Saturday, 5 November 2016

What is it that irks me about Hipsterism?

I have just watched Peter York's excellent short documentary about the phenomenon known as Hipster culture. The documentary started out arch, but became deeply fascinating. In a modest 59 minutes that feels shorter, York beautifully captures this movement like a collector fixes a butterfly.

The documentary has allowed me to articulate for the first time what I feel about the rise of Hipsterism in my own city, London. I have watched this culture mushroom here with a skeptical eye. I have never felt welcomed by this culture, nor have I warmed to it. It has always seemed at one step removed from the society that I grew up in, and indeed still inhabit. But what is it that irks me about this movement, these people?

On the surface it would appear I share some common values with Hipsters - the buzz words ethical, local, artisan imply a kind of William Morris approach to work, design and living that is wholesome and beneficial to all; yet I discover that hipster culture is exclusive rather than inclusive, and that it is born out of consumerism rather any kind of socialist or grass roots activism. At its core, it is old school Adam Smith capitalism. In a way, what is wrong with that? And what is wrong with quality in an mass-produced age? Well nothing (so do you actually have a point? Ed.), in fact what is fascinating is that it reveals how underpriced our consumer culture is. Oil, that precious, finite, unbelievably useful commodity that is destroying our planet, is ludicrously cheap. It means that we can have a crazy, unfettered capitalist culture that is, unlike the core ethos of Hipsterism, unsustainable and dangerous. And yet the two cross over in uncomfortable ways. It's like the same insane dilemma that seems to confront us at every turn these days: which way will it tip? 

Hipsterism could be part of an essential movement away from the mass-produced, over-produced, grossly wasteful and grossly waste-producing culture of recent history. An age so voracious that it is threatening to destroy our entire ecosystem. And boy do we need to do that. Or Hipsterism could simply be up-themselves twats rearranging artisanal deckchairs on the Titanic. For entirely subjective reasons, I think it's the latter. Because whenever I encounter one, they always seem grumpy and unfriendly. What have I done to earn your Hipster ire? Yes, it's the unwarranted exclusivity that irks me. Anyway, forget my small-minded objections, what Hipsterism reveals are the massive fractures in our out-of-control culture, the vast and often bewildering gaps between what is local, simple and communal, and what is a gargantuan system run by computers, where humans are simply part of the algorithm. Which way will it go? Or will we in fact fracture into entirely different cultures, splitting even our existential reality into one of separate possibilities? I hope, but I am not  certain, that I will have a choice which path I go on.