American News

The Daily Devil’s Dictionary: What’s a “Hipster”?

Lena Dunham news, Zinzi Clemmons, Arwa Mahdawi, hipster racism, hipster origin, hipster, what is a hipster, entertainment news, film news, celebrity news

Allison Williams, Lena Dunham & Zosia Mamet © Kathy Hutchins

November 28, 2017 11:20 EDT

Zinzi Clemmons attacks Lena Dunham for adhering to what she calls a strain of “hipster racism.”

Arwa Mahdawi has published an article in The Guardian following the accusation by Zinzi Clemmons that writer, actor and director Lena Dunham is guilty of “hipster racism.” Today, the Daily Devil’s Dictionary will define the word hipster. Tomorrow’s definition will address the word racism.

Here is today’s 3D definition:


Noun. Any white person who is clearly not hip but who believes that it’s hip to be hip, especially someone with a specific talent for modifying accordingly their speech and appearance

Adj., Designates any of the chosen attributes hipsters select in their effort to appear to be hip

Contextual note

Reacting to Dunham’s defense of a white male colleague accused of sexual assault by a mixed-race member of their creative team, the writer Zinzi Clemmons attacked Dunham for adhering to what she calls a strain of “hipster racism” practiced by “wealthy, well-educated liberals, with parents who were influential in the art world.” Modern hipsters aim at having the best of both worlds: the establishment — for their well-being and financial security — and the rebellious anti-establishment for their self-esteem. The first guarantees their pursuit of happiness and the second allows them to feel morally justified, whatever actions they undertake.

Historical note

The adjective hip (with the variant, hep) preceded cool as a virtue that belonged to the black community. It was used, especially during the 1940s and 50s exclusively by jazz musicians, black and white, to designate original, inventive musical styles or artistic effects as well as the ability of certain people — again black or white — to understand them. The verb “get hip to” became a synonym for understand and get involved in. It implied both study and humility.

Like so many emanations of black culture in the US, a segment of the white population appropriated the word and the superficial veneer as a sign of largely risk-free stylistic rebellion. By the 1950s, hip was associated with the beatnik movement, essentially white, which had adopted as its background music contemporary jazz (the bebop of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk), a sophisticated art form appreciated by an artistic elite, black and white, native and foreign.

As the Beatnik movement morphed into the hippie movement in the early 1960s, rock ‘n’ roll replaced bebop as the background accompaniment of a new set of social rituals designed to signify blanket refusal of establishment culture. When the social and political basis of the protest movements of the 60s petered out, a new generation of hipsters began to emerge, no longer associated with black culture and, for the most part, claiming to represent a younger brand of white establishment culture.

Over the decades, the discipline and respect associated with the first generation virtues of study and humility — the effort and attitude formerly required to become hip — were forgotten and replaced by the newer virtues of superficial imitation and self-assertion.

*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: Kathy Hutchins /

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