Thursday, January 28, 2010

On hipsterdom

Pnin and I spar occasionally on what counts as a hipster. It all started when I was telling him about one of my friends from undergrad who's moved to Pittsburgh, and how Clarissa Dalloway occasionally talks about how great it would be if our entire circle would just pack up and move to Pittsburgh to join him. Pnin protested that that sounds horrible.

"I know. It would break my heart to be away from the libertarian movement. But Pittsburgh is apparently kind of cool and hipster."

"Cool? Hipster? Pittsburgh? Only if you consider old, falling-down factories to be hipster," Pnin protested.

"Well, the hipsters have taken over the falling down factories and made them into studios and microbreweries and things like that. I hear they first moved to Philadelphia because they couldn't afford Brooklyn anymore. And then they couldn't afford Philadelphia anymore either, so they settled on Pittsburgh instead. Being a hipster in Pittsburgh was sort of ironic. Except now there are enough of them that maybe it isn't ironic anymore. I don't know."

"Our neighborhood is more hipster than Pittsburgh," Pnin sniffed back.

"No, dude, it really isn't. We live in Clarendon, for crying out loud. "

"Why? We have bookstores and trendy coffee shops and a lot of restaurants. It's a very hip neighborhood. More hip than Pittsburgh."

"It's too corporate."

Pause."I know, you're going to say something snarky about limited liability and pass-through vs. entity level taxation. I took Business Associations too, you know. But hipsters don't like anything owned by large chains like Barnes and Noble. They see them as inauthentic or something. And no, they're not sophisticated about limited liability and taxation and what have you."

"But Barnes and Noble is cheaper than independent bookstores like Kramerbooks," Pnin continued. "And hipsters should value being frugal and doing what they want, and not worrying what other people think of them. So because I shop at Barnes and Noble and don't care about what other people think of me, then I think I'm more hipster than the hipsters."

I conceded that he wears generally appropriate glasses, but that otherwise, he is not a hipster.

Well, along comes the ever helpful American Scene to help shed light on this key question. See also Ivy Gate. The comment about "Maybe if you let Julian Sanchez dress you" is spot on. At some point during the hipster discussion, we were each trying to come up with someone we both knew who exemplified the platonic essence of libertarian hipster, and at exactly the same time, we said "Julian Sanchez," while conceding that the Wilkinson/Howley duo was not far behind. Also, possibly James Poulos, though Ilya claims not to have met him or to remember meeting him. I have only met Ross Douthat once, though he did once live in a group house with one of my ex-boyfriends for a while. (They lived together before I was dating said ex-boyfriend, though.) Suffice it to say: totally not hipster.

Still, entertaining and instructive as the TAS comment thread is, perhaps the readers of this humble blog might be able to help. What is a hipster? Is Pittsburgh plausibly hipster? What about Clarendon? Etc.


  1. I may not be a hipster. But I'm still less unhip than Pittsburgh. that's my line and I'm sticking to it!


  2. You are 100% correct about Clarendon, and the same applies to NoVa generally. Suburbs, even the walkable kind Matt Yglesias loves, are not hipster.

    Poulos gets extra hipster points for those awful sideburns. But Julian is indeed the apogee of libertarian hipsterdom.