Where 50 years ago hippies were in line for Woodstock, nowadays hipsters are in line to get a vegan latte macchiato from a barista in a gentrified neighborhood. The world has been globalizing rapidly and subcultures are changing. How have subcultures changed in the past 50 years? And more importantly, hippies and hipsters might have some sort of the same image, but is that valid?
Woodstock 69’ is still notorious nowadays. The festival was a pilgrimage for hippies back then; it was a political event, sense of cultural identity, religious experiment and free dope territory. 400.000 people visited the festival (2x Groningen) and it became one big mess: the stage almost sunk in the mud, there were hardly any toilets, and there was a gunfight. The hippy culture originally rose from the West coast and took over the (Western) world. But how can this culture be identified?
Drugs, sex and rock ‘n roll, the culture thrived around these three words. When it comes to drugs, hippies only approved ‘dope’, substances that expand consciousness: marihuana, hashish, LSD etc. But, drugs like cocaine, amphetamines and downers were bad. When it comes to sex, hippies were the ones that liberated it; free people should express their sexuality as they wish. This entailed orgies, organized free sex, shameless nudity and freedom for homosexuals. But most importantly, the hippy movement was a counterculture that preached for peace, a response to capitalism and the Cold War. Against money and materialism, as contradictory as it might sound, the movement came from a prosperous, white, male-defined segment of society.
The hipster culture also came from a prosperous white segment of society, though maybe less male-defined. Although, it might not show, as hipsters try to dress as nonchalant as possible. Hipsters cannot be described as a movement; where hippies were more homogenous, hipsters are extremely heterogeneous. Besides that, hippies were a political movement and the hipsters do not question neoliberalism and the consumption-driven society as such. Though hippies were stimulating individual sexual wishes, the hipster culture thrives around individuality and expressing one’s self in the broadest sense. So, the hipster culture isn’t a counterculture, but the individual counters everyone else. Which is typical for the globalized society nowadays.
When travelling to cities around the world, it is hard to escape a hipster trap. Williamsburg and Bushwick in New York, Shoreditch and Hackney in London or Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain in Berlin are some well-known examples. Everyone is familiar with the view: vegan cafés serving quinoa, galleries, vintage shops, beanies, barbershops and race bikes. You can question how diverse the hipster culture really is. The subculture is becoming highly commercialized. Just like the festivals that hipsters visit nowadays. Though, there is not one particular sort of festival the hipster visits, as the hipster counters everyone else, including hipsters. Rock, indie, hip-hop, techno festivals all have their bunch of hipsters, so one can question whether the subculture nowadays is less polarized than the subculture (hippies) from back in the days.
To finish, the main difference between hipsters and hippies is that hippies were a movement and hipsters are a culture. Hippies were homogenous and shared the same political view, whereas, hipsters are extremely heterogeneous and don’t even share the identity ‘hipster’, as no hipster wishes to describe himself as a hipster, because that wouldn’t be unique. That gives the main question for the future: will the social cohesion of subcultures decline even more, or will there be a counterculture to the sub/counterculture which will be more cohesive?
This article was first published in the Girugten Lustrum Edition (Year 50 of Girugten – issue 02 – May 2021).