The Hipster

The Hipster

A Totem of Decline — The abundance of this meta-faux-ironic character is a symbol of all that is going wrong with the Western dream.

The hipster is the death of Western culture. There is no such thing as a hipster.

Both are true, really, and so our decadence and eventual doom is laid bare. Can there be any other end-game for perpetual wars and the rampant exploitation of half the globe just so that smartphones can have microchips and gas prices stay low, the commoditisation of everything from healthcare to holidays, designer dogs, beauty pageants, anti-wrinkle creams, flash-mobs and the internet meme? Yea, the hipster cometh, smiling ironically behind his waxed, Lucifer mustache and goatee, to herald the end of days.

Like all of the twisted phantasms that inhabit the late-capitalist milieu, it’s impossible to define the hipster unless you speak in the very terms it has appropriated to signify itself – ‘meta’, ‘ironic’, ‘faux’, meme’, ‘OMFG’, you get the point – and if you are doing that then you are already bamboozled. Treating such terms as if they actually mean anything in their current context is entering into a rigged game, the one the hipsters play every day by searching for identity among the fleeting whims of pop cultural trends. You will both lose.

Let’s try to go one better with a step outside the shit-storm of cultural reference. ‘Hipster’ can only be adequately defined in the negative because it is not a certain set of stable traits, but a lack of these. It’s a void disguised in late capitalist sign systems like vintage clothing, ‘ethnic’ food and ‘indie’ music choices. The hipster takes these novelties and adorns itself, layer upon layer, like the junk man pushing the shopping cart with a wobbly wheel, until it is a museum piece representing a time period that never existed.

This is its raison d’être: to mine ever deeper into late capitalism’s culture bank for that which remains un-commodified, unexploited. Unfortunately, marketing is always a step ahead. It thwarts the hipster at every juncture and forces it to change tact, constantly, pathologically. So the hipster burrows like a yayed-up mole into the crumbling sub-strata of Western culture in the masochistic search for the mythical ‘authenticity’.

If it were better educated it would know that authenticity does not exist, not as it understands the word. It would know that ‘authenticity’ is just a word that advertisers have repurposed to aestheticise poverty, to make the economic untouchables look like the height of cool. Once the human detritus of our economic systems can be turned into aesthetic fodder for advertising campaigns that implicitly support that system without anyone batting an eyelid you know that something, somewhere has gone terribly wrong. What progress can be made if we all strive for wealth while lamenting the way it cheapens our lives at the same time as we ostracise the poor while putting their images on the pedestal of ‘enlightened’, anti-consumer culture?

‘Hipster’ can only be adequately defined in the negative because it is not a certain set of stable traits, but a lack of these.

It was all looking so peachy too. There was never a generation raised with more illusions than the children of the 1980s and 1990s, the inheritors of the great, unbroken lineage of Western cultural domination. Fuck the meak. The Americans and their cronies would inherit the earth and they needed nothing more than four-year liberal arts degrees and a bit of pluck.

But then then Twin Towers toppled, the crookedness of Wall Street came to light, and the dream of never-ending White, middle class ascendancy was revealed for yet another con of that old trickster the American Dream whose only motivation all along had been to entice people to buy into questionable mortgages. On the edge of adulthood, the hipster’s anointed destiny dissolved like wet toilet paper.

Its parents failed. They told the hipster that life would follow the Disney-ride rails of the great, upward curve. The University failed. They invested its 30k a year tuition money in food courts and admin instead of academics who could actually be bothered to teach in between their book tours, then gave it a degree worth sweet fuck all. The media failed. They found that truth paled in comparison to advertising dollars. History itself failed the hipster. It let the others who had been elided for so long speak for themselves.

When the hipster looked around itself, not one of its sacred institutions stood untarnished. There was no place left to hide, no identity to cloak itself in that would connote the privilege it believed to be its birthright. So the hipster turned inward, backward, finding that the only safe haven from the storm of post-modernism lay in atavism mixed with esotericism. Like Ms. Havisham surrounding herself with the accouterment of her jilted wedding day, the hipster compulsively fills its life with the artifacts of an imagined, rose-tinted past.

It will tell you that it is ennui that slackens its face but that is only a reflection of the lie it tells itself. What it wears like a mask is the shock of prolonged disillusion; the inability to accept that the future went spectacularly pear-shaped just as its inheritance was about to come good and it must now watch the myths of its childhood crumble before its eyes. This is why the hipster is, as a rule, the antithesis of irony. Irony is the grim acceptance that events have run exactly contrary to the way they were expected to run. The hipster does not accept this, it laments it.

Now, the uppercut: the hipster lives in all of us. Each and every child of this forsaken generation – minus a few finance types who are as unchanging as the tides – carries the disillusion of knowing he will probably be worse off than his parents. Coupled with this is the guilt of living better than ninety-nine percent of anyone ever, and indeed doing so at the expense of the world’s less fortunate, and still being unsatisfied because we were promised more. There is no such thing as a hipster, we are all hipsters. Doom won’t look like a zombie apocalypse, it will be as bland as IKEA.

Now is the time I’m supposed to tack something hopeful on he end of this dirge. Aint gonna happen. As the writer and literary critic Melvin Jules Bukiet once wrote: “Your father is dead, or your mother, and so are most of the Jews of Europe, and the World Trade Center’s gone, and racism prevails, and sex murders occur. What is, is. The real is the true, and anything that suggests otherwise, no matter how artfully constructed, is a violation of human experience.”