I actually don’t read anything, because I feel like the haters really like to hate out loud and that people who love sometimes love quietly. So I don’t really listen or look at anything.
I’m often annoyed by the ways in which common language changes. For the last couple of years, I’ve been greatly annoyed by the tendency of most people to say “this past year” when they could so much more easily say “last year.”
What was the linguistic need that was met by this change? Who came up with such a tortured construction as “this past”?
And who came up with the bright idea of saying “often times” instead of “often”?
I was aggravated a few years ago when people started talking about “growing a business,” as if a business were a Japanese cedar tree.
A term and usage that’s irked me recently is “hater.” When I first noticed that “hater” was being used by gansta rappers, I wasn’t concerned. I figured that if someone felt enough animosity toward another rapper to shoot him dead, it was fair enough to say that person was a “hater.” It wasn’t a stretch.
A few years later, when the likes of Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber began to call the people who disliked their sappy music and sloppy lifestyles “haters,” I felt the annoyance begin. Why shouldn’t people dislike such vapid figures, I wondered? They’re parasitic balloonheads who leech off the public by providing lowest common denominator pop pap. I just assumed, I guess, that any thinking person over the age of 13 disliked such figures at least to some degree. These figures were being self-indulgent by alleging that those who wanted to maintain even minimal cultural standards were “haters.”
But I really began to get a little nervous about the cultural effects of the term in July, when I saw this headline in the periodical Business Insider:
“11 Reasons To Ignore The Haters And Major In The Humanities”
Are we really supposed to take seriously the notion that every person who doesn’t think it’s a good idea to major in the humanities is a “hater”? Or are we, alternatively, supposed to take seriously the even more dubious proposition that there’s a crowd of people who are so wildly opposed to majoring in humanities that they fly into a white hot rage every time they think of the matter?
Aren’t both ideas silly? Isn’t it perfectly fine to think that many people question the value of a major in the humanities? Isn’t it equally fine to think that in some cases such a major is a good idea and in some cases it isn’t?
What I fear about the headline in the Business Insider is that it may indicate a widespread tendency to label anyone who dislikes anything, even in a thoroughly mild and unemotional way, a “hater.” If there is such a tendency, it’s only a small step to a culture in which it’s forbidden to dislike anything, or at least to say one dislikes something.
Much less dangerous, but still annoying, is the term “hipster” and its effects on the culture.
On June 27, Jonathan Manning wrote a story for the American Press about the new restaurant Botsky’s. Here’s how he described the patrons who dined while he was there: “Botsky’s was packed with a mixed crowed of he [sic] usual downtown folk, hipsters and families.”
Hipsters? What the hell is a Southwest Louisiana hipster? Is it someone who wears a baseball cap that doesn’t have any camo in it? Someone who wears his baseball cap forward rather than backwards? Someone who smokes Marlboro reds rather than Marlboro lights?
OK, I thought, apparently I don’t know what a hipster is. And I don’t think I’m going to find out in Lake Charles. I’d better get on the Internet and do at least some token research.
My first finding of interest was a description of the term from a 2009 issue of Time magazine:
“Hipsters are the friends who sneer when you cop to liking Coldplay. They’re the people who wear t-shirts silk-screened with quotes from movies you’ve never heard of, and the only ones in America who still think Pabst Blue Ribbon is a good beer. They sport cowboy hats and berets and think Kanye West stole their sunglasses. Everything about them is exactingly constructed to give off the vibe that they just don’t care.”
And what term do you use for your friends who write vague prose? “They … think Kanye West stole their sunglasses.” Kanye West stole their sunglasses? I don’t think that means anything.
How about the rest of the passage? The hipsters like obscure films and also like a very mainstream beer. What sort of tendency is one supposed to take away from that?
And cowboy hats? Come on. Maybe people such as Lyle Lovett or David Byrne can be cool while they’re wearing cowboy hats. But do young people who get on the soapbox about Coldplay really wear cowboy hats? I just don’t believe it.
The next finding I thought might have some substance came from a book titled The Hipster Handbook. In this passage, the author described hipsters as young people with “mop-top haircuts, swinging retro pocketbooks, talking on cell phones, smoking European cigarettes … strutting in platform shoes with a biography of Che Guevara sticking out of their bags.”
I would argue that there is no being in our world that fits that description.
Again, what is the message in the writing? Is it that young people who try to be stylish in 2013 are fundamentally different from the young people who’ve tried to be stylish in previous years and centuries? Are young people who read Che Guevara in 2013 different from young people who read Che Guevara in 1973 or F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1929 or Sir Walter Scott in 1829?
I still didn’t get it. What is a hipster?
After a little more searching on the Internet, I came to realize that there were some economic factors associated with the term “hipster,” to wit, hipsters are supported by their parents, don’t work and receive government aid. I’ll also note that hipsters are said to be white.
Again, I have a hard time believing that many such people exist. And I certainly don’t believe that they exist in any appreciable numbers in a place such as Lake Charles.
After trying, without much satisfaction, to find out what hipster means, I tried a different approach; I began to search for evidence that the term hipster has no meaning.
Guess what I found out. The internet is loaded with serious articles that assert there are no such things as hipsters. Here are some selections from a few of them:
“Hipsters,” really, are just boogeymen; they’re a catch-all that contain the cultural anxieties of the moment: about homosexuality (‘they’re all wussy!’), about class (‘they’re all rich and they don’t even work!’).
— Henry Stewart, The L Magazine
People see others whom they perceive to have lives that are easier, cooler or more fun than theirs, and instead of questioning the society that gave them their lot, they demand conformity and misery out of others. But why?
… even if creative and enjoyable lives are only accessible to the privileged, that’s not a damning fact about them so much as it is an indictment of a society that has so much wealth and yet only allows a select few to take advantage of it, while others are forced to waste their lives chained to their useless jobs and bloated mortgages.
— Peter Frase, “Resenting Hipsters,” in Jacobin Magazine, no date.
The term “hipster” itself is too glued to a sense of obscurity and individuality at this point, rendering it hopelessly incongruous with the fact that every third person between the ages of 18 and 35 very closely resembles, in many peoples’ eyes, the “hipster” archetype.
— Dave Coffey, The Massachusetts Daily Collegian, Sept. 30, 2010
I must make my main point here: It is my suspicion that a “hipster,” in the broad sense of the word today, is merely an annoying person who doesn’t share any of your tastes.
You might say, “Why would you defend people like that?” Well, I don’t feel the need to defend them, just as I don’t feel the need to defend evil hexes, unicorns or dragons.
— From “Why Witches, Hipsters and Goblins Don’t Exist” by the anonymous author of the blog “Unchained”
People who are no longer young or who are not at all hip often want to create a pigeonhole category for young people who are part of an innovative, changing youth culture. Before we had hippies, we had bobbysoxers and flappers and zoot-suiters and Gibson girls and heaven knows what else. In Jane Austen’s 1811 novel Sense and Sensibility, the term “Sensibility” was meant to pigeonhole the hip culture of one of the young female characters.
We’ve had an unusually large number of tags for hip young people in the last three decades. There’s been Generation X, Generation Y, millennials and now, hipsters. The creating of a new pigeonhole before we’ve figured out what the last one means may be an indication of the fact that we live in times of upheaval, and in particular, of economic upheaval. Perhaps the irrational rage about the mythical hipster reflects a resentment about young people with disposable income on the part of many Americans who had expected to live by American middle-class standards and now find it impossible to do so.
At any rate, pigeonholes for young people always express to some degree the regret of people who either never had the gift for being hip or who’ve reached the age when they can no longer associate with young people who are hip. In this country, anyway, that age comes very early on — usually at 25 or so. A person who’s 30 is already certain to be ostracized at any gathering of hip young people (unless said 30-year-old is unusually attractive or wealthy). It wouldn’t be a big surprise if a 35-year-old who found that his finger was far from the pulse on which it once sat would express his frustration by pigeonholing people just 10 or 15 years younger than he.
As for me, I no more know what a hipster is than I knew what Generation Y was. And I don’t expect people to think before they adopt fads in language.
I think people who say such things as “often times” sound silly and ignorant. But there’s no solution for that minor problem. Given the range and importance of the things that people fail to pay attention to, it’s unrealistic to think that they’ll pay attention to changes in language.