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I’m sure you’ve heard of the old mimesis v. anti-mimesis imponderable, i.e. does life imitate art, or does art imitate life? It’s the kind of thing one could go back and forth on ad infinitum with equal ease in academia or over pints with friends, provided you have a sufficient number of insufferably clever friends. I’m sure it’s been done to death by more important thinkers than you or me, and it certainly has a chicken or egg-ness to it, so I won’t drag you into the debate. Instead, here is a variation on the theme for you. Does mainstream culture follow hipsters, or are hipsters always rebelling away from the mainstream? I expect you won’t fall back on a chicken/egg argument because, last I heard, they finally solved that particular problem a few years ago. Cheers!
— Bert, from England by way of North Park
So, I have a great, highly topical example of this for you. Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock to avoid filing your taxes, or for whatever reason someone might hide in the springtime, you have probably heard the about the hipster who got completely bent out of shape over an MIT Technology Review story that used a stock photo of a hipster. The guy flew off the handle and basically threatened to sue the Review because he thought they had used a picture of him without his consent, except it turned out the photo was of some other, totally distinct hipster who, by selling the rights to the stock photo company, had absolutely consented to have his image used. The whole thing wouldn’t be very funny except the story in question was about a mathematician who purported to describe the mathematical process through which hipster nonconformists end up looking the same. Naturally, everybody and his brother piled onto the easy joke, which is old news by now, but how hipster is it when the hipster joke about the substantive story becomes more popular than the substantive story itself?
Although I admit it’s pretty hilarious, I’m not here to laugh over the high-level irony in this situation. I have a bone to pick with Mr. Mathematician and the MIT Technology Review, to whom I might say, “Tell me something I didn’t know already!”
How many times have I detailed the organic process by which the hipster avant garde leads the mainstream into the bright future of pop culture’s tomorrow? Did I not spell it out in simple terms? Hipsters innovate outside the mainstream, and the mainstream imitates the hipsters in a great circle of life. I don’t recall needing a mathematical function or a team of grad students to describe this hipster truism, and I certainly don’t remember having any major universities throw funding and resources my way. I wonder how many of my other jokes are ripe for scientific exploitation. Will someone win a Nobel prize for “discovering” how the relative tightness of hipster skinny jeans accurately predicts trends in the global real estate market? Did I only now make that true by writing it down in some kind of Hipster Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle?
In the long run, I suppose it’s all rather perfect. Even the scientific community takes its cues from a bunch of bearded, third-wave-coffee-sipping hipster dudes and would-be manic pixie dream girl Instagrammers. Hipsters lead, and the world follows.