I don't know what the fuck a hipster is.
I guess the combination of being over 30 and never having really given a shit about the ever-evolving counter-culture labels has left me a bit out of touch. The last time I paid even the slightest amount of attention to that shit was back in the days of goths and jocks and preps and skids. I was a teenager then, and these labels were, apparently, a hugely important way of determining who you should or should not be a complete asshole to. I guess you could say I was part of the "freak" crowd -- we were all some random hybrid of geek, goth, skid, and hippie. We wore a lot of black, a lot of leather, a lot of big boots, long skirts, and strange hats. Male or female, gay or straight, we all had long hair and black nail polish. We were opposed to war, but all armed with at least one knife. We were anti-establishment, but did well in school. We were anti-drug, unless those drugs were caffeine, pot, or beer. We hated sports, but went to the coulees just to spar with each other.
We didn't, however, pay much mind to being "counter-culture", or particularly care what clique someone hailed from. If we liked you, we liked you. If we didn't, we didn't. We had friends that were jocks, geeks, preps and rednecks. Pretty well anyone who was willing to buy a round of coffee and have an intelligent conversation was welcome to do so. And it is here that I become very confused by the cliques of today, and, indeed, the cliques of my generation as well. Particularly the cliques that are so-called "counter-culture". Perhaps it is just age catching up with me, but I find counter-culture cliques desperately hilarious. There is a delicious irony at the idea of counter-culture meaning those who swear by self-created fads and lord their intellectual interests over others. That there is nothing more to being counter-culture than shopping at thrift stores and downloading indie bands. Pick up a fucking Ferlinghetti book, for God's sake. Think a little deeper than the first chapter of your poli-sci textbook. Counter-culture is not a fad, it's not a clique, it's not a fucking fashion statement. It's not a term for those who haunt art galleries or wear thick-rimmed glasses or post shitty poetry about the man on their blog.
Counter-culture is about saying "no". It's about saying "fuck this bullshit". It's about not buying into propaganda, it's about making your own decisions, about valuing personal freedom, about accepting and rejecting things on their own merits, rather than on how popular or opposed they may be. Counter-culture cannot be a clique, it cannot be a fad, because as soon as it becomes such a thing, it ceases to be. By grouping yourselves off, by looking your condescending noses down at those outside your little circle, you are buying into exactly that which you claim to be against. When you create and strengthen divisions between people, when you judge people on such shallow issues as fashion or financial status or whether they shop at Choices or Wal*Mart, you become the culture you claim to counter. It is these petty divisions, these shallow judgments, that leave us questioning our culture to begin with. It is placing importance on the wrong things, the limiting of personal freedoms in favor of some contrived ideal, the categorizing of people as better or worse than us, that we rally against in the first place.
Now, just to make clear that I'm not trying to be a dick, let me say that I do understand the fashion statement side of things (as I write this, I have a bright purple streak in my hair and more tattoos and piercings than I'm willing to count right now). I understand wanting to visually stand out -- to reject societal norms and make it clear to all who look upon you that you are not one of them. That you are not just another sheep in the flock, that you will decide how you adorn yourself, that you own your own body. I get that. Not only do I get it, I loudly and strongly support it. I do not take issue with a visual declaration of independence. What I take issue with is exclusion. I take issue with cliques being formed out of these visual statements, and divisions being created from something so petty. I take issue with the hypocrisy of wanting the freedom to be who you are, and then using that freedom to berate others.
You want to be counter-culture? Try being a decent fucking human being. Try to live and let live. Try not to buy into coolness. Try to appreciate people for who they are. Try to blur the line between us and them. Try honestly and sincerely questioning why things are they way they are and what you can do about that. Try helping people just for the sake of helping them. Try looking beyond what a person is wearing or where they work. Realize that all politics are bullshit. Know your enemies, but try to have as few as possible. Dress how you want to dress. Do what you want to do. Don't harm others, but don't give a shit what they think of you, either.
We have a lot of work to do. We have a steep hill to climb. Those of us who are not satisfied, those of us who don't think this is good enough, those of us who know we are getting screwed, cannot let petty differences distract us. We cannot buy into fads, we cannot buy into propaganda, we cannot be soldiers in the war. If we are ever to make a difference, we must rise above these shallow divisions and commit ourselves to a greater cause. We must commit ourselves to the cause of personal freedom -- and the first step in embracing personal freedom is accepting others for who they are.