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May 1, 2017 | by  | in From Within the Fallout Zone |
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From Within the Fallout Zone

The cultural fallout zone

As your resident London ex-pat I’m making good on all hipster stereotypes. I’ve opened a coffee shop in East London, I’m living in a boat on the canal, and my pints are pulled by the same slick-haired bartender that served me in Wellington — a small world for those who can afford to be in the right city.  

Even with its many and various definitions, the term hipster is here more derogatory. I called myself a “hipster” at work drinks last week, with all the self-deprecating New Zealandness my sense of humour has come to rely on. The response: “so you self identify as a hipster?” I laughed: “…and you don’t?” It seemed in Wellington “hipsterism” really was a big façade. Someone might be shallow or vain or any other numerous bad things, but to call someone a hipster was a weak insult — if an insult at all, like, lol what, who cares? Amongst the wealth and stress of London, it seems people take themselves more seriously.

While satisfying some fringe hipster criteria, it is only with the move to London that I have encountered real disdain for the hipster. Here, construction sites don’t just reserve their anger for women; an unpicked hem is enough to work a high-vis vest into a swearing tempest. It’s also the first time I’ve given the cultural phenomenon any serious thought. It has only been recently, on reading Mark Grief’s essay “What Was the Hipster”, that I vaguely understand the hipster’s precedents.¹ Precedents more complex than it’s easy to hate Terry Richardson and laugh at the line outside a Supreme store.

The sum of Grief’s idea is that the hipster creates new a priori knowledge out of reliving past, represented experience. (His writing isn’t as pretentious as I’m making him out here). That is to say, hipsters’ interest is often to satisfy the fetishisation of nostalgia. Running GameBoy classics on your MacBook. Or bands like Wellington duo Earth Tongue, referencing back-to-the-earth hippie movements of the ’60s, a name that looks great in Cooper Black emblazoned across a mustard yellow t-shirt (a ’70s staple).

The problem with this feedback loop is that it has developed into an incredibly smart market with access to vast marketing data, making it easy to adapt to or co-opt youth counter-culture, which once largely rejected capitalism. And of course every hipster says their interests are genuine. I like coffee; I order an espresso or a soy latte, depending on how many Red Stripes — or VBs — I had last night. So not only are the working class getting priced out of Newtown, they are strong priced out of their own beers!  

It’s not too hard, then, to see why those high-vis vests get so angry at us hipsters. Maybe we just have to do something new every once in awhile.

 

  1. The New York Times style guide suggests avoiding the term altogether — the internet certainly can’t tell me if it’s a noun or an adjective.
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