Offending the hipster male
Last week Alecia Simmonds wrote a clever article on this website, In defence of the hipster male, pointing out that loathing towards the (often effete) hipster male is "reactionary policing of masculinity" driven by "simmering homophobia".
This may be true in many instances, perhaps including the latest (weak) attempt at parody, the Bondi Hipster webisode franchise in which Simmonds complained the "hipster male is coded as gay and becomes the subject of homophobic jokes".
But homophobia is not the only or the main reason why male hipsters are loathed. In fact, the best parodies of hipster men focus on their hypocrisy, callowness, narcissism, laziness and entitlement. The best hipster parody of all time, Charlie Brooker’s character Nathan Barley, is painted as a sex pest and ironic misogynist, not a charming dandy.
The hipster male is loathed because he is a deeply unserious person, a failure not just as a man but as a human being, or even sentient being when you consider the dignity and wisdom of a collie.
He is an upper-middle class magpie. He steals tattoos (and earlier trucker caps) from working class culture, and plucks brogues and moustaches from the (fantasised) upper class, to build his nest of sham authenticity, all the while laughing at his suburban parents with their McMansion’s full of ‘ethnic’ pottery, Hokusai prints, IKEA flatpacks and Balinese temple bells, failing to see the perfect symmetry between his past and present, the ‘burbs and the urban hipster enclave, both defined by an ethic where identity is coloured in and ornamented through consumption rather than carved into stone through the exhausting and edifying winnow work of learning and action.
While the world of work grinds on, with men and women making the humble and sustained efforts necessary to build communities less tainted by misery and vanity and stupidity and cruelty, the hipster is on a coffee date in a favela-themed bar or Facebook-liking browncardigan.com or trying to exchange a selection of his father’s shoes for store credit at Cream on Crown. He is busy making his nest just right, populating the psychic wallpaper of his dumb bubble with the perfect admixture of AMEXed heritage, quirky social excursions, and about-to-be-beta stage new media digidreams.
He is interested in the arts, environmentalism, journalism and science, but abhors the time commitments necessary to achieve anything of merit in these disciplines. He abhors the idea of obtaining a practical degree, or of suffering through the solitary hours of self-doubt and painful introspection necessary to produce great art.
He is a fraud.
Many men in Australian public life dress with flamboyant style – Barry Humphries with his red scarves and fedoras, Andrew West with his dainty brogues, and John Laws with his feminine eye shades. They should appropriately be called dandies, gadabouts, or eccentrics. But not hipsters. The hipster wishes to emulate these three but fails: a dandy must have wit and culture at his fingertips, a gadabout a worldly wise story to tell and a thirst for conversation, and an eccentric is most effective when he occupies a position of power with a careless style. The hipster has neither wit nor wisdom nor power.
On his iPhone he carries Radiolab podcasts and invites to the VIP launch of organic tequila bars, not spreadsheets of particle collision data or a tight schedule of consequential meetings with environmental researchers and captains of industry.
It was hipsters who glued the books to the shelves in The Abercrombie, and it is in the world of culture (or ‘the creative industries’) that hipsters are at their most insidious. Here, they often believe they have found their calling – so long as they can pin down a shortcut to a kind of instant but respectable celebrity. This includes writers like Tao Lin, whose major achievement has been to edit his own name into Lorrie Moore’s Wikipedia page. A hipster gets a sailor tat and plans to emulate Kerouac’s apocryphal one sitting draft of On the Road, rather than becoming a master mariner and writing Lord Jim. They are eminently unserious people, dismissive of, allergic to, and terrified by academic rigour, because it feels too close to the values that allowed their parents to accumulate the small suburban fortunes which have funded their shallow rebellion. They love irony but are blind to the fundamental ironies.
Two years ago Australian comedian Justin Heazlewood, who admits to being “typecast as the gay/bisexual/naked guy in pretty much every play put on by Canberra Uni”, wrote the song ‘Northcote (So Hungover)’ that attacked not the effeminate nature of the male hipster, but his shallow quest for individuality and identity (you can view the clip below). Its protagonist is a derivative musician who wins a record contract by entering a competition called “So you think you can copy.” His prize includes (yesteryears) new media currency of instant celebrity: “a memory stick full of MySpace friends.”
As David Brooks said of the bourgeois bohemian, these are people who want the respect of a serious artist but with the shortcuts and instant gratification of corporate life, in which you are likely to see “rebel attitudes and social climbing attitudes all scrambled together.”
In Reuben Dangoor & Raf Riley’s viral hit Being a Dickhead’s Cool, it’s telling that the dickhead/hipster moves from the upper middle class bucolic haven of Cambridgeshire to live in an East London council flat. Also telling is that the hipster is described as “dressing like a nerd although I never got the grades.” The magpie’s nest and plumage are both a denial of his past. Dangoor and Riley’s hipster is not necessarily male either. Indeed some of the best lines are from a hyper-repugnant woman hipster who is “putting on this rave in this abandoned mosque and all the proceeds are going to that thing that happened in the Middle East, or Africa, or whatever.” The over-riding theme is ignorance and idle entitlement across both the sexes.
But by far the best and darkest parody of the hipster mindset is the Charlie Brooker character Nathan Barley. First appearing as a regular on Brooker’s blog TV Go Home as early as 1999, and later becoming the eponymous star of a 2005 Channel 4 comedy co-written by Chris Morris, Barley is a “hideous little posh boy who moved to London and tried to re-invent himself as the epitome of urban cool”, part of a community of “upper middle class twenty somethings” and “worthless toffee-nosed shits intent on setting up internet radio stations”, who enjoy sniggering at websites “displaying photographs of wolves fucking the bodies of mutilated Colombian prostitutes” and wear trousers “apparently cut from charcoal-grey crepe paper.” He and his community of “self-important trustafarian Little Lord Fauntleroy scum equipped with PowerMacs,” might spend their day editing together a “self-consciously subversive montage of video clips which dovetails sequences form 2001 and The Deer Hunter with cumshots and Sesame Street,” or “sit around all afternoon banging on about some non-existent screenplay they’re writing.” When they’re not half-heartedly working on comic webisodes or a new online entertainment portal, Barley and his tribe are trying to score blowjobs from 13 year-olds or shopping for eye-wateringly pricey ironic tschotskes like “A-Team lunchboxes” and backpacks “in the shape of one of the Powerpuff Girls”. Barley and his friends are ironic to the point of cruelty, corrupt, stupid, rich, sexist, ineffectual, predominantly white and male. Or rather: “braying corpse-eyed puppet people”.
Barley is an archetype of the ancient hipster movement, which has for over a decade wound its way through all the urban renewal districts of global cities and has now curiously arrived, pilloried and barely breathing, for one last waltz in the North Bondi rent trap. Far from being effete and charming, your typical Bondi male hipster is a classic Barley stereotype: upper middle class, unreconstructed, incredibly sexually predacious, a cultureless hypermasculine who dresses like a dandy only to lure young women. North Bondi is to Redfern what Terry Richardson is to Will Oldham. A Bondi hipster pretends to be a struggling artist, but is really a wealthy surfer bogan awakened to the reality you can get laid more often by swapping the Hurley quick-dries for Cheap Monday’s and Vanishing Elephant’s. Neil Strauss in an Inca-print kilt. Shalamar’s Micki Free with a toothpick skateboard under one arm and a fashionably dull taste for the ironic and kitsch.
A hypocrite, in other words. And the perfect target for parody.