Hipster (contemporary subculture)

The hipster subculture is stereotypically composed of young adults who reside primarily in gentrified neighborhoods.[1][2] It is broadly associated with indie and alternative music and genres such as chill-out, folk, modern rock, pop rock, and post-Britpop. Hipsters also frequently flaunt a varied non-mainstream fashion sensibility, vintage and thrift store-bought clothing, generally pacifist, progressive and green political views, veganism, organic and artisanal foods, craft alcoholic beverages, and alternative lifestyles. The subculture typically consists of mostly white young adults living in urban areas.[3][4] It has been described as a "mutating, trans-Atlantic melting pot of styles, tastes and behavior".[5]

The term in its current usage first appeared in the 1990s and became particularly prominent in the late 2000s and early 2010s,[6] being derived from the term used to describe earlier movements in the 1940s.[7] Members of the subculture typically do not self-identify as hipsters, and the word hipster is often used as a pejorative to describe someone who is pretentious[8] or overly trendy, or as a stereotypical term that has been reclaimed and redefined by some as a term of pride and group identity.[1][9] Some scholars contend that the contemporary hipster is a "marketplace myth" that has a complex, two-way relationship with the worldview and value system of indie-oriented consumers.[10]

In a 2009 article in PopMatters magazine, Rob Horning asserted that the hipster might be the "embodiment of postmodernism as a spent force, revealing what happens when pastiche and irony exhaust themselves as aesthetics."[11] In a New York Times editorial, Mark Greif states that the much-cited difficulty in analyzing the term stems from the fact that any attempt to do so provokes universal anxiety, since it "calls everyone's bluff".[12]


Origins in the 1940s

The term was coined during the Jazz Age, when "hip" emerged as an adjective to describe aficionados of the growing scene.[7] Although the adjective's exact origins are disputed, some say it was a derivative of "hop", a slang term for opium, while others believe it comes from the West African word hipi, meaning "to open one's eyes".[7] Another argument suggests the term derives from the practice of lying on one's hip while smoking opium.[13] The ultimate meaning of "hip", attested as early as 1902, is "aware" or "in the know". Conversely, the antonym unhip connotes those who are unaware of their surroundings, also including those who are opposed to hipness.

Nevertheless, "hip" eventually acquired the common English suffix -ster (as in spinster and gangster), and "hipster" entered the language.[7] The first dictionary to list the word is the short glossary "For Characters Who Don't Dig Jive Talk", which was included with Harry Gibson's 1944 album, Boogie Woogie In Blue. The entry for "hipsters" defined them as "characters who like hot jazz".[14] It was not a complete glossary of jive, however, as it included only jive expressions that were found in the lyrics to his songs.

The same year, Cab Calloway published The New Cab Calloway's Hepster's Dictionary of Jive, which had no listing for "hipster", and because there was also a 1939 edition of Calloway's Hepster's (an obvious play on "Webster's") Dictionary, it appears that "hepster" pre-dates "hipster". The term used in African-American culture was originally spelled "hep," as in Cab Calloway's famous song (Hep Hep) The Jumpin' Jive recorded on July 17, 1939. 'Hep' is also used in Mezz Mezzrow essential account of underground jazz culture Really the Blues (published in 1946).

Initially, hipsters were usually middle-class white youths seeking to emulate the lifestyle of the largely black jazz musicians they followed.[7] In The Jazz Scene (1959), author Eric Hobsbawm (originally writing under the pen name Francis Newton) described hipster language—i.e., "jive-talk or hipster-talk"—as "an argot or cant designed to set the group apart from outsiders". This group crucially includes white jazz musicians such as Benny Goodman, Al Cohn, Gerry Mulligan, Stan Getz, Mezz Mezzrow, Barney Kessel, Doc Pomus, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop, Chet Baker, and Gene Krupa who ought to be counted as some of the true original hipsters as they were instrumental in turning the white world onto jazz and its underground culture in the 1930s and 1940s.

The subculture rapidly expanded, and after World War II, a burgeoning literary scene grew up around it.[7] Jack Kerouac described 1940s hipsters as "rising and roaming America, bumming and hitchhiking everywhere [as] characters of a special spirituality".[15] Toward the beginning of his poem Howl, Allen Ginsberg mentioned "angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night". In his essay "The White Negro", Norman Mailer characterized hipsters as American existentialists, living a life surrounded by death—annihilated by atomic war or strangled by social conformity—and electing instead to "divorce [themselves] from society, to exist without roots, to set out on that uncharted journey into the rebellious imperatives of the self".[7]

1990s to present

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.

Time, July 2009[7]

In early 2000, both The New York Times and Time Out New York ran profiles of Williamsburg, Brooklyn without using the term hipster. The Times referred to "bohemians"[16] and TONY to "arty East Village types".[17] By 2003, when The Hipster Handbook was published by Williamsburg resident Robert Lanham, the term had come into widespread use in relation to Williamsburg and similar neighborhoods. The Hipster Handbook 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".[18] Lanham further describes hipsters: "You graduated from a liberal arts school whose football team hasn't won a game since the Reagan administration" and "you have one Republican friend who you always describe as being your 'one Republican friend.'"[7] One author dates the initial phase of the revival of the term from 1999 to 2003.[3]

A similar phenomenon occurred in the United Kingdom, with young workers in the media and digital industries moving into traditional working class areas of London such as Hoxton, Spitalfields, and, particularly, Shoreditch. The subculture was parodied in the magazine Shoreditch Twat (1999) and the television sitcom Nathan Barley[19] (2005). The series, about a self-described "self-facilitating media node",[20] led to the term "Nathan Barleys" being used pejoratively to describe the culture it parodied.[21]

A 2009 Time magazine article described hipsters thus: "take your grandmother's sweater and Bob Dylan's Wayfarers, add jean shorts, Converse All-Stars and a can of Pabst and bam—hipster."[7] Slate writer Brandon Stosuy noted that "Heavy metal has recently conquered a new frontier, making an unexpected crossover into the realm of hipsterdom". He argues that the "current revival seems to be a natural mutation from the hipster fascination with post-punk, noise, and no wave", which allowed even the "nerdiest indie kids to dip their toes into jagged, autistic sounds". He argues that a "byproduct" of this development was an "investigation of a musical culture that many had previously feared or fetishized from afar".[22]

In 2008, Utne Reader magazine writer Jake Mohan described "hipster rap" as "consisting of the most recent crop of MCs and DJs who flout conventional hip-hop fashions, eschewing baggy clothes and gold chains for tight jeans, big sunglasses, the occasional keffiyeh, and other trappings of the hipster lifestyle". He notes that the "old-school hip-hop website Unkut, and Jersey City rapper Mazzi" have criticized mainstream rappers whom they deem to be posers or "fags for copping the metrosexual appearances of hipster fashion".[23] Prefix Mag writer Ethan Stanislawski argues that there are racial elements to the rise of hipster rap. He claims that there "have been a slew of angry retorts to the rise of hipster rap", which he says can be summed up as "white kids want the funky otherness of hip-hop...without all the scary black people".[24]

In his 2011 book HipsterMattic, author Matt Granfield described hipster culture:[25]

While mainstream society of the 2000s (decade) had been busying itself with reality television, dance music, and locating the whereabouts of Britney Spears's underpants, an uprising was quietly and conscientiously taking place behind the scenes. Long-forgotten styles of clothing, beer, cigarettes and music were becoming popular again. Retro was cool, the environment was precious, and old was the new 'new'. Kids wanted to wear Sylvia Plath's cardigans and Buddy Holly's glasses—they revelled in the irony of making something so nerdy so cool. They wanted to live sustainably and eat organic gluten-free grains. Above all, they wanted to be recognised for being different—to diverge from the mainstream and carve a cultural niche all for themselves. For this new generation, style wasn't something you could buy in a department store, it became something you found in a thrift shop, or, ideally, made yourself. 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.

Fixed gear bikes are associated with the hipster subculture. Slate calls the bikes an "increasingly common hipster accessory".[26][27] An association of hipsters with an increasing popularity of full beards dates from before 2010.[28][29][30][31] In 2016, historian Alun Withey remarked that "The hipster beard, or lumberjack beard, is going to be the defining facial hair of this generation".[32] Other hipster trends in the 2010s have included knitting, veganism, urban beekeeping, specialty coffee, taxidermy,[33] fedoras,[34] and printing and bookbinding classes.[35]

New York City subgroups

As hipsters—"young creatives" priced out of Bohemian urban neighborhoods in Brooklyn such as Williamsburg, Park Slope, and Greenpoint—moved into suburbs near New York City, The New York Times coined the neologism "Hipsturbia" to describe the hip lifestyle as lived in suburbia. Hastings-on-Hudson, Dobbs Ferry, Irvington, and Tarrytown, all in nearby Westchester County, were cited.[36]

A minor trend of cross acculturation of Chabad Hasidism and Hipster subculture appeared within the New York Jewish community, beginning in the late 2000s. A significant number of members of the Chabad Hasidic community, mostly residing Crown Heights, Brooklyn, appear to now have adopted various cultural affinities as the local hipster subculture. These cross-acculturated Hasidim have been dubbed "Chabad hipsters" or "Hasidic hipsters".[37] The Soho Synagogue, established by Chabad emissaries in SoHo, Manhattan, have branded themselves as a "hipster synagogue".[38] The trend of Chabad Hasidic hipsters stands in contrast to the tensions experienced between the Satmar Hasidic community in Williamsburg and local hipsters.[37]

The 2014 song Brooklyn Baby by Lana Del Rey is notable for containing satirical elements targeting the New York hipster subculture[39]: its chorus highlights "a stable of cliches about hipsters, Brooklyn, millennials and other things Del Rey herself is known to idolize"[40]. These elements include: having a boyfriend in a band, drug use (of amphetamines and hydroponic marijuana), obsession with Lou Reed and Beat Generation poetry, wearing feathers in hair, collecting jazz records, playing different musical instruments, and self-proclaiming coolness.

There has been a parallel movement within the American Muslim community with members termed 'mipsters'. [41]

In Russia

The Soviet equivalent of the hipster or beatnik, known as Stilyagi, first appeared during the mid 1950s and identified with the modern jazz scene.[42] Their outfits were exaggerated caricatures of the costumes worn by western actors and musicians and typically incorporated bright colors, slim fit pants, thick soled shoes, vintage clothing from the 1920s and earlier, brightly colored socks, and plaid sportcoats.[43][44] Following the release of a cult film in 2008,[45] modern hipsters in Moscow and Saint Petersburg revived some aspects of this subculture.[46]

Critical analysis

Christian Lorentzen of Time Out New York argues that "hipsterism fetishizes the authentic" elements of all of the "fringe movements of the postwar era—Beat, hippie, punk, even grunge", and draws on the "cultural stores of every unmelted ethnicity" and "gay style," and then "regurgitates it with a winking inauthenticity." He claims that this group of "18-to-34-year-olds," who are mostly white, "have defanged, skinned and consumed" all of these influences.[4] Lorentzen says hipsters, "in their present undead incarnation," are "essentially people who think of themselves as being cooler than America," also referring to them as "the assassins of cool." He argues that metrosexuality is the hipster appropriation of gay culture, as a trait carried over from their "Emo" phase. He writes that "these aesthetics are assimilatedcannibalizedinto a repertoire of meaninglessness, from which the hipster can construct an identity in the manner of a collage, or a shuffled playlist on an iPod."[4] He also criticizes how the subculture's original menace has long been abandoned and has been replaced with "the form of not-quite-passive aggression called snark".[4]

In a Huffington Post article entitled "Who's a Hipster?", Julia Plevin argues that the "definition of 'hipster' remains opaque to anyone outside this self-proclaiming, highly-selective circle". She claims that the "whole point of hipsters is that they avoid labels and being labeled. However, they all dress the same and act the same and conform in their non-conformity" to an "iconic carefully created sloppy vintage look".[47]

Rob Horning developed a critique of hipsterism in his April 2009 article "The Death of the Hipster" in PopMatters, exploring several possible definitions for the hipster. He muses that the hipster might be the "embodiment of postmodernism as a spent force, revealing what happens when pastiche and irony exhaust themselves as aesthetics", or might be "a kind of permanent cultural middleman in hypermediated late capitalism, selling out alternative sources of social power developed by outsider groups, just as the original 'white negros' evinced by Norman Mailer did to the original, pre-pejorative 'hipsters'blacks". Horning also proposed that the role of hipsters may be to "appropriat[e] the new cultural capital forms, delivering them to mainstream media in a commercial form and stripping their inventors ... of the power and the glory".[48] Horning argues that the "problem with hipsters" is the "way in which they reduce the particularity of anything you might be curious about or invested in into the same dreary common denominator of how 'cool' it is perceived to be", as "just another signifier of personal identity". Furthermore, he argues that the "hipster is defined by a lack of authenticity, by a sense of lateness to the scene" or the way that they transform the situation into a "self-conscious scene, something others can scrutinize and exploit".

Dan Fletcher in Time seems to support this theory, positing that stores like Urban Outfitters have mass-produced hipster chic, merging hipsterdom with parts of mainstream culture, thus overshadowing its originators' still-strong alternative art and music scene.[7] According to Fletcher, "Hipsters manage to attract a loathing unique in its intensity. Critics have described the loosely defined group as smug, full of contradictions and, ultimately, the dead end of Western civilization."[7]

Elise Thompson, an editor for the LA blog LAist argues that "people who came of age in the 70s and 80s punk rock movement seem to universally hate 'hipsters'", which she defines as people wearing "expensive 'alternative' fashion[s]", going to the "latest, coolest, hippest bar...[and] listen[ing] to the latest, coolest, hippest band". Thompson argues that hipsters "don't seem to subscribe to any particular philosophy ... [or] ... particular genre of music". Instead, she argues that they are "soldiers of fortune of style" who take up whatever is popular and in style, "appropriat[ing] the style[s]" of past countercultural movements such as punk, while "discard[ing] everything that the style stood for".[49]

Drawing from Pierre Bourdieu's work and Thomas Frank's theories of co-optation, Zeynep Arsel and Craig Thompson argue that in order to segment and co-opt the indie marketplace, mass media and marketers have engaged in commercial "mythmaking" and contributed to the formation of the contemporary discourse about hipsters.[10] They substantiate this argument using a historical discourse analysis of the term and its use in the popular culture, based on Arsel's dissertation that was published in 2007. Their claim is that the contemporary depiction of hipster is generated through mass media narratives with different commercial and ideological interests. In other words, hipster is less of an objective category, and more of a culturally- and ideologically-shaped and mass-mediated modern mythology that appropriates the indie consumption field and eventually turns into a form of stigma. Arsel and Thompson also interview participants of the indie culture (DJs, designers, writers) to better understand how they feel about being labeled as one. Their findings demonstrate three strategies for dissociation from the hipster stereotype: aesthetic discrimination, symbolic demarcation, and proclaiming sovereignty. These strategies, empowered by one's status in the indie field (or their cultural capital) enable these individuals to defend their field dependent cultural investments and tastes from devaluing hipster mythology.

Arsel and Thompson's work seeks to explain why people who are ostensibly fitting the hipster stereotype profusely deny being one: they argue that hipster mythology devalues their tastes and interests and thus they have to socially distinguish themselves from this cultural category and defend their tastes from devaluation. To succeed in denying being a hipster, while looking, acting, and consuming like one, Arsel and Thompson suggest that these individuals demythologize their existing consumption practices by engaging in rhetorics and practices that symbolically differentiate their actions from the hipster stigma.[10]

Mark Greif, a founder of n+1 and an Assistant Professor at The New School, in a New York Times editorial, states that "hipster" is often used by youth from disparate economic backgrounds to jockey for social position. He questions the contradictory nature of the label, and the way that no one thinks of themselves as a hipster: "Paradoxically, those who used the insult were themselves often said to resemble hipsters—they wore the skinny jeans and big eyeglasses, gathered in tiny enclaves in big cities, and looked down on mainstream fashions and 'tourists.'" He believes the much-cited difficulty in analyzing the term stems from the fact that any attempt to do so provokes universal anxiety, since it "calls everyone's bluff". Like Arsel and Thompson, he draws from La Distinction by Pierre Bourdieu to conclude:

You can see how hipster neighborhoods are crossroads where young people from different origins, all crammed together, jockey for social gain. One hipster subgroup's strategy is to disparage others as "liberal arts college grads with too much time on their hands"; the attack is leveled at the children of the upper middle class who move to cities after college with hopes of working in the "creative professions". These hipsters are instantly declassed, reservoired in abject internships and ignored in the urban hierarchy—but able to use college-taught skills of classification, collection and appreciation to generate a superior body of cultural "cool".

They, in turn, may malign the "trust fund hipsters". This challenges the philistine wealthy who, possessed of money but not the nose for culture, convert real capital into "cultural capital" (Bourdieu's most famous coinage), acquiring subculture as if it were ready-to-wear. (Think of Paris Hilton in her trucker hat.) Both groups, meanwhile, look down on the couch-surfing, old-clothes-wearing hipsters who seem most authentic but are also often the most socially precarious—the lower-middle-class young, moving up through style, but with no backstop of parental culture or family capital. They are the bartenders and boutique clerks who wait on their well-to-do peers and wealthy tourists. Only on the basis of their cool clothes can they be "superior": hipster knowledge compensates for economic immobility.[12]

Greif's efforts puts the term "hipster" into a socioeconomic framework rooted in the petite bourgeois tendencies of a youth generation unsure of their future social status. The cultural trend is indicative of a social structure with heightened economic anxiety and lessened class mobility.[12]

See also


  1. 1 2 Weeks, Linton. "The Hipsterfication Of America". NPR.org. Retrieved 25 January 2014.
  2. Hughes, Evan. "The Great Inversion in New Brooklyn". utne.com. Retrieved 25 January 2014.
  3. 1 2 Greif, Mark (2010-10-24). "What Was the Hipster?". New York Mag. Retrieved 2014-01-24.
  4. 1 2 3 4 Lorentzen, Christian (May 30, 2007). "Kill the hipster: Why the hipster must die: A modest proposal to save New York cool". Time Out New York.
  5. Haddow, Douglas (2008-07-29). "Hipster: The Dead End of Western Civilization". Adbusters. Archived from the original on 2008-09-08. Retrieved 2008-09-08.
  6. Delaney, Brigid (November 6, 2010). "Hipsters in firing line in 2010s culture war". Sydney Morning Herald.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Dan Fletcher (2009-07-29). "Hipsters". time.com. Retrieved 2009-11-01.
  8. Thorne, Tony, 2014, Dictionary of Contemporary Slang, sv. "Hipster", p. 217.
  9. Dover, Sarah (February 29, 2012). "Sen. Orrin Hatch on Keystone Pipeline: Obama Traded in 'Hard Hat' for 'Hipster Fedora'". International Business Times. Retrieved 25 January 2014.
  10. 1 2 3 Arsel, Zeynep; Thompson, Craig J. (August 26, 2010). "Demythologizing Consumption Practices: How Consumers Protect their Field-Dependent Identity Investments From Devaluing Marketplace Myths". Journal of Consumer Research. doi:10.1086/656389. JSTOR 10.1086/656389.
  11. Horning, Rob (13 April 2009). "The Death of the Hipster". PopMatters. Retrieved 7 October 2016.
  12. 1 2 3 Mark Greif (November 12, 2010). "The Hipster in the Mirror". The New York Times. Retrieved October 3, 2015. All hipsters play at being the inventors or first adopters of novelties: pride comes from knowing, and deciding, what’s cool in advance of the rest of the world
  13. "JAZZ: Drugs & Drums". TIME. 1960-05-02. Retrieved 2013-12-04.
  14. "Boogie In Blue". hyzercreek.com. Retrieved 7 May 2015.
  15. Kerouac, Jack. "About the Beat Generation", (1957), published as "Aftermath: The Philosophy of the Beat Generation" in Esquire, March 1958 Archived November 7, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  16. Powers, Ann (February 11, 2000). "Brooklyn Nights Turn Brighter". New York Times.
  17. "The Bedford Files". Time Out New York: 17. February 3–10, 2000.
  18. Robert Lanham, The Hipster Handbook (2003) p. 1.
  19. "Nathan Barley: A retrospective review, the self-loathing of Charlie Brooker, and the elusiveness of Christopher Morris". Overly Critical Reviews. Retrieved 7 May 2015.
  20. "Nathan Barley – Quotes". IMDb.
  21. "Nathan Barleys to fill Olympic chasm - Cameron". theregister.co.uk. Retrieved 7 May 2015.
  22. Stosuy, Brandon (2005-08-19). "Heavy Metal: It's alive and flourishing". Slate. Retrieved 2008-09-08.
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  24. Stanislawski, Ethan (2008-06-20). "The Chicago Reader has hip-hop hipster backlash against hip-hop hipster backlash". Prefix Magazine. Retrieved 2008-09-08.
  25. Granfield, Matt (2011). HipsterMattic. Allen & Unwin. ISBN 978-1-74237-785-8.
  26. Wiener, Danielle (2012-01-17). "The Fixie Index of Places Most Entranced by Hipster Trends". The Wire. Retrieved 2013-12-04.
  27. Goodman, J. (2010-04-21). "Are there no hipsters in China? Why Chinese bicyclists have resisted the ironic fixed-gear trend that has swept the rest of the world". Slate.com. Retrieved 2013-12-04.
  28. Cameron Macphail (5 Oct 2015). "Science explains why hipsters grow beards". Daily Telegraph. London.
  29. Morwenna Ferrier (21 June 2014). "The end of the hipster: how flat caps and beards stopped being so cool". The Guardian. London.
  30. Rob Brooks (16 April 2014). "Fear not the hipster beard—for it too shall pass". The Guardian. London.
  31. J. E. Holloway. "What Is a Hipster Beard?". wiseGEEK.
  32. Dennis Green (15 Jan 2016). "Here's why the beard might finally die in 2016". Business Insider.
  33. "Art From Death: Taxidermy As A Creative Hobby". NPR.org. 9 August 2014. Retrieved 7 May 2015.
  34. Rutenberg, Jim (2012-08-05). "Montauk's Hipster Fatigue". The New York Times. pp. ST1. Retrieved 19 November 2015.
  35. "Hipster hobbies: Cashing in on ancient skills". Yahoo Finance. 24 December 2013. Retrieved 7 May 2015.
  36. Williams, Alex (February 15, 2013). "Creating Hipsturbia". The New York Times. Retrieved April 30, 2016. The creative class is trying to replicate urban life in the suburbs...
  37. 1 2 Greenfield, Nicole. "Birth of Hipster Hasidism?" Religious Dispatches. University of Southern Carolina. February 2, 2012
  38. Liebman, Shana (2005-05-21). "SoHo Synagogue - Orthodoxy for the Hipster Set". New York. Retrieved 2012-01-26.
  39. Coleman, Miriam (June 8, 2014). "Lana Del Rey Pokes Fun at New York Hipsters in 'Brooklyn Baby'". Rolling Stone. Retrieved June 12, 2014.
  40. Jacobs, Matthew (June 9, 2014). "Lana Del Rey's 'Brooklyn Baby' Is An Ode To Hipsters". Huffington Post. Retrieved April 9, 2018.
  41. https://www.salon.com/2015/03/06/i_consider_myself_a_mipster_how_muslim_hipsters_are_forging_their_own_identity/
  42. Schwartz, Matthias; Winkel, Heike (30 November 2015). "Eastern European Youth Cultures in a Global Context". Palgrave Macmillan via Google Books.
  43. "The Stylehunters of Soviet Russia".
  44. Pyzik, Agata (28 March 2014). "Poor but Sexy: Culture Clashes in Europe East and West". John Hunt Publishing via Google Books.
  45. Beumers, Birgit (1 January 2011). "Directory of World Cinema: Russia". Intellect Books via Google Books.
  46. Fleming, Chris (27 September 2013). "Russian hipsters get a grip on hip".
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  49. Thompson, Elise (February 20, 2008). "Why Does Everyone Hate Hipster Assholes?". Archived from the original on March 6, 2008.
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