Late singer Kurt Cobain of Nirvana was a victim of a false idea that he would always be the alternative to the mainstream.

Are you a hipster?

I’ve only ever heard two replies to this question.

Reply No. 1: Of course not! Hipsters are so… errrrrr… hipster (with a look of disgust).

Reply No. 2: Bro, what’s a hipster?

Being a hipster is becoming popular nowadays. For the uninitiated, let me attempt to describe what that means; a difficult feat, as no one seems to agree on one single definition.

Generally, hipsters reject all things mainstream.

Considering themselves the alternative to the mainstream, they have trendy yet obscure tastes in music, fashion, slang, restaurants (yes, there are hipster restaurants) and other things in popular culture and lifestyle.

In essence, they are the counterculture. If the mainstream likes something, they will reject it. If a cool new indie band was cool before, once it hits the radio charts, hipsters would reject them. I know a hipster who was devastated because her favourite indie band Vampire Weekend was on Top 40 radio. “How can I like them now? Now that EVERYONE else does?” she anguished.

Hipsters even reject hipsters because there are so many of them around.

This anti-mainstream stance is not new. Wherever there is an establishment, there would always be an anti-establishment. It’s human nature. We either join or rebel. The Empire versus the Republic. Big corporate Nike versus cool Vans.

In the 1960s, hippies rejected the establishment with their peace, love, tie-dyed T-shirts and the Volkswagen Beetle. They were the original cool people.

Hippies, beatniks, punks, grunge, and now hipsters — these groups reject mass consumerism. They don’t want to be a part of a herd of consumers brainwashed by corporations to buy the same products.

They see themselves as “cooler than that”. They want new experiences, products and styles that would help them maintain their hip social status.

The irony is this: even though hipsters may think they are ahead in taste and style, and that they’re not a part of the mass-advertised, soul-less everyday consumer, this very anti-mainstream thinking is actually an essential part of capitalism. Anti-mainstream behaviour DRIVES mainstream consumption. (Shock! Horror!)

Everyone wants to be a rebel. Not just the cool guys. From food trucks to vintage-looking T-shirts to indie music fests, there are tons of products out there that cater to the rebel in us, from the hipster to the weekend hipster to the makcik in Pendang who just wants to be a little different.

Corporations know you don’t want to be seen as a loser consuming mass products. So, they market their products to make you feel that if you buy that cool thing, your life is not boring like everyone else’s — that your life is an adventure. Even if all you’re doing is wearing that Andy Warhol T-shirt you bought from Uniqlo in your totally unadventurous journey to the mamak on weekends.

If new and cool products didn’t enter the market, the economy would come to a grinding halt. Nobody, not even the mainstream market, wants to keep buying the same old stuff.

With them being ahead of the taste curve, hipsters help move new products into the mass market. What hipsters buy, one day, the masses will buy. Cool will always become mass. Always.

One day, Vans won’t be cool anymore because your 40-year-old I-wanna-still-be-hip auntie would be wearing them to remind her of her younger days. One day, indie band Haim will win a Grammy (Shock! Horror!). One day, vintage pop-up hipster shops will become department stores.

It annoys the hipsters to no end when their tastes and choices become the mainstream.

Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, one of the best bands ever, in my humble opinion, hated that he sold millions of records, because in his own mind, he had thus “sold out” and “gone mainstream” — a big no-no in the “punk rock is freedom” world he came from.

Kurt felt his musical integrity was gone. And maybe suicide was the only way to avoid a total sell-out.

But it was all in his head. Kurt was a victim of a false idea that he would always be the alternative to the mainstream.

If he could just imagine that maybe there is no alternative and there is no mainstream.

Then there would be no such thing as selling out. He would then be fine with millions liking his “obscure” music and he wouldn’t blow his brains out.

Maybe that’s just it. Maybe the world of cool and not-cool is just an imagined one. There are products and there are consumers. If a product is great, a lot of people will buy it, cool or not.

I don’t think the hipsters are going to like this thought. They would never want to believe that they are an essential part of mass consumption, therefore, integral to capitalism. (Shock! Horror!)

But then maybe they would be too cool to read this anyway.

The writer is chief executive officer of Primeworks Studio, Media Prima Berhad. He works in the production of TV, film and music content, and gets panicky trying to figure out his next tweet

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