Let’s talk about labels, shall we? Labels are the lens we use to identify and sort the people we meet. This practice is learned in school, particularly in high school, as a way for the young to find likeminded individuals, as well as single out the ones they should avoid. These social groups have terms such as the jocks, the popular kids, the rich snobs, nerds, losers, etc. Your entire reputation is determined by this label, and good luck trying to shake it off.
While these labels tend to fall off after college, there are some that persist long after graduation. These labels can define a generation of people, or a specific time period. In the past, you had the beatniks, the hippies, and later the grunge movement of the Gen-Xers. During their heyday, people looked down on these scene followers with distain and disregard. Those labeled as part of the scene were viewed as sheep, followers with no opinions of their own.
Today’s modern punching bag for the millennial generation is called “The Hipster.” Now, I’m not an expert on the topic, but I’ll do my best to give them an adequate description with their common stereotypes. Hipsters are young adults who are known for their pseudo-intellectual interests and hobbies. The Hipster drinks craft beer and expensive macchiatos, and eat locally grown organic kale. They dress in attire associated with manliness, such as large beards that would make Gimli jealous and flannel shirts, yet they lack any manly skills. The common person on the street views the Hipster as nothing more than a poser hiding behind their thick-rimmed glasses and old timey beard.
Hipsters also have a reputation for enjoying things that are seen as unpopular or dated out of a sense of irony or pretentiousness. And here is the reason why I’ve decided to write this blog post. See, with the rise of the Hipster came with a resurging interest in pipe smoking. Pipes not only became popular again, but trendy, much to the chagrin of the common pipe smoker. Now, when the pipe smoker is out and about enjoying their pipe, there’s a chance that they will get stamped with the dreaded “Hipster” label.
Pipe smokers haven’t taken too kindly to this turn of events. As if pipe smokers didn’t have enough to deal with already in the form of the “anti’s” trying to crush pipe smoking all together, now they have to defend themselves from accusations of being pretentious posers. In response, pipe smokers developed a rabid knee-jerk reaction to anything having the whiff of Hipster on it. Read any pipe forum talking about Hipsters, and the venom will seep from your computer screen onto your keyboard.
A recent example of this occurred when online tobacco retailer Pipes & Cigars.com released an ad claiming that every hipster needed a pipe. Pipe smokers on forums and reddit were none too pleased with P&C’s blatant pandering to the Hipster crowd. I agreed with them. Any sort of ad promoting pipe smoking as trendy and the cool thing to do should go back to the drawing board.
Since my initial venture into this hobby, I’ve seen a growing fear among my fellow younger pipers of being labeled as a Hipster. We feel this need to go on the defensive, proving why we’re not mindless Hipsters simply following a trend. Heck, when I first started this pipe blog, I debated writing an article explaining why I wasn’t a hipster. When new pipe smokers fear talking about their new hobby because they don’t want to be labeled as a Hipster, then there’s a serious problem.
Let’s get a few things out of the way first. I am a millennial. I have an old timey beard on my face and use beard oil. I am not a lumberjack, yet I happen to enjoy wearing plaid. I write for a living, instead of working as a mechanic, a construction worker, or other “manly” professions. I enjoy fancy iced coffee drinks, instead of pure black coffee straight from a thermos. And if I’m out for drinks, I’ll be the first to order one of those pumpkin or grapefruit craft beers. However, I don’t identify myself as a hipster. I don’t do any of the above things I listed to fit in with a crowd; I just happen to like them.
I’m also a pipe smoker, because I enjoy smoking a pipe. Do I do it out of a feeling of superiority or the desire to seem smarter than I really am? Not at all. I smoke a pipe because it’s something I’ve wanted to do long before the Hipster movement deemed it cool. I liked the earthy aroma of pipe tobacco, and the look of a pipe. I don’t smoke a pipe for the stares or the oddness factor; I smoke a pipe because that’s just who I am. I imagine that if you’re taking the time to read this blog, or post on a forum or reddit, you also smoke a pipe for a similar reason.
Despite my intentions, I know that when I’m out smoking my pipe, there will be those people who assume I’m a Hipster, but should I really care? Should any of us care? No! You know why you smoke a pipe, and that’s all that should matter to you. Life is too short to worry about these things.
Back when I was in fourth or fifth grade, I went to school wearing a Cubs shirt with Taz the Tasmanian Devil on the front, dressed in a Cubs uniform. Though I was from Chicago, I didn’t understand at the time that some Chicagoans root for either the Cubs or White Sox, not both (for some odd reason I don’t quite understand). As I stood in line, a more popular classmate came up to me, pointed at my shirt, and said “The Cubs suck.” I stood there in complete shock, as I thought everyone from Chicago was supposed to root for the Cubs. I never wore the shirt again, and looking back that’s something I’ve regretted for many years. I let someone dictate what I enjoyed, just to try and fit in. Never again will I make that same mistake, and I will follow my own path instead.
Going back to the subject of Hipsters for a moment, is it a bad thing that others might find their way into our hobby for a different reason than our own? Sure, pipe smoking is considered trendy at the moment, but trends don’t last forever. Eventually people will lose their interest and seek out the next new fad and leave their briars behind, perhaps for a later decade.
However, there will be those who gain a genuine love of pipe smoking due to the Hipster movement, and stick with it. Why should they be treated as outsiders because they took up the pipe that way? Not everyone had a pipe smoking relative, or wanted to take up the hobby from a young age. For some, it’s an impulse decision with no sentimental memories attached to it, and that’s okay.
The pipe smoking community is a diverse collective of people ranging from the mild mannered to the eccentric. There is no exact mold that crafted us all. Not every pipe smoker has to be some sort of craftsman, scholar, or wise old parent. We’re free to be who we are without having to play pretend. That’s what makes our hobby interesting. We all come from different backgrounds and walks of life, yet we share a common love of an old tradition.
My hope is that my fellow pipers will stop worrying about being labeled with the dreaded “Hipster” tag, and just enjoy their pipes. Let’s let the mockers about Hipsters, and smoke your pipe in peace. You know who you are, so don’t let others determine that for you.