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I want a space to share thoughts and ideas about culture, society, maybe politics, so if you’re interested in more things than just the gigs that I go to or the albums that you buy, this page is for you!

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Hipsterism: why it never became a meaningful counter-culture

Who’s sick about hearing about how we hate ‘hipsters’ all the time? In just one hour while writing this piece, 102 tweets were typed containing the word ‘hipster’, and I’m not going to even trawl through them to make the assumption that almost all of them were slagging ‘hipsters’ off.

In Will Self’s ‘Why I Hate Hipsters’ in The Sunday Times magazine two weeks ago, Self rampages through various grievances he has with hipsters: predominately their commodification and globalization of counterculture. His article got me thinking…

Who actually are ‘hipsters’? I would probably put the year of the hipster emergence in the UK as 2008 – the year that American Apparel opened stores here. Previously, ‘hipsters’ were American phenomenon, a subculture of culture-seeking urban predominately white youth. It might come as a surprise that the term actually has been around from the 1940s, and hipsters had been described by Jack Kerouac as “rising and roaming America, bumming and hitchhiking everywhere [as] characters of a special spirituality” (in ‘About The Beat Generation, 1957).

For a while now, I’ve had this idea that ‘hipsterism’ doesn’t exist. I’ve also had this idea that social media has ruined opportunities, throughout the developed world, to have any meaningful counter-culture. Here, I will put these ideas together.

After trawling the internet to find out what other people really think about hipsters, I’ve read that hipsterism is the first white self-loathing counter-culture. More than that, that ‘hipsters’ are the only people who care what hipsters are doing, and they hate it.

In Rhodin Marsden’s article in The Independent, ‘Hipster hate is everywhere – but is there a little bit of them in all of us’, Marsden argues that all those who denounce hipsterism must reconcile within themselves aspects of that culture which they so readily reject. In the article, Marsden quotes Bjørn Schiermer Andersen, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Copenhagen, who highlights the lack of a cohesive hipster ideology. Art historian Dr Matt Lodder argues that we define ourselves by ‘othering’, that is, defining ourselves by what we are not.

I will take on these assertions and expand them with what I see as the key problem with hipsterism.

This self-rejection of hipsterism is not entirely new. It reminded me of what I call the ‘bitches and hoes phenomenon’. When researching for a study into misogyny in rap music, one of my key sources was a documentary by Byron Hurt called ‘Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes’. One thing that really struck me throughout the documentary, was that when Hurt asked young male hip-hop fans about the terms ‘bitch’ and ‘hoe’ in rap music and its denigration of women, the men were unable to identify any ‘bitches’ or ‘hoes’ that they actually knew. Similarly, all the females interviewed were convinced that ‘bitches’ and ‘hoes’ existed, but none of those women were a ‘bitch’ or a ‘hoe’. Do the ‘bitches’ and ‘hoes’ exist?

The reason that hipsterism is unable to create a cohesive counter-culture like the mods and rockers, punks or rock ‘n’ roll kids is for two reasons that I can identify:

1) social media has destroyed distinctive counter-cultural community
2) hipsters have no concrete ideology; they are not political

Founded just over ten years ago, Facebook made it possible for anybody to self-create and self-brand. The very creation of a Facebook account requires the user to decide who they are, what they’re about and how they want to portray themselves to a wider audience. With such a focus on the self and self-branding, our generations are eroding some of the community-mindedness which existed before. While we can join communities, they are often online communities where there is far less emotional or physical commitment. While these issues somewhat existed before, they are now much more pronounced. The same goes for Twitter, which enables its users to contact anyone, and any average schoolkid can end up with thousands of twitter followers if they are strategic enough about their online self-promotion.

But its not just self-obsession that social media helps fuel, but the speed of communication which helps to dispel any sort of counter-cultural community. If a hipster can upload a picture of themselves sipping a craft beer through their tickly moustache up onto Instagram within a matter of seconds, the ‘hipster aesthetic’ travels at a lightning bolt speed. We see this in fashion. The aesthetic cannot exist because of the speed at which Primark can print Led Zeppelin T-shirts for poor kids who have no idea who the band were.

On to my second point, the lack of a clear ideology is the lack of any sort of glue that can hold a counter-culture together. Without an ideological incentive to stick together as a community, hipsterism is only an aesthetic, and not a community or counter-culture. It can be a subculture, but a very measly one at that, and the fact that no hipsters can self-identify makes the subculture so weak that its barely individuals held together by a few twitter strands.

The closest community I can think of as a counter culture is Grow Heathrow, a group of squatters based near Heathrow airport in a town called Sipson, who settled while campaigning against the latest runway. Never heard of them? That’s because they’re not busy sipping craft beers and posting pictures on insagram, but spend their time campaigning and serving their local community. Sure, they have a bohemian style and like reggae music and dub, but they are so busy campaigning against orthodoxy in real life out of social media, that they are unheard of.

So how can we create a meaningful counter-culture today? The only way to be truly individual might be to wear flares and a fleece and campaign for what we really believe in. By rejecting what fashion will latch on to, we may create for ourselves a culture which cannot be adopted by Primark or my Mum. In order to create a cohesive counter-culture people need to get off social media where fashions and ideas are mass-marketed so that they cease to mean anything special anymore.

Either we take on board the aforementioned advice, or we embrace hipsterism as an acceptable mainstream aesthetic and stop pretending that we don’t enjoy artisan coffee, craft beers, trying to find new weird literature and the odd vegan meal.

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