Children Aren’t Hipsters

A lot is asked of children’s authors, especially of picture books, which are read many times.

“When I’m writing for kids,” he says, “I’m always assuming that a story, if it is loved, is going to be re-read. So I try and be much more conscious of it than I am with adults, just in terms of word choices. I once said that while I could not justify every word in American Gods, I can justify every single word in Coraline.”

Neil Gaiman, Children’s Books Are Never Just For Children, The Guardian

Not only that, ‘children’s books’ must appeal to adult co-readers as much as to the child. Picture books in particular must have a ‘dual audience’.

What does this mean, exactly? It can mean one of two things:

  1. The material must be so universal that it transcends age.
  2. The story must operate on more than one level, with some things understood only by the adult co-readers.

What kinds of things are understood only by adults? A big one is irony. Typically, children start to develop an understanding around age eight (with much variability in the non-neurotypical population, and across cultures).

With that in mind, authors and illustrators need to be especially careful of ironic jokes which, with the understanding of irony removed, come across as plain old ‘bad messaging’. I’ve seen this called ‘hipster irony’. If you’ve ever played Cards Against Humanity, you’ll be very familiar with the concept.

This modern descriptor is quite removed from the original meaning of hipster. In fact, some of my favourite people are old hippies:

Hipsters sought to establish a counterculture, removing themselves from the “straight” world dominated by “the system”. This was a utopian ambition, but one motivated by very real social and political conditions and events, including economic inequality and the Vietnam War, in addition to the desire to affirm the value of pleasures mainstream society was believed to repress. While the hippies’ dress, unlike the flappers’, was designed to set them apart from the larger culture, it nevertheless made a statement to that culture as a representation of the subculture’s social and political beliefs. Neither the flappers nor the hippies thought of themselves as playing dress up, even though their critics may have; to the participants, it was merely a matter of getting dressed in a particular style in order to express a social movement.

– from Goth: Undead subculture (in a discussion of goths, who do know that they’re ‘getting dressed up’.)

Hipster irony, as it’s called today, can simply be a racist/sexist statement which only works as irony when everyone in the room understands the statement to be a parody of racism/sexism.

However, we might as well just call it hipster racism and hipster sexism. Hipster racism is still racism. Hipster sexism is still sexism. (I’ve also seen the terms ‘retro racism’ and ‘retro sexism’.)

I would encourage parents and book-buyers to look for hipster irony in children’s stories, especially when selecting movies and books for readers who aren’t developmentally ironic yet.


As an example of hipster irony in children’s stories, princesses make a good case study.

Many people think that the merchandising for the princesses depends on their popularity level, but that’s not entirely true. Children aren’t hipsters. They don’t have the means or interest into digging into who isn’t the “mainstream favourite” Princess. They’re not going to like something or even recognize it unless we show it to them.

Feminist Disney


  1. What is a Goth?
  2. Make A Hipster Paper Doll That Looks Just Like You.
  3. Things Hipsters Like, an illustration from Jenni Sparks
  4. Hippie Slang Of The 60s from Socyberty
  5.  Stuff Hipsters Like, a Tumblr Blog, for anyone who is wondering if they’re a hippie.
  6. Shit Hipsters Say. You just knew that had to exist, didn’t you.
  7. Real hipsters listen to Can playing the spoons.
  8. The Scientific Reason Why You’re A Hipster from The Body Odd
  9. Look At This Fucking Hipster Tumblr Blog
  10. Hipster Bars In Wellington. Wellington is awesome. The capital of NZ is also a hot bed of creative talent, for some unknown reason. If I lived in New Zealand again I’d probably choose Wellington. Namely because my hometown is in rubble after the earthquake which, to be honest, we all thought was going to happen to Wellington, given their proximity to known fault lines. But heigh ho.
  11. ‘Hipster-Ass Hipster Bike for Hipsters’ Promises You a Wild Ride, from Jezebel
  12. How Do People Afford To Be Hipsters, from Thought Catalog
  13. How To Know If You’re At A Hipster Wedding, an infographic from Refinery29
  14. Are You A Hipster? from Thought Catalog
  15. Flow Chart: What hipsters should read from EW
  16. The Difference Between Nerds and Hipsters With Glasses from TSP
  17. Hipster Starter Kit from Lost At E Minor