The Identity Crisis of Teenagers and the Hipster Subculture

Categories: IdentityTeenager

I am certain of who I am. I am certain that I am a teenager. I am certain that I hate pickles, mustard, and white hangers. Certain that I will go to college. I’m certain that I love sandwiches, green tea ice cream, and cats. Certain that I will never end up in prison. I am certain that I don’t like unexpected hugs, nor do I like goodbyes. Certain that I love dresses and one day want to be married.

I am certain about a seemingly infinite number of things. At the same time, I am unsure. I am unsure of where I will be living in a year and a half. Unsure as to why I can love a song but hate it when someone else loves it after me. Unsure of why sometimes all I want to do is sit in my room alone with my computer and other times that perpetual loneliness brings me to tears. I’m unsure of where I stand politically. Unsure as to how I can look someone in the eye after they ask if I’m okay and say, yes. I say I am an anti-feminist, but I am unsure as to why. Unsure about why I work so hard when there is no guarantee that everything will work out. Sometimes it feels like I’m unsure about more things about myself than I am certain.

As a whole, American youth, a category that I fall under, is confused. We should be.

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Most of us have no idea who we are in a society that expects us to. We are asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and , “What do you want to do with your life?” at the same time we’re being told, “No. You can’t have ice cream before dinner.” and “Go clean your room or I’ll take your phone away.” We didn’t know it at first, but growing up begins at age 18 in the US whether we want it to or not. We have to decide where to spend four years of our life and whether or not we want to take $20,000 in student loans before we can have a drink, vote, rent a car, and most importantly before the brain fully matures at age 25 (Aamodt 2011). Those questions of who we want to be and what we want to do loom in the back of our minds because time is seemingly running out, and we lack many of the answers we desire. We typically have no answers to these questions because in order to answer them we need to have a strong sense of identity, an understanding of what makes one the person one is and what they believe in, which many of us at this age do not have. This stage of life where we search out an identity is called ‘moratorium’, which according to Erik Erikson, developmental psychologist, is just an “identity crisis”. The “identity crisis” occurs because American youth know that they don’t have a strong sense of identity while knowing that they need to find it (Crocetti 2008). Because we need to know who we are, we try and find out. For those observing youth identity in contemporary America, one common word used to refer to those youth identities is Hipster. One has to wonder why this type of person or lifestyle, the Hipster, is so commonly acknowledged, identified with, and debated.

A majority of youth have no confirmed identity and are searching for it. There are many ways to define the stages of identity development in adolescents. Two prominent theories are from Erik Erikson and James Marcia, another developmental psychologist. Development is categorized into eight levels by Erikson based on age. The adolescent stage, defined by him as age 12-18, is “Identity vs. Inferiority”. He claims it is critical that youth develop a strong sense of identity because otherwise they will remain unsure of their beliefs, themselves, and feel insecure or confused for the rest of their lives (McLeod 2008). This situation is not ideal; it is never a good idea to allow someone that has no sense of identity to grow up and become a part of society because it is likely that they will not be useful in society. A person who can’t figure out how they feel, how to fix their problems, or what they want can’t help another do the same. While bad on it it’s own, it only becomes a major issue when the incidence of confusion is high in youth. James Marcia believes there are two core categories of identity formation stages: Exploration and Commitment (Crocetti 2008). Exploration is the search for identity and commitment is adhering to the constructs of that identity in all situations. He divides this into five subcategories, and the three that are most important to the topic of adolescent identity confusion are Foreclosure, Moratorium, and Searching Moratorium (Crocetti 2008). Moratorium, as explained earlier, is nicknamed as being an identity crisis. Searching Moratorium is the transition stage to this crisis, and Foreclosure is having high identity commitment without exploring one’s options. One study of 1854 adolescents found a sample proportion for each category (Crocetti 2008). For the purpose of analyzing what proportion of teens are searching for an identity, Foreclosure will be analyzed alongside Moratorium and Searching Moratorium because an identity chosen without exploration signifies an arbitrary selection that isn’t indicative of the person’s true identity. The proportions are split by ethnicity, so they will be combined using the statistical technique for pooling sample proportions. The combined pooled proportions for individuals placing into the stages of Foreclosure, Moratorium, and Searching Moratorium is 64.56%. This means that a majority of adolescents don’t have a strong sense of identity because they are looking for one still. Applying the proportion from Marcia’s study to the 40,717,537 adolescents age 10-19 living in the US (“U.S. Teen Demographics.” 2011), about 26,287,242 adolescents have no sense of identity. If these 26,287,242 youths do not find an identity, they go through the rest of their lives confused and without purpose. Society knows this and puts pressure upon youth to find this identity. When finding this identity, or persona, adolescents have to consider a few things.

The necessity for identity and the egocentric nature of youth puts uniqueness at the forefront of concerns when considering their chosen identity. The average youth is not focused on observing other people, but on how they are being observed (Elkind 1967). So, they put on a show. Instead of focusing on what they want, they focus on what they think others want to see. This is egocentric because they think someone is always paying attention to or critiquing them but that’s often not the case. If every person is worrying about how they are being observed every time they interact with someone, they have no time to stop and consider the other person. This egocentrism leads youth into thinking they are somehow better, or superior than others, and more unique even without an identity to claim as their own because they believe they somehow warrant others constant attention. This idea of uniqueness in your own identity is described as a personal fable in psychology most likely because those individuals are in actuality not unique. When being measured, the degree of personal fable and its subscore of (perceived) speciality have ranges of 12-60 and 6-30, respectively. In a 2005 study of 2390 students, the PF (personal fable) score was 33.1. A later study of 119 younger adolescents in grades six through eight was conducted by the same team (Alberts 2007). This data was like James Marcia’s in that the scores for PF and Specialty were broken up into subgroups. Using the same method as before, the mean PF and specialty scores were found to be 33.8 and 17.23, respectively. These numbers in their relative scales, are pretty high. These high scores in PF and “specialness” support the notion that adolescents are egocentric in thinking that they are somehow better or more unique than their peers. If someone thinks of themselves as special, then they probably want to assume an identity that reflects that. They tell themselves that they are different and they want others to think so too. This is where the contemporary “counter-culture”, unique, different, “other” comes in: the Hipster.

What exactly is a ‘Hipster’? If one were to ask what a Hipster looks like, there would would be a variety of different answers. One person might say they are a counter-culture that continually rejects everything popular. Steve Kurutz, New York Times reporter states, as a 30-something skinnyish urban male there’s almost nothing I can wear that won’t make me look like a hipster … . Every time I lace up a pair of Adidas or Vans, I might as well be saying I’m one of those hipsters with a closetful of retro ’80s streetwear. Top siders paired with an Lacoste shirt are the realm of Vampire Weekend-type preppy hipsters. Any kind of heavy boots smack of up-with-the-working-man proletariat hipsters (Kurutz 2013).

A man describing a certain area of town says, “ You know you’re in hipster Brooklyn when someone who looks like a 19th-century farmer tells you that his line of work is ‘affinity marketing'” (Alford 2013). A Hipster also looks like Holden Caulfield who thinks everything is “depressing as hell” and despises “phoniness”. A tobacco company looking to profit off of this subculture defines them by saying, “ ‘Hipsters’, or young trendsetters, are charismatic,… and “possess tastes, social attitudes, and opinions deemed cool by the cool and that “Hipsters are characterised by nihilism. They go out of their way to thwart societal expectation and buck norms” (Hendlin 2010). These are all examples of Hipsters or the Hipster doctrine, but none of it gets any closer at getting the real definition. Perhaps the most specific definition of a Hipster is that the term Hipster is nonspecific. The same tobacco company mentioned previously claims Hipsters have a “heterogenous and amorphous yet particular lifestyle” (Hendlin 2010). The absolute breadth of what the word Hipster can apply to as shown by these examples gives no reason not to support this definition. This globally recognized yet inadequately defined group of youth lead Kurutz to ask, “Has there ever been a subculture so broadly defined?” (Kurutz 2013). The answer to that question is about as certain as a 16 year old opinion of their identity or even what the thing that started this subculture, the Hipster, actually is. However, this question brings up the problem, and in some cases, solution in the Hipster identity for American youth.

American youth are attracted to the Hipster persona, or identity, because it allows them to have an identity without very much internal reflection or effort. As stated earlier, most adolescents are confused. They don’t know what they want in life, from themselves, or from others but they need to. In a search for identity that has a time limit, the broad definition of a Hipster can give solace to the struggling teen looking anywhere for a place to fit. The examples explained earlier show that a Hipster can be from all walks of life, do pretty much anything, and still somehow warrant a label or identity. To the confused youth, it means almost anything you do comes with a pre-made identity. Steve Kurutz creates a twist on a common phrase by saying, “ If it looks like a hipster, walks like a hipster and quacks like a hipster… “(Kurutz 2013). Without trying, one can appear to be a Hipster by a large amount of the population. You don’t even have to be a hipster, you can do whatever you want, and you can still have an identity. The search is over and you have a meaning. Michael Reeve says of the many mannerism that make up a Hipster, ” These come together to make a noise; to let it be heard that now one has something to cling on to, something to say. On this foundation one can build a sense of self and ontological security and therefore achieve continuity in thinking about the self and its place(s) in the world” (Reeve 2013). For the identity crisis that some American youth face, the blanket statement that is the Hipster can be the answer to a long term problem. However, the Hipster is by no means identified with by all of the confused, identity crisis facing youth.

Adolescents loathe the Hipster identity because they fall under the umbrella of Hipster based on it’s amorphous definition which threatens their uniqueness. Hipsters don’t exactly live up to their trend-starting, anti-norm, original nicknames. When describing a Hipster food place in Williamsburg, New York during an investigation of Hipster culture, one man states, “ Roberta’s has the ugliest entrance of any restaurant I’ve ever seen, barbed wire leading to heavily graffitied concrete cinder blocks:gulag in da hood. I waited almost an hour for a table “ (Alford 2013). This Hipster locale is non-traditional and somewhat dirty sounding, making it somewhat unique, yet it is so popular that a person has to wait in line for an hour just to get some pizza. It has become the worst possible thing: normal. Harking back to an earlier point, when someone decides upon an identity they do so with the idea in mind that it is unique. A person who wants to be unique might hate Hipsters because they have been co-opted by society causing them to lose their uniqueness, if they ever even had it. The oddest part about those who dislike Hipsters is that to them, being a Hipster is an insult, but the paradox is that the people who use it as an insult would often be categorized as Hipsters. This implies that they enjoy the same things as Hipsters and Hipster aficionados, so there is no ideological difference. So, this the real meaning behind those insults must be that, “underneath it lie uneasy feelings about about our own identity and individuality” (Kurutz 2013). The Hipster identity is a blanket statement for most cultural, social, and fashion trends. Its broad definition makes it hard for anyone not to be classified as a Hipster. This makes this so-called unique and progressive group mainstream. For a group of people who have to find a unique identity, the term Hipster threatens them and their beliefs because if they “qualify” as a Hipster it means they are not special.

The forced quest for identity leaves youth scrambling to find something to hold onto. It seems that the most popular, and somehow most ridiculed, identity of today is the Hipster. Despite its prevalence that can be seen from its constant hatred or broad classification, there is not a lot of research delving into this particular subculture or counterculture group. Doing so seems to upset Hipster haters and lovers alike. Why? Because, “ The attempt to analyze the hipster provokes such universal anxiety because it calls everyone’s bluff” (Aversa 1988). This was in the context of explaining why people who pretend they aren’t Hipsters don’t like the Hipster culture to be examined. However, it could explain why both sides of the Hipster line don’t want it to be argued. To analyze it, as this essay did, would bring about the deep insecurities held by the American youth of today over finding an identity. Not only that, but for both sides of the Hipster argument it calls their “bluff” on their perceived superiority, their uniqueness, or the fake identity as a Hipster some of them hold. Upon further examination, the Hipster is not an actual identity. It is a fake solution to that identity crisis that everyone accepts because it gives them a meaning. Without that meaning, they are lost.


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The Identity Crisis of Teenagers and the Hipster Subculture. (2021, Oct 07). Retrieved from

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