At its root, hipsterdom is about one thing: irony. Hipsters cast a satirical take on all that mainstream culture holds near and dear. Mainstream culture celebrates preppy, clean-cut looks. Hipster culture celebrates disheveled dollar store duds. The Salvation Army—hipsters' preferred shopping destination—recently sent out a petition asking grandmothers around the world to knit more ugly sweaters to meet the growing demand.
Mainstream culture is charged with ideology. "Buy this. Be happy;" "Do this. Be successful;" "Feel this. Be normal." Hipster culture, on the other hand, takes pride in its lack of a guiding ideology. If it did have a core ideology, it might be "Do the opposite of that. Show the normal people how silly their beliefs are," or maybe, "Playing a sport is cool?" "Watch me dress like a librarian and never lift a weight."
These commentaries are not devoid of value. In fact, they illuminate the ways in which old prejudices and outdated ways of thinking influence our society's norms. Spurning spring's promulgation of Vineyard Vines and Nantucket chic for hand-me-downs is another way of asking, "Do I really want my clothes to celebrate the sometimes racist and always elitist values of bygone Masters Tournaments?" When hipsters revel in intellectualism, it suggests, if only for a moment, that there might be more to life at Bowdoin than preparing for Wall Street and getting laid.
These are all positive, or at worst, amusing attributes of hipster culture. Hipster culture runs astray, however, in celebrating cigarette smoking. Though they profess to be staunchly opposed to corporate America, each time they buy a pack of cigarettes, hipsters support the industry that hires more lobbyists and kills more Americans than the National Rifle Association's wildest aspirations.
How does that make sense? When did being above it all turn into buying it all? At what point, did "they don't actually hurt you" and "I'll quit eventually" stop being clear self-delusions? Where is the ironic commentary in joining an industry's hellish quest to hook new users faster than the ones rapidly dying off?
Bowdoin's culture has its plusses and minuses. Pressure to conform is certainly strong. An updated offer of the College could read, "go forth my son or daughter (update: we accept women), play a sport, get good grades, enter finance or consulting, maintain political correctness at all times."
For Bowdoin hipsters, smoking cigarettes is an act of defiance, or at the very least, an act of apathy. It deviates from Bowdoin's norms, from the Stepford students, from the administration that spends so much effort keeping everyone healthy, happy, and presentable.
It sarcastically retorts, "Hy, this shit is ridiculous. Why so serious? Leave me out of the rat race please," and most importantly, "I'm above it all."
The sentiment is in the right place. Student protests might seem alien to Bowdoin, but certainly not for lack of issues to protest against. The only problem is that cigarette smoking isn't an effective form of protest. Apathy and irony may be the default tools of hipsterdom, but they don't further the conversation about Bowdoin's shortcomings. Cigarette smoking is not self-immolation. There is no powerful symbolism. No sacrifice for a cause. There is only the startlingly quick onset of dependency, accompanied by ever-increasing chances of cancer.
Student life is rife with contradictions and ambiguity; this article certainly contains both. As a semi-ashamed owner of fake glasses, fervent admirer of Arcade Fire, athlete, frequent-ish binge drinker, and aspiring corporate asshole, I certainly am not a beacon of internal consistency.
Yet it seems clear to me that there is no irony in cigarette smoking, no powerful middle finger to the man, no understated protest of Bowdoin's artificially manipulated culture. There is just blind support for the worst corporate America has to offer: literal toxic consumerism.
Eric Edelman is a member of the Class of 2013.