Early this September, TheGrandSpectacular posted a video on YouTube called “Being a Dickhead’s Cool”, a song that brutally teases London’s poseurs and animates shots taken from the websites Hackney Hipster Hate and Look At This Fucking Hipster, among other sources. Since its upload on 8 September, the original clip has had around 3,275,000 views.
Responsible for several hundred of those views, I knew I wanted to write something on the Hipster culture but, as usual, I was beaten to it when the Guardian posted a brilliant article this week, “Why do people hate Hipsters?” The article looks at the history of this subculture, which they believe stems from the Do-It-Yourself culture of punk, how hipster has filtered to the mainstream and analyses the hipster as a consumer.
Derived from a slang term associated with the beatniks in the 1940s, the term was revived in the late 90s to describe men and women, typically in their 20’s, who valued independent thinking and progressive politics. Hipster defined a group that had an appreciation of art and music, creativity, intelligence and witty banter. Generally an American movement, Hipster’s dominated Williamsburg, Wicker Park and Mission District neighbourhoods of major cosmopolitan cities, such as New York, Chicago and San Francisco respectively.
For a comprehensive examination of this culture, “What Was the Hipster?” is being published this week and, I dear say, is probably the motivation behind the Guardian’s article. Put together by n+1, a twice-yearly Brooklyn journal of politics, literature and culture, the 200-page collection of American essays and discussions attempts to assess the significance of these turn-of-the-century poseurs.
In an attempt to define the Hipster, the book offers three definitions of the type in question, the first being “white, urban, cool dudes in Manhattan’s Lower East Side circa 1999”. Settling on 1999 as New York’s hipster year zero, this was when American Apparel opened, the Canadian hipster magazine Vice moved to New York, and the sneaker boutique and branding agency Alife established itself on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
Mark Greif, a New York English professor and one of the book’s chief editors, recalls,”There was this crucial bar, ‘Welcome to the Johnsons’, it opened in 1999. It was only the lower east side, but it was made to look as if you were sitting in a living room in Middle America.”
This definition begins with a string of keywords: “trucker hats; undershirts called ‘wifebeaters’ worn as outerwear; the aesthetic of basement rec-room pornography, flash-lit Polaroids, fake wood panelling; Pabst Blue Ribbon; ‘porno’ or ‘paedophile’ moustaches; aviator glasses; Americana T-shirts, tube socks; the late albums of Johnny Cash produced by Rick Rubin; and tattoos.”
The second definition highlights followers of a certain hipster culture, which revels in a childlike naivety; for example, the films of Wes Anderson are mentioned. The third is the “hip consumer”: the smart shopper who understands that some consumer purchases, such as the right vintage T-shirt, might even be regarded as a political statement or form of art. They even split the term, drawing a distinction between the trucker-cap-wearing New Yorkers of 1999 to 2003, and a more recent type of “cool kid” found in Hackney in London, keen on low-tech status symbols, such as typewriters, fixed-wheel bikes, and the kind of outdated instrumentation used on records by Arcade Fire and Animal Collective.
The Manhattan academia suggests that hipster-ism is a defence mechanism for social positioning; how to mark yourself out as different or exclusive in a democratic society, where it’s quite easy to buy the consumer trappings of success. The hipster, they argue, keeps us from becoming too settled in our identity, keeps us moving forward into new fashions and keep us consuming more ‘creatively’
However, this view isn’t shared on the streets of London, where the view of the hipster is that of a middle class, degree wielding, tiresome sort of trendy. A part-time photographer, blogger and musician they are ostentatious in their perceived rebellion, yet strangely conformist; meticulous in their tastes, yet also strangely limited. The London incarnation is all mouth and skinny trousers.
In a Huffington Post article entitled, “Who’s a Hipster?”, Julia Plevin’s definition resonates of the London hipster. She argues that the, “definition of ‘hipster’ remains opaque to anyone outside this self-proclaiming, highly-selective circle”. She continues to say that the “whole point of hipsters is that they avoid labels and being labelled. However, they all dress the same and act the same and conform in their non-conformity” to an “iconic carefully created sloppy vintage look”.
In 2010, a peak was reached in ridiculing these young, London poseurs and, like Emo, the Hipster movement set itself up for a torrent of satire and derision.
Hackney Hipster Hate, a photo blog with images of fashionable east Londoners accompanied by a scornful commentary, was set up this year after there was a party in London E5, where guests arrived in Ray-Bans, deep-cut V-neck T-shirts and skinny jeans. They were also, according to one partisan report, in possession of “a sound system louder than the big bang”.
The annoyed neighbour and anonymous author explains, “I only put ‘hate’ in the title of the blog because, on the night I wrote it, I was watching floods of hipsters arrive in the early hours at a terrace house and having an Ibiza-style party. It drove me insane.”
American comedian Joe Mande began his photo-blog, Look At This Fucking Hipster in April 2009. The site captions shots of the young and pretentious with lines such as: “Hold on, let me check to see if Topshop sells any iPhone purses.” A paperback collection of the best posts was published in March 2010. In July 2009 US writers and editors Brenna Ehrlich and Andrea Bartz began Stuff Hipsters Hate. They’ve also published a paperback collection of posts.
The Unhappy Hipsters photo-blog was inaugurated in January 2010 and satirises the smug, modernist home-owners often seen in the pages of US interiors magazine Dwell. Also, Hipster Hitler web comic was launched in August 2010. It re-imagines the führer as a cardigan-wearing know-it-all, fond of bicycles, organic cashews and typewriters. Fans can buy American Apparel T-shirts bearing such slogans as “I Love Juice”, “Heilvetica” and “Death Camp For Cutie”, a rehash of the band name “Death Cab For Cutie”.
Of course, ridiculing the young and fashionable isn’t an especially new thing to do. Back in 1999, Charlie Brooker created the character of Nathan Barley, a vacuous webmaster, guerrilla filmmaker, screenwriter, DJ and, in his own words, a “self-facilitating media node”. He is convinced he is the epitome of urban cool, and, therefore, secretly terrified he might not be, which is why he reads Sugar Ape magazine, his bible of all things cool. Sugar Ape has been described as a spoof of Dazed & Confused, Vice and, the east London fanzine, The Shoreditch Twat, which published its first edition around this time. Plenty of the jokes in 80s sitcom “The Young Ones”, and even the 70s comedy “Butterflies” were at the expense of similarly youthful movements. Although these newer, online baiters pick similar targets there isn’t any real hatred or ill-wishing towards the individuals of the hipster culture, instead this ridiculing acts as an attempt to satire youthful pretentions.
Edited on 14th Nov: See also “What Was the Hipster? Edited by Mark Greif, Kathleen Ross and Dayna Tortorici — review“