Perhaps the greatest achievement in the last decade of social journalism has been the elimination of hipsters. At one time, hipsters were such a powerful force that they threatened to displace all other groups. By 2009, for example, they were so numerous that Time magazine found it more efficient to describe them in terms of who they were not:
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.
Here the author lays out the hipsters’ defining characteristics: they don’t like the band you like, but they like the movie and beer you don’t. They wear hats. And they pretend they don’t care, when in fact we all care very deeply. We care so much about who is a hipster that we successfully hounded them out of existence. But they left a demographic vacuum that has been filled by bros.
As you can see from this graph, bros and hipsters are locked in a struggle over which one of them other people are. The rise of the hipster is especially striking between 2009—when Time scooped its competitors and blew the hipster story wide open—and 2013, when both hipsterdom and bronarchy briefly leveled off. But in early 2015, Bernie Sanders announced his candidacy for president, and the number of observed bros spiked dramatically. Meanwhile, hipsters have begun to disappear.
How can we explain this sea change? The supply of musics and beers we don’t like has remained relatively constant, so it’s not as though hipsters have been denied the materials they need to survive. A quick trip to the coffee shop or a different part of town reveals that people continue to refer to unfamiliar culture and wear clothes that we do not. But aren’t these people different from how they were in 2009?
They seem more insular—more apt to exclude strangers than even the hipster was. They still wear hats, but a different kind of hat, sometimes backwards. And they are younger, compared to us, than hipsters ever were. While society has gotten seven years older since 2009, the bros that supplanted hipsters remain almost exactly the same age. There is only one plausible explanation for this phenomenon: hipsters are becoming bros.
Let us consider the elements that hipsters and bros have in common:
- They are both types of other people.
- Both hipsters and bros are mostly men. Even though certain female hipsters existed briefly, they eventually became moms.
- Hipsters and bros both project the false illusion that they don’t care, as in the common online expression, “IDGAF, bro” (literally, “I don’t garner appropriate familiarity, bro.”)
- They both think they are better than us, even though they are bad.
This last element reveals why hipsters embraced the adaptive strategy of becoming bros. Once media outlets successfully identified how many people who weren’t their readers were smugly consuming obscure culture and cheap beer just to be different, hipsterdom stopped being cool. We all saw past the facade. Other people had to stop being hipsters and become bros, so they could keep being awful without our noticing.
Fortunately, we live in a golden age of investigative journalism, and just as the hipster seems to vanish, the bro is exposed. America is a good society, but there is a segment within it that rejects everything we stand for. As journalists, commenters, and Twitter users, we must identify those people who embrace difference inauthentically—not as a way to bring us together or celebrate our diversity, but as a way to superficially separate themselves from the rest of us. The hipster has been defeated, but the bro has risen in his place. The only solution is vigilance. If it cannot be final, at least it is ongoing.