Sunday, 28 April 2013

We are all hipsters... unfortunately.

Overconsumption: not pretty sight unless you're hipster, right?
I've just read that 21 Types of Hipster article that recently went viral in Berlin's English communities.  It's uncanny how, pretty much everyone I see in the streets seems to fall into one of the hipster 'types' listed in it... whether they are the streets of London, Barcelona or Berlin.

The retro fake trucker caps, the designer plaid shirts, the oversize H & M shades that cost ten times what they look like they're worth; the Diesel skinny jeans; the pre-stretched American Apparel sweaters; the sloppy, overlaced, big brand name trainers. Embracing elements of 80s glam, punk, metal, biker, disco, hippy and goth, I guess you could say that the hipster trend is 'diverse', and that's why its sucked so many people into it from many a remote corner of the fashion spectrum, like some sort of supermassive black hole for trends.  Peripheral hipsters are many, but the diehard adherents are few. 

They are a breed that seems to inhabit exposed brick loft flats, where I picture them weaving between teetering piles of zany, mismatched accessories and clothes, draped over Mac stations and unvarnished, handmade mugs half filled with stale, cold-filtered coffee.  It must be taxing trying to put all those 21 styles together in new & original ensembles each day!  Maybe that's why the defining quality of the hipster look is how blase and uncoordinated it all looks, after all, there are only so many ways you can tastefully mix and match all that crap.

'Hipster' seems to be another word for having so much money, so much stuff, and so little time to wear it all that even just putting clothes on each day is an exhausting chore.  Hence their world-weary faces, the premature cynicism, that meta hipsters seem to wear as if  it's an accessory in itself.  (All those wardrobe doors and drawers to open... man, what a workout!)  If you could sum up what all those 21 variants of hipster in one sentence, it would probably be something like this: too many clothes, not enough time.  Boo fucking hoo. 

Clive Martin of Vice Magazine (piss-taking handbook for/against all things hipster) recently wrote that hipsters are now so normalized that they can't be ridiculed anymore. I totally agree with that... but I don't agree with his inference that it's too difficult to "wage war on a subculture that defines itself through constant revision."

Subculture?  Ex-squeeze me?  'Hipsters' cannot be a subculture, by definition, because they are doing, and being exactly what all good Westerners are instructed to do and be: voracious, short sighted, nonstop consumers of everything.  Hipsters have spent so much time shopping since their 'subculture' was born, that they've managed to cycle through literally every fashion trend ever created. Lope along in a wife beater, with an e-cigarette in one hand and a wry smile on your face as you to try and stay ahead of the curve, and you may set yourself apart from the vast majority of shopaholics, but that's where the differences end.  The only thing unusual about hipsters is not their perverse attachment to stuff, but their perverse refusal to be anything but a consumer. 

Their subculture is one that's entirely bound up in objects, so much so that it even astounds the most  capitalist observers.  This speaks to an unresolved identity crisis born of an eye that's too constantly straying towards the newest item to pop up for sale, on their Facebook feeds. It speaks to a life full of cast-off clothes, prefab shells for a self that's never going to find its perfect fit on a shop floor.

But my god will they try.  And how. 

However, it may be true that there is no point in insulting hipsters anymore (and it's interesting that hardly anyone ever uses the word to describe themselves, only someone else).  Yes, they may be looking in the wrong place for their identity, but no one can say that they are any different from any other person shopper in the west, in that respect.   
I don't want to sound like an old person, suggesting that we are all consumption junkies simply because people have more stuff nowadays, so I will let the facts and figures say it for me.  Check out the consumer spending per capita charts below and you'll see what I mean. Everyone is overspending as much as the average hipster on something right now, regardless of what subculture they belong to.

Consumer spending growth is the Holy Grail of the Western economy but what we never hear about in the news is how much it has already grown, to date.  Apparently, their campaign by our elected and unelected leaders in government and business to keep us all spending has worked a little bit too well.  And yet they still claim it's not good enough...

These graphs show the consumer spending growth from Germany, the U.S., the U.K. and Spain from 1995 till 2012/2013.  The dramatic rise in spending is reflected in every Western nation.  Source:
On some level, we are all guilty of literally buying into the vague idea that somehow, a new purchase is going to fulfill us.  That's the capitalist dream... the hipster dream... the western dream ah, whatever.  They're all the same thing!  And we are all a part of it.  The only real solution is to stop pointing fingers and laughing (admittedly, a hard thing to do when eyeing a hipster) and start cutting back. 

Nearly everyone I know who has a job is decadent in some way, and I've done all the things on this list myself at some point, as well: going to the pub every night or a restaurant every week, buying movies we don't need, buying new smartphones when the unused ones are still fine, taking half a dozen holiday by plane each year....

And yet when I started working, back in 1996, when consumer spending was nearly half of what it is today, I would never have spent on any of these things.  At that time, DIY clothing, free parties, pot lucks, protests and fanzines were the coolest things around.  Even if I wouldn't have had a strong left wing outlook, I'd have had to go to non-profit, non-consumerist events to be where all the best people were at. Okay, so now I definitely sound like an old person... but I'm actually fine with that, in this case!  

I think many people would be as shocked as me if they looked back and see how high consumption, and production, have become thanks to the Western nations.  This is because the universal trend of nonstop consumption growth is rarely noted in the mass media, except in glowing annual growth reports. Overall the constant message is, 'buy more'.  Maybe now is a good time to realize that for the people saying this, more will never be enough.

Society has also started to notice - with no help from its leaders - that there is a very real down side to over consumption.... aside from causing credit crunches and recessions, it's changing our weather patterns and eroding our health. On top of that, it has a soulless side effect.  I think that society has  demonized the so-called 'hipster subculture', not just because they are just so damned conspicuous about their consumption, but because they look and act like they're so fed up with their shallow way of life, even as they chase after it.  It's like they really can't think of anything better to do with themselves.  It's like they're the crackheads of the fashion world. 

Whenever I go into the store to buy anything these days - a pair of shades, let's say - they're invariably bright, silly hipster shades.  The trousers are always skinny.  The shoes are always trainers or some sort of plastic 1990s platform replica.  The bright, oversized, cynical self mockery of the whole genre seems custom made to distract us from what all this crap represents: an excuse to keep on buying.  Buying cheap, disposable, random shit as often as you can, just because you can.  To get something non-hipster, I'd probably have to go to a designer store and spend even more money I don't have.

It seems that being a hipster is less of a conscious choice, and more of an unavoidable by-product of being a shopper. That's because hipsters are the fruition of a decades-long campaign to make us believe that buying is the same thing as being.  That campaign has fought a tit-for-tat battle against actual countercultures as far back as I can remember.  It's hunted down punk, indy, Goth, rave, hippy, etc., and as it's captured each scene, it's gutted them of their radical ethos and hung their styles up on clothing racks to sell, like exotic animal skins.  Hipsters are perhaps gung-ho about taking part in that cultural safari hunt.  But as long as we choose to buy our own identities rather than enacting them, we're not that much better off.

Whenever I want to buy some new clothes, I can't avoid coming face to face with the hipster trend and buying into it a little bit. But I also can't avoid the sneaking suspicion that I'm buying into it, not just it's ubiquitous and cheap but because, on some level, I'm trying to be as conspicuous about my consumption as those f%$ing hipsters are.  I am pretty sure that isn't the case but I wonder how long that state of affairs will last, when the largest 'subculture' in the West around revolves entirely around buying shit.


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