The Slow Death Of The Hipster
A eulogy to a trend that united us all in love, hate, and bewilderment.
We are truly in a new age, folks. An age of transition in culture. Or, if you really want, you can decide that the last few years of socially-driven fashion in the world’s urban centres was a deep void that we’d best forget about, like flares and that period of time Japanese girls spent walking around in blackface. Whatever you think, it’s clear that the age of the hipster is dead, at least according to the billions of articles, natch, plastered all over the internet (sorry early 2000’s Australian TV heartthrob Samuel Johnson, your earnest documentary series may be a bit late). Let me first be clear and state that I am in no way breaking new ground when I say the hipster is dead: everyone who’s wanted to make some kind of shocking statement for the last five years has thrown out that phrase, hoping to cause some kind of fuss in what my old mate Bob Katter affectionately calls the “Greens-voting latte belt”. “It’s time to shave off those haaaaaaaawwwrible beards and throw out those vintage flannos, guys!” says culture critic after culture critic. And even as much as I hate actually using the term “culture critic” – the irony makes my brain hurt – it’s pretty hard to doubt that, if you de-stress your own jeans, ride a tiny fixie or insist on looking like Clockwork Orange-era Malcolm McDowell merged, The Fly style, with a steampunk hobo, you’re probably going to be judged as a self-righteous dickhead.
Pro tip: parents: don’t ever let your ginger kids wear all red.
I, for one, am disappointed by the apparent throwaway perspective we’ve assigned to hipsterdom. As a long-time constituent of following trends because I assumed people would like me more, I’m at a loss. As a young man, I bought snap pants and a visor because it seemed to be the way to go. “These seem practical,” I said to myself, “I can quickly remove them to take part in whatever spontaneous sporting event occurs within my field of vision!” Of course, the idea that snap pants and visors were originally – and always should be – solely the domain of the male stripper was lost on my host of pre-pubescent friends and I. But that doesn’t change the fact that adhering to a fashion trend provides some modicum of acceptance and involvement, even if it’s all just façade.
I’ve always looked on hipsterdom with a certain amount of detached curiosity. The overbearing superiority that apparently came with becoming a fully-fledged creature of urban ennui seemed really too depressing, but that never stopped me from picking and choosing a few choice cuts of hipster aesthetics. Take the ever-present beard, for example: beards are insulating, maintainable and give off a sense of mystery, since no-one can really see your face properly. This seemed completely appealing to me in my 'Look at me, I’m a renegade and I can totally write a masterpiece after three bottles of wine' early 20’s. Fuck, Hemingway had a beard. Do you know how much ass that guy got?
Answer: all of it.
But the novelty of having a large mound of ginger hair attached to my jawline gradually wore off. I was dismayed when several female friends of mine told me, “You’ve gotta shave off that beard, Cam. Women don’t want face pubes touching them anymore.” It’s a fair enough point, too. Let’s face it: the only reason you bought that shitty felt hat and round sunglasses back in 2013 was because you thought it would make the cute barista with tattoos down the street want to touch you in inappropriate places. The point is, most, if not all, fashion trends are designed to appeal to other people. “If I were to dress like this, people will notice that I am a unique flower, and the average, banal masses will fall at my feet and worship me as a god of visual nuance!” We all think it, at some point in time. But, except for a very small minority of the population, we usually fuck it up. We’ve all established that wearing a fedora outside of a 20s themed party is social suicide, yet you can still buy the goddamn things from Target for five bucks. And you’ll still see some guy every now and then standing outside the Apple store, with that wedge of disposable nausea resting daintily on his head, creepily scanning to make sure that everyone notices that he is, in fact, a gentleman and won’t break your heart like those turbo arseholes who spit at him when he walks past the construction site down the road from his house.
Ladies, if you’re looking for me, I’ll be playing Magic and chugging Mountain Dew in the park.
But I’m getting off topic. My point is that, from when I proudly showed off my ability to tear off my snap pants in an instant to my days of rubbing wax into my beard for some reason, the way in which we judge and interpret fashion has changed dramatically. We no longer live in a world where we wear what we wear and do what we do based on musicians on Saturday morning TV. Instead, our aesthetic is built up over the never-ending streams of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and whatever other social media platforms are or will become your main connection to the “real” world. Just like the profession of journalism is dying due to the incredibly broad access enabled by the internet (you’re reading this, which makes me assume you know what I’m talking about), fashion has become the domain of anyone who can stitch two pieces of fabric together and has a camera phone. Hipsterism became a thing around the same time that fashion blogging became a well-established medium, so it’s easy to see how one would become the by-product of another.
Going back to the point that hipsterism has been labelled as “dead” for as long as people have been talking about it, Rob Horning was one of the first to declare it back in a 2009 PopMatters article. In it, he debates the pace of the hipster in contemporary society, and as a set-piece for what might one day be described as a historical cultural movement. It’s a big call, but one that I think warrants a fair amount of debate, because – and allow me to get only slightly academic here - hipsterism is fundamentally tied to a massive transition in sociocultural process in social media and the internet. The lifespan of the hipster – from the 2000s to sometime around today, give or take a few years depending on how sick you are of hearing about artisan moustache wax – mirrors that of the progression of the internet from a quirky sideline to traditional media to the defining cultural platform of our lifetimes. Hipsterism has been endemic to this period of time, in one way or another. Endless pictures of organic kale-based brunches; long-winded discussions over the proper thickness of suspenders; websites constructed purely to make you look as much like an old-timey circus strongman as possible. None of this would have made sense before 2000, yet we’ve come to accept them as social norms, largely thanks to their ubiquity on the internet. And, at the same time, they are instantly recognisable as products of the hipster generation.
I think that hipsterism’s connection to the rapidly quickening globalised media is also why we’ve become so against hipsterism as a continuing trend, seemingly in a very short period of time. We’ve saturated ourselves so completely in the lifestyle and aesthetic of the hipster – whether we appreciate it or not – that we’ve become entirely sick of it. Our parents can look back at pictures of them in the 70s, chuckle and say, “those were some crazy times”. Apart from the marked signposts of culture – music, television, film – those trends more or less fell out of favour gradually and without much chagrin. But “hipster” has, in a matter of years, become a dirty word, a phrase that draws images of self-righteousness and, ironically, non-ironic eccentricity (I think that makes sense). Horning probably put it best when he said that the hipster was most likely “the embodiment of postmodernism as a spent force, revealing what happens when pastiche and irony exhaust themselves as aesthetics.” The force of trying to establish yourself as genuine and unique as you trundle down the road in your straw hat and faded paid shirt, organic latte in hand, created a black hole against the no-bullshit countenance of the internet masses. Trying to establish identity without acknowledging the earnest and cutting world of internet-age judgement seems to really not work anymore. Hipsterism had to go the way of the dinosaurs because it refused to accept itself as often ridiculous.
I think I’m always going to be sad that I can’t dress as a lumberjack and walk down the street without anyone sneering at me anymore. Even if you spent the last decade abhorring the world of the hipster, I hope you can at least find some mirth in seeing hipsterism for what it really is; a quirky way of projecting identity, like we all try to do in one way or another. At least it was a hell of a lot less creepy than goddamn snap pants.
Bad life choices.