You’re So Hipster // The History of Hip (Part One)

So let’s began by talking briefly about the author I’m swiping ideas from, Brett McCracken. It is important to know the history of hip and our author. McCracken holds a degree in History and English from Wheaton College (2005) and a Master’s in Cinema and Media Studies from UCLA (2008). While in grad school he focused on transcendent aesthetics in film, Christians and cinema, new media theory, user-generated content/wikinomics, and contemporary issues in the television industry. He is currently the Managing Editor of Biola Magazine and resides outside of Los Angeles.He use to be the a freelance editor at Relevant Magazine‘s online section, Progressive Culture. Ironically enough he spent a good portion of his life in the Midwest in one of my favorite cities, Kansas City, Mo. In his book he even writes about a church I use to visit a lot called Jacob’s Well, and a lot of other happenings in Kansas City, he even made a list titled “Christian Hipster’s 10 Favorite American Cities” and ranked KCMO number four. 

Other people are adding to this conversation, hipster historian John Leland wrote about the urge to rebel against popular opinions and social construct. Simply put, he believes that the inherit desire for hip is for autonomy, not for wealth. In his book Hip: The History he explains it as “a common folk’s grab at rich folks’ freedom… Anyone can be hip, even if everyone can’t.” This brings us to the fact that hipness is not intrinsic, it hinges on the perception of your peers. If you want to read more about Leland’s thoughts buy his book or read this NPR article.

McCracken writes that it all went down in Italy during the Renaissance period. Italian city-states (Milan, Venice, Naples) had a political and economic shift from lords and nobles to a developing urban middle class. This is arguably the first era in which Italy’s systems were questioned and sometimes overthrown.

While the Renaissance had brought Europe out of the dark ages, class distinction was still in tact. Lack of a hip or coolness was due to wealth, not with style or attitude. While most people don’t stop trying to achieve wealth, more people began to defy the aristocrats. These people were called the bourgeoisie.

In the late eighteenth-century (around 1790) bohemians and dandies moseyed around Paris and London. Bohemians were artists who were more socially conscious and politically minded than the dandies. The dandy was “for the most part preoccupied whith audacious, w ore over-the-top-fashion and general pretentiousness.” Sound familiar? If you thought hipster was a new term that is being thrown around you are mistaken.

So where does America come into the hipster-picture? Some argue, including Leland, that it gave birth through the friction of Caucasians and African Americans. The Africans on the slave ships arrived and were able to form a sort of cultural autonomy. This can be seen in the film Glory. In this film Col. Robert Gould Shaw, Matthew Broderick, leads the US Civil War’s first all-black volunteer company, fighting prejudices of both his own Union army and the Confederates. There is a specific scene in the middle when he is trying to explain the difference between white and black troops. He mentions that there is a type of camaraderie and brotherhood that is not easily found.

This tension of forming cultural autonomy can be seen between the rich and poor, and I believe that the history of hip will always reflect that tension. In the twentieth century this plays out as the hipsters labeling something sought-after, and then shortly after the upper class rips off the look and sells it for 130% above market value. Free People, Anthropologie, and Urban Outfitters have been making a considerable amount of money off trends that can be found in our parents’ and even grandparents’ attic. Here is a poster to give a visual to what the term hipster has evolved from in the last 10 years.

So do these people have a great understanding of things like how to dress feeling comfortable in their own skin? Or are they just as insecure as the rest of the general population? Either way we should not be comparing ourselves to each other.

Two applicable passages that came up during a quiet time recently were Psalm 139:1-6 and 2 Corinthians 3:1-6.

Search Me, O God, and Know My Heart (Psalm 139: 1-6)

O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it.

We want people to know us, know who we truly are but this is impossible. For we barely know ourselves, only our Creator can give us worth and he has already spoken His opinions countless times. He likes what he sees, what he made.

Ministers of the New Covenant (2 Corinthians 3:1-6)

1 Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you? 2 You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. 3 And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

4 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. 5 Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.


Lord, please show us peace in knowing that our sufficiency and self-worth is determined by You.

This entry was posted in Art and Culture, Blog Series, Engaging Worldviews, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to You’re So Hipster // The History of Hip (Part One)

  1. 1. I love that you compared dandies to hipsters; my art teacher this semester taught us about that!

    2. If you know Zach Burmaster (I think you do), my friend and I definitely decided he looks like the 2006 version on that chart when we saw it several months ago!

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