In defence of the hipster male
A hipster in his natural habitat - somwhere between Gertrude and Smith St, Melbourne.
Australians are great haters. Our communal reservoirs of bile are always brimming, ready to burst open and spray the most unlikely of targets. From refugees to bicycle paths, we possess an unparalleled talent for vitriol, and we’re completely indiscriminate about what we dislike.
Sometimes we get it right, such as the campaign against reptilian lackwits like Alan Jones.
But sometimes we get it horribly wrong.
And no group of late has been more unjustly subject to our collective spittle than the poor, unsuspecting hipster.
But first let’s clarify any definitional problems. After all, given that no hipster identifies as a hipster we need to make sure we’re on the same page.
Skinny jeans and vintage clothing? Check.
Beards and feelings? Check.
Organic food and fixies? Check.
Maybe the Bondi Hipsters summed it up best: a hobo with some emo and a touch of metro? Check.
But there’s something I left off the list. Something so self-evident as to go unmentioned, but which lies at the core of our mockery.
When we imagine the hipster we usually imagine a man. And not just that, we imagine a man who has failed in his masculinity.
If we hated hipsters because they were middle-class narcissists whose over-developed sense of irony caused us all to vomit a little bit into our mouths then surely we would also hate the hipster girl. But like the emo who came before, it is the male hipster who troubles our collective imaginary. The hipster man is just a bit too effete, too clever, too emotional, too vain, too skinny and too girly.
In short, the hipster is a sissy and we are a nation of bullies.
I admit that there are certain reprehensible aspects to hipsterdom: political apathy, hipster sexism, ironic racism and rolled-up trousers, to name a few.
But most of our hatred of the hipster is nothing more than a reactionary policing of masculinity. It’s a vilification of effeminate men that often contains a simmering homophobia.
Let’s start with their appearance. Where most men have the sartorial diversity of a pack of penguins, hipsters DARE to be decorative. They have an overly feminine concern with fashion (a constant source of humour for the Bondi hipsters) and a disturbingly girly appreciation of skinny jeans. As one website puts it: skinny jeans ‘make you look like you’ve been shopping in your girlfriend’s wardrobe.’ Put another way, skinny jeans were meant for hungry women to contrast the bird-like breakability of their bodies with big powerful man-bodies. Then men could be men and women could be women and we could all feel safe in the world. The only reason people don’t like hipster men wearing skinny jeans is that male bodies suddenly appear frail, fragile and confusingly feminine.
And how we HATE their thick-rimmed glasses. Why? Because real men are wounded by war or sport, not by excessive reading. Even if the glasses have no lenses, the hipster aspires to a form of masculinity that is unapologetically nerdy and which proudly displays the scars of introspection.
And really, what’s to hate about riding bicycles, eating ethically or possessing a talent for performing downward dogs? Much of The Life Organic is taken up with the WILD HILARITY of men being vegan and doing yoga. Again, the joke seems to rest upon the idea of men taking personal politics seriously, something which women traditionally do.
And those lush, verdant beards? Surely they’re a symbol of virile masculinity, you say. Perhaps. But to me hipster whiskers, like those of Angus Stone, are about efforts to channel and express authentic feelings. They are winsome woodsmen and eighteenth-century prospectors…who weep.
The problem is that Australia has a suffocatingly narrow repertoire of models of masculinity. You can be either The Man from Snowy River, Priscilla Queen of the Desert or, if you have anger management problems, Romper Stomper. Where Britain has a fine tradition of fops and dandies, Australia has muscular heroic individualism. They have Hugh Grant, we have Hugh Jackman.
And in a world where you can be either silent and straight or emotional and gay, the hipster male is coded as gay and becomes the subject of homophobic jokes. Aside from the invariable ‘what a fag’ comment that images of hipsters attract on the web, the Bondi Hipsters’ latest song ‘Out In Space’ is not just infinitely mediocre and unfunny. It’s also deeply homophobic. I mean, imagine the laughs: Adrian is gay and tries to come on to Dom while on an acid trip (or out in space) after which Dom replies ‘I’m not sure I can still be your friend’. Pure. Comic. Genius.
There are better targets for our bile than the gentle non-gender normative hipster. When was the last time a car-load of hipsters drove by and asked you to show them your noggs? When was the last time you read about hipsters king-hitting each other in the face after sipping cider in a small bar? When did krafternoon descend into a brawl?
I’m all for hating, but we need to direct our fury more thoughtfully. Let the hipster tend to his community garden and save your invective for forms of masculinity that deserve it, starting with the monosyllabic misogyny of Kyle Sandilands or the venomous vapidity of Tony Abbott, or the bovine stupidity of a rugger bugger. And the list goes on and on.