Deviating from the mainstream: Amish or Uber-Hipsters?
With the internet being a big part of the lives of almost everyone around the world and social media causing a lot of people to dress, act and think the same way, some people feel the need to be different. This leads to the emergence of new cultural groups. But these ‘subcultures’ have existed for longer. The religious subculture of the Amish community is a perfect example of such a subculture that has been around for ages and has been deviating from the mainstream since they’ve existed. A newer subculture known for its deviance is hipsterism. Both groups deviate from the mainstream in both the on- and offline worlds, and they do this in surprisingly similar ways.
In this paper, we intend to find out if the hipster subculture is inspired by the Amish subculture. We will investigate this by analyzing two typical cultural features: appearance (fashion) and food. We will start by shortly elaborating on the concept of 'mainstream', in order to understand how both subcultures deviate from it.
Deviating from the mainstream
According to Becker (1963), society is heterogeneous (the mainstream), with fairly homogeneous ‘deviant’ subgroups. The mainstream is all that is accepted by the mass of society as ‘normal’ or ‘acceptable’. Certain ideas, trends, principles, and values are deemed popular and most people agree with these notions. The subgroups that Becker describes are groups or communities that do not share these commonly held values and principles. As Becker says, these so-called subgroups are fairly homogeneous, since they share values, jargon, clothing, and infrastructures. The Amish community and hipsterism are two examples of these subgroups.
A hipster’s identity
Now, let’s elaborate on what or who is considered a ‘hipster’. The hipster subculture seems to initially rebel against the mainstream through consumption practices. They do so by wearing vintage clothing or old-fashioned glasses and listening to alternative music. However, the hipster subculture is a much more complex phenomenon. According to Maly and Varis (2016), ''what is labeled as 'hipster' differs contextually depending on who uses the concept and in which part of the world''.
The original hipsters embody a particular ethic of consumption that seeks to commodify the idea of rebellion or counterculture. They counter the mass-produced and heavily mediatized mainstream culture (Maly & Varis, 2016). This is also shown in the way these hipsters consume food. For example, their rejection of mass-produced goods is often expressed in a preference for slow food, flexitarianism, vegetarianism, or veganism.
However, the idea that we have of hipsters nowadays is a rather commodified one. 'The hipster style' has been adopted by the mainstream (Maly & Varis, 2016): think of the popular trend of thrifting clothes or using polaroid cameras. Whereas our current idea of hipsters seems to be focused mainly on style and fashion, the 'original hipsters' were driven by a common rejection of commercialism and were known for their ''culturally sensitive consumer attitude'' (Maly & Varis, 2016).
The Amish way of living
The Amish on the other hand don’t particularly rebel against the mainstream, the way they reject the mainstream is simply their way of living. The Amish are a group of traditional Christian church followers, and they have purposefully placed themselves outside of the modern world. The Amish keep their traditions in line by having a big set of rules that people within Amish culture have to live by. Amish are essentially creating a set identity. You have to be ‘enough’ Amish to belong, if you are not willing to conform to their rules you are shunned.
Perhaps the most notable fact about the Amish community is that they reject modern society with its technologies and are almost self-sufficient. They live in agricultural communities, just like most people did in the first half of the nineteenth century. A common stereotype held by non-Amish is that all Amish are farmers, however, a little more than half of the Amish community is not associated with farming at all. On the contrary, they engage in other forms of craftsmanship (Wilkens & Hsu, 2015).
Now let’s look at the similarities. How are the Amish and hipsters both not mainstream? One of the most prominent ways in which both groups deviate from the mainstream is their style of clothing. The Amish are a community where the people seem to live in the 18th century, this also follows in the way that they dress. Common pieces of clothing are hats and suspenders (Weyer et al., 2003). In the words of the fashion industry, you could call this style 'vintage'. Hipsters wear retro and vintage clothing and they often buy clothes at lesser-known stores. We can see the similarities in style in the following two pictures. Both pictures are from Pinterest, coming from an ’Amish men’s fashion’ and a ’Hipster men’s fashion’ board.
These two pictures show a striking resemblance. For example, there are similarities in the suspenders and the headwear. According to Brewer and Bonalumi (1995), the Amish plain style of dress is to reject worldliness, vanity, and materialism. This involves not wearing the style of clothing sold by big, popular international chains. They prefer to wear simple clothing.
It can be said that both groups wear a more vintage style of clothes for the same reason. Hipsters reject this materialism and worldliness as well. Although, it has to be said that hipsters are a huge partaker of consumerism. A big part of their identity-making involves consuming goods like clothes, glasses, books, phones, and organic food. However, like the Amish, hipsters have disdain for modern corporatism (Henke, 2013). Big companies, which usually sell more mainstream clothes, are being avoided as much as possible by hipsters.
Organic food as an identity
This rejection of modern corporatism is not only present in the way in which they dress. The way in which both Amish and hipsters buy and produce food overlaps as well. In a handbook on 'How to be a Hipster', it says that ‘’your veggies are locally grown, organic (of course), and purchased at the farmers' market. ‘’ (Deutsche Welle, n.d.). In the hipster community, it is very important to not do your weekly groceries in big supermarket chains.
In an interview that was conducted to explore the ways in which hipsters form their identity through food, it was found that a rather large component of hipsters’ individual and collective selves was found to be a negotiated process in which the 'we' involved in their protest is defined by micro-socially constructed food consumption experiences that are distanced from the commercial mainstream and the market (Cronin et al. 2014). Shared distaste for food marketing through discourse plays a big role in creating a hipster’s food-related identity (Cronin et al. 2014). In the interviews, there is clear opposition from hipsters to “the bulls∗ ∗t ads on the TV” and to “what most people would eat because it looked nice on a supermarket shelf” (Cronin et al. 2014). Hipsters prefer to have locally grown food or even grow it themselves. Everything to avoid buying at big supermarket chains.
A significant aspect of Amish culture is that they grow their own food. There is a huge similarity with hipsters here. The Amish farm to harvest what they eat, may this be vegetables or animals. In a way, Amish food is super organic. Most of their products they produce themselves and sometimes they buy pre-canned food. They plant different vegetables in different seasons and most of the time they have small farm animals like chickens. Everything is managed by themselves, and they stock up before winter so they have enough to get through the season.
Both Amish and hipsters reject the mainstream by not partaking in modern-day commercialism. However, they do this in different ways. Whereas hipsters define themselves through their consumption practices by not shopping at big shopping chains, the Amish have religious reasons to reject commercialism. In both groups, there is a big emphasis on eating locally grown food. For hipsters, this is more of an identity making, while for the Amish it is a tradition. However, both groups can be considered similar in how and what they eat.
Amish as proto-hipsters?
Can Amish be considered proto-hipsters? Amish and hipsters have some similarities, thus, making a connection between Amish culture and hipster culture is suitable. Upfront, they might not look like each other but if you delve in a little deeper you will notice that there are indeed similarities. Amish culture revolves around a simple lifestyle, they dress plainly and traditionally. It is like they got stuck in a different time zone. They produce their own food and they take care of themselves in traditional ways. The Amish community is self-sufficient and based on religion.
Hipsters are also a group that steers away from the mainstream. They have created a counter-culture with their own set of rules. All over the world, hipsters are recognizable for their more 'vintage' style of clothing. In terms of food, hipsters tend to go for organic food in their efforts to avoid commercialism. However much they dislike capitalism, they also cannot reject it. Unlike the Amish, they are not a self-sufficient community, so rejecting capitalism is not entirely possible.
In conclusion, Amish and hipsters are comparable, the very core of their existence, however, is different. Thus, the Amish cannot be considered proto-hipsters, because the reason for their way of living, clothing, etc. is fundamentally different. The Amish move from religious motivations and the hipsters on the other hand act the way they do to show their eccentricity and deviance. However, it is undeniable that hipsters did take inspiration from the Amish.
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