The Eccentric Hipster of the City

While nearing the end of Georg Simmel’s “The Metropolis and Mental Life,” I found humor in the fact that because he hadn’t lived in our time now, he couldn’t comment on the eccentric who responded to the eccentrics. These “sub-eccentrics,” (or what I know to call them as hipsters) I feel have evolved from the eccentrics Simmel was writing about. I know this might be a weird topic to talk about, but since my twin brother jokingly calls me a hipster all the time, I usually think of what is actually means to be a hipster. (To my brother, it means listening to Joanna Newsom).

Simmel writes w/r/t eccentrics that, “in order that this most personal element be saved, extremities and peculiarities and individualizations must be produced and they must be over-exaggerated merely to be brought into the awareness even of the individual himself.” (Simmel 110). The eccentric I assume Simmel was talking about was those like The Naked Cowboy, one who stands out with high energy and is loud about his personality. Image

And what I have noticed through years of growing up with the internet and this emergent subculture of “hipsterdom” is that they are an eccentric’s counter reaction towards other eccentrics.

Let me explain. In a city, one must be perversely loud in their individualism to be noticed. What happens when much of the population becomes this eccentric? How does an eccentric stand out in an ocean of eccentrics? They regress. They aren’t interested in ways to shout to the heavens that I am not just alive, but I am me.  Instead, a cool visage has replaced the eccentric, the unusual, and the weird.  Matt Granfield, who has written a book about this subculture called HipsterMattic, explains this mood like, “they wanted to be recognized for being different – to diverge from the mainstream and carve a cultural niche all for themselves…The way to be cool wasn’t to look like a television star: it was to look like as though you’d never seen television” (Granfield). In this technological age, one of the better ways to stand out, is to act like you are not with the technological age, that you scoff at the sight of ipods and HD televisions and just televisions in general.

Irony also plays a huge part in the hipster subculture. Really bad mustaches become “cool” because they are bad. A hipster wears a t-shirt of The Smurfs even though they are too young to have grown up with them and that is the main reason why they wear it. Dan Fletcher wrote in an article for TIME, “Everything about them is exactingly constructed to give off the vibe that they just don’t care.”


What I am trying to get at mostly is this. What better way to stand out from the eccentrics than acting nonchalant about the clothes you wear, about the technologies you praise, the horrible bands and fashion statements you are a part of? Creating everything you do to stand out as much as possible, but also to radiate a large indifference seems to be the evolution from the eccentrics in the city that Simmel was describing in his essay.

Can anyone else think I’m right in thinking this could be a reaction to the city eccentric? Or am I not making any sense at all? I hope it makes sense.

Simmel, Georg, “The Metropolis and Mental Life.” The Blackwell City Reader. 2nd ed. Gary Bridge and Sophie Watson. Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. Print.



Filed under City Cultures

3 responses to “The Eccentric Hipster of the City

  1. I definitely see the connection between Simmel’s eccentrics and contemporary hipsters. I think you could really make the case that hipsters are responding to the economic forces of specialization, whether by refusing them or taking them to their logical extreme. The other urban figure that I connect to the hipster is the dandy. (Like Oscar Wilde.) The Baudelaire essay I mentioned in our discussion of modernity, “The Painter of Modern Life,” has a section about the dandy. Walter Benjamin writes about dandies too, in an essay called “Paris, Capital of the Nineteenth Century.” Like Simmel’s eccentrics, dandies externalize their personalities. I think that’s what hipsters do too.

  2. You are not alone; I too feel the same way about these “hipsters”. In a way they aggravate me, and that’s probably the response they’re seeking when they act this way. They demand attention in any and every form imaginable. Yes, I agree that this is a response to the eccentrics from the you-can’t-be-as-weird-as-me individuals. The moment they realize that they’ve been out done, they act as if they never really cared in the first place. But aren’t they doing this in order to express their individualism? This becomes a problem when hipsters realize that what they’re doing isn’t exactly unique any more. What will be the response to the hipster act?

  3. thepurplegg

    I definitely see the hipster trend as influenced by the city. I never really thought of it as a regression, but the theory makes sense too. I have always considered it a reaction to the eccentrics rather than a regression from them. Perhaps the trend arose from the desire to not want to be loud and obnoxious, seeing the eccentric culture around them and denying it as part of them (such as rejecting loud music and accepting softer, acoustic music instead). Like the original post says, when everybody becomes eccentric, the idea loses value. I see the hipster trend as denying the eccentrics the value they once possessed, like with the example in the post about rejecting iPods in favor for record players. Are hipsters the new eccentric since the old eccentric is losing steam? I kind of think so. Once a trend has infiltrated clothing, music, and book sales, it is not an independent movement anymore, as much as the hipster movement wants to be.

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