who appreciates both irony and good new music, I don't want my post to come off as a screed against the taste of the typical hipster, because I too like corny board games and the Fiery Furnaces. It is the principle that underlies the hipster or "hipsterism," as I have called it in my title, that bothers me. This principle is: "I know something you don't know." It can be illustrated by this anecdote. I was telling a music hipster that Sufjan Stevens was becoming really big in Chicago because of his "Feel the Illinoise" album. "My mom knows who Sufjan Stevens is," he responded, as if to say, yeah, he's passe. This example illustrates the essence of the Hipster as one who gets off on the fact that he has a more refined taste than the rest of us, the masses.
I was thinking about this because I am currently reading a lot on the French conception of American culture in the 1920s for my thesis. One of the big critiques on the part of the French, was that America's was a culture of the masses. An oft-repeated belief was that that American literature was recognized not by its quality but by its sales. America's culture was thus held hostage by the masses and their money. This at a time when distinguished writers like Sinclair Lewis, Theodore Dreiser, and Thornton Wilder were big names of the day.
I believe Hipsterism subscribes to the same assessment of American culture, so to define themselves against it. Hipsterism deems itself a high culture, believing it has unearthed a band/store/book that uncool people are not capable of finding. The problem with the Hipster though is that anything that suddenly comes into knowledge of the masses is no longer hip. The total discredit of popular opinion is Hipsterism's biggest problem. First, some of the best works of art have been popular successes. Alfred Hitchcock comes to mind. Second, when a once lesser-known artist is put on the map, for instance F. Scott Fitzgerald's critical renaissance in the 1940s, this should be considered a positive thing. Isn't it good when underappreciated works are finally translating to more people?
It seems Hipsterism wants a mass culture that it can look upon as inferior, just as the French critics of the 1920s often discredited the U.S. culture as one drowned by the country's newfound (and short-lived) prosperity. Of course bestsellers are not inherently good, but they are not inherently bad either, and taste should not be built around numbers either way. A pattern of insularity and elitism foreshadows for the Hipster culture an incomprehensibility to those outside of it. One day, the layers of irony, the bands that just make noises, the unpalatable films, will be indecipherable to the masses. Until then, I invite the hipsters to share the wealth.