The hipster effect: When anticonformists all look the same. This was the title of an article on MIT Technology Review accompanied by a photo of a bearded man wearing a beanie and a flannel shirt. It included a stock photo to represent hipsters; however, it angered a reader. Irate, he contacted the website, accusing them of stealing the picture from his social media profile.
“You used a heavily edited Getty image of me for your recent bit of click-bait about why hipsters all look the same,” he wrote according to NPR. “It’s a poorly written and insulting article and somewhat ironically about five years too late to be as desperately relevant as it is attempting to be. By using a tired cultural trope to try to spruce up an otherwise disturbing study.
“Your lack of basic journalistic ethics in both the manner in which you ‘reported’ this uncredited nonsense, and the slanderous, unnecessary use of my picture without permission demands a response, and I am, of course, pursuing legal action.“
However, the man in the photo wasn’t him at all. It was just a model dressed like a hipster.
Why Do Hipsters Look Alike?
This misunderstanding inadvertently proved Brandeis University mathematician Jonathan Touboul’s theory. His study analyzed the “hipster paradox,” hipster in this context referring to non-conformists. How is it that people whose identity is based on opposing mainstream culture end up looking and thinking alike?
In his study, volunteers learned about different trends through different sources, such as word of mouth and blogs. The “hipster” individuals chose to adopt or reject the trend seemingly at random. However, as the trend became more “mainstream” the hipsters all decided to reject it. One example of a trend is growing a beard versus shaving.
“If a majority of individuals shave their beard, then most hipsters will want to grow a beard,” Touboul said to MIT Technology Review. “And if this trend propagates to a majority of the population, it will lead to a new, synchronized switch to shaving.”
This created a cycle where non-conformists became the majority. In response, hipsters have to switch their opposition to stay on the side of non-conformity. And the cycle continued. “Despite (and actually, in response to) their constant efforts, at all times, anti-conformists fail being misaligned with the majority,” Touboul concluded. “They actually create the trends they will soon try to escape.”
It’s Not Him
The irate man who complained about the magazine “stealing his photo” didn’t seem to like this study either. He also seemed to take offense at being called a hipster.
“Now, as far as I know, calling someone a hipster isn’t slander, no matter how much they may hate it,” said Gideon Lichfield, MIT Technology Review’s editor in chief, on Twitter. “Still, we would never use a picture without the proper license or model release. So we checked the license.”
As it turns out, the name of the model in the photo, according to Getty Images, was not the same name as the angry “not-a-hipster”. “In other words, the guy who’d threatened to sue us for misusing his image wasn’t the one in the photo. He’d misidentified himself,” said Lichfield. “All of which just proves the story we ran: Hipsters look so much alike that they can’t even tell themselves apart from each other.”
Additionally, Lichfield spoke on As It Happens, revealing more information about the hilarious incidents. He hypothesizes why this man must’ve assumed the model was him. “I mean, you know, the picture is in profile. He’s wearing a hat so it covers his hair. And, you know, as a no-longer-in-his-30s white man with a beard, I know that a lot of white men in their 30s with beards look kind of similar. So I guess it doesn’t surprise me that much.”
The Man Responds
In fact, the offended man responded to Getty Images, saying, “Wow, I stand corrected I guess. I and multiple family members, and a childhood friend pointed it out to me, thought it was a mildly photo-shopped picture of me. I even have a very similar hat and shirt, though in full color I can see it’s not the same. Thank you for getting back to me and resolving the issue.”
Naturally, Lichfield, and the readers, learned something very important from this case of mistaken identity. Touboul may be right in stating that all hipsters look alike.
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