What is it with hipsters? They’re goddamn everywhere.
They’re taking over an unloved piece of your city (an area you always loved precisely because it was unloved) and turning your local bar or former-fried chicken outlet into a poetry and craft beer café, with a rubbish art gallery attached, in what used to be the Gents.
Look at them, with their asymmetrical haircuts and their silly beards and their tight jeans and their retro bicycles and their iPhones and their Twitter feeds and their Instagrammed “life moments” and their soya “frappalattecinos” and their FGM and their crucifixions and their fake irony.
Actually, they’re not even bastards, just “dickheads”—as Will Self, currently the UK’s finest prose ironist with admirable Modernist aspirations, more accurately reports in a New Statesman article on the Hipster Menace this week.
Will foolishly—or not, given he had a psychogeographical skit to file—holidayed at “the Farmer’s Daughter, a boutique motel in the Fairfax district of Los Angeles.” This motel is “some deconstructed Midwestern idyll” with farming tools prettily and uselessly hanging up all over the place. About him is the scourge of piped music, and of the worst kind: cool piped music—Massive Attack murmuring over the breakfast table, the bassline rippling his tea like a trip-hop T-Rex.
Will’s piece is an amusing piece of hipster bashing—and self-loathing. He considers his own generation’s collapse of high and low art to be responsible, at least in part, for the inauthentic, delusional-individualist, hyper-capitalist, cultural gunk in which we now live, and which is typified by the loathsome, talentless hipster.
But what are hipsters? And why are they so reviled? … Type “I support hipsters” into Google and see what comes up.
For years I thought hipsters were a kind of low-slung trouser. In 2009, a tight-jeans-wearing friend at work put me in the picture: hipsters were those trendy dickheads who had overrun parts of east London over the previous 15 years.
Oh, them! Hipsters! The epigones! The ones who came after the artists who had settled in dirty and dirt-cheap parts of London since the 1960s, the ones who chased inspiration and talent, believing that simply by living near talent they too would become talented, and rich, and famous… A bit like what draws people to Los Angeles, locale of the Farmer’s Daughter motel.
But wait a minute. Go back a few decades and hipsters are, according to Allen Ginsberg, “angelheaded … burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night.” From angels to dickheads in 60 years—how the hipsters have fallen!
You may, like Will, have already enjoyed “Being a Dickhead’s Cool” by Reuben Dangoor, a comedy song doing the rounds on social media. It is very funny. Never mind Ginsberg, want to know what a hipster is now? Check out Dangoor’s track.
The song has the merit of never actually using the word (neither does Will; the “H” word appearing only in the sub-edited title). This is important because “hipster” is now only a pejorative epithet used to describe a very loose social group. This pejorative demands that whatever hipsters are, they are dickheads. Moreover, we know them when we see them, and they definitely aren’t us, even when we might be wearing similar clothes, drinking the same coffee, or socializing in the same bar.
“Hipster” is a negatively defined social identity only. I have never met someone who called themselves a hipster because that would be like saying, “I am an abysmal dickhead.” In this way, “hipster” is rather like the—much worse— UK social group pejorative “chav.” However, unlike chav-hating, hipster-hating is OK, even encouraged as so much harmless fun—or, get this, political critique—because … you know … they’re gormless middle-class dickheads, right?
I find the preponderance of beards, the desperation to disc jockey loudly in bars, and the fixed-gear bicycles pretty irritating. But the ease with which people vent their hipster-hate is a little troubling—especially as it often seems to come from a narcissism far darker than that of someone wearing a low-cut T-shirt:
“[T]he web has massively enlarged the numbers who style themselves as ‘artistic,’ as well as increased the duration of their futile aspiration. In the kidult dickhead milieu, it’s now quite possible to encounter forty-somethings with weird facial hair, wearing shorts and still resolutely believing that their career is about to take off,” says Will.
Translation: “Keep off my patch, dickheads.”
“Dickhead” is straightforwardly an insult, based on someone’s subjective (and possibly correct) perception of another’s behavior, such as demanding everyone listen to their cool music over breakfast.
“Hipster” is more insidious because it is an insult loaded with assumptions about the characteristics of someone as a member of a class of people (whether they actually are a member of that class or not, there is no way of knowing until you ask them). These assumptions are a dim echo of identity politics, which is about ownership and rights of ownership, such as who can rightfully speak about the experience of black people in the UK, etc. It’s also about knowledge—and the attendant paranoia that flows from those who believe themselves to be “in the know”: a particularly postmodern condition given that postmodernism frequently collapses—to Will’s regret—older distinctions between forms of knowledge, between high and low art. It’s no good just knowing your Latin and Greek anymore, you have to be hip to the lyrics of Norwegian Death Metal and American Dirty Realism as well! (The web has made this much easier for those pesky hipsters.)
No wonder the postmodern condition is, I contend, one of exhaustion and, eventually, cynicism. Hipsters—let’s call them the absurdly fashionable—predicate their style on arcane, frequently ironized pop culture knowledge. This infuriates both those who didn’t know about such things in the first place and those who did but feel that their treasured pieces of knowledge have been vultured to bare bones of postmodern gibberish. That is, into a fashion statement.
Thus, both the right-wing and the left are horrified by the Hipster Menace. The former are angry at the way hipsters dress and act, because it makes them feel locked out and stupid; the latter are furious at the way hipsters dress and act … because it makes them feel locked out and stupid (especially as those dickheads like the stuff they liked. They can’t like it in the same way as me! They just can’t!)
But what really galls is that hipsters don’t seem to care. As Will notes, hipsters have only multiplied exponentially since the days of TV satire Nathan Barley. And because they don’t seem to care about their detractors, they obviously don’t care about anything but themselves. They are a byword for gentrification and—at best—youth apathy over the neoliberal political consensus.
Hipsters seem to enjoy, even make fun. And someone’s enjoyment is often an abomination in the sight of another; see: chavs. Contrary to some critiques, society does not demand that we enjoy but that we are vessels for the next enjoyment only, and the next, similar to the idea that women are simply vessels for male sexual enjoyment or procreation. To simply demand we enjoy would leave society hanging in the wind.
This peevish hatred of enjoyment really is mean-spirited and reactionary, especially as the hipster-haters also enjoy their hatred, albeit in a second-hand, masturbatory fashion. And what could be more of a hipsterish, self-involved, first-world problem than hating hipsters? To all that, perhaps a hipster would say: “Yeah, I’m a loser, baby. So why don’t you kill me?”
Title image source: technologyuninhibited.wordpress.com