Transportation Secretary Unsure of What a Hipster Is. NewsFeed Helps Him Out

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REUTERS/Larry Downing

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, carefully reading our definition of "hipster"

In an interview with the Huffington Post, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood expressed solidarity with bicyclists. Told ” his heartfelt defense of bikers came off like the musings of a run-of-the-mill hipster,” his response was, “I don’t even know what that term means.” NewsFeed to the rescue!

Starting with the most official definition, from Green’s Dictionary of Slang, we find that a “hipster” is “one who espouses the fashionable Bohemian stance of the period; the essence was a conscious downplaying of emotional display, a stance possibly facilitated by heroin addiction.” (Um, yikes.)

(VIDEO: Seeking ‘Stuff White People Like’)

On Urban Dictionary, Secretary LaHood can see how this definition is recast when written by a hipster enthusiast. “Hipsters are a subculture of men and women typically in their 20’s and 30’s that value independent thinking, counter-culture, progressive politics, an appreciation of art and indie-rock, creativity, intelligence, and witty banter.” (As opposed to non-hipsters, who presumably prefer stupidity and terrible conversation.)

Another telling definition comes from the aptly named Hipster Handbook: “One who possesses tastes, social attitudes, and opinions deemed cool by the cool. (Note: it is no longer recommended that one use the term “cool”; a Hipster would instead say “deck.”) The Hipster walks among the masses in daily life but is not a part of them and shuns or reduces to kitsch anything held dear by the mainstream. A Hipster ideally possesses no more than 2% body fat.”

We get a somewhat less flattering definition in a feature on hipsters from Adbusters: “An artificial appropriation of different styles from different eras, the hipster represents the end of Western civilization … a youth subculture that mirrors the doomed shallowness of mainstream society.” The author goes on to list some more concrete trademarks that might help Secretary LaHood identify this class: skinny jeans, cotton spandex leggings, fixed-gear bikes, vintage flannel, fake eyeglasses, keffiyehs, the American Apparel V-neck shirt, Pabst Blue Ribbon beer and Parliament cigarettes.

In a Time Out article explaining how the once “counterculture hipster” has become a “mainstream hipster,” the author gives Secretary LaHood further clues to use: “Hipsterism being originally, and still mostly, the province of whites (the pastiest of whites), its acolytes raid the cultural stores of every unmelted ethnicity in the pot. Similarly, they devour gay style: Witness the cultural burp known as metrosexuality. As the hipster ambles from the thrift store to a $100 haircut at Freemans Sporting Club, these aesthetics are assimilated—cannibalized—into a repertoire of meaninglessness, from which the hipster can construct an identity in the manner of a collage, or a shuffled playlist on an iPod.”

And if all that seems a little wordy and confusing, there’s always the picture book.

(MORE: A Brief History of Hipsters)