Harriet Walker: The curious death of the hipster

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A new-ish video on YouTube (these things are birthed, made viral and killed off within a space of about 13 hours, so keep up) entitled Being a Dickhead's Cool is the latest lambasting of a cipher known in current youth culture iconography as "The Hipster". It features snapshots taken from street style blogs, club nights, American Apparel adverts and unsuspecting hipsters' Facebook pages, set to a jolly tune and song about moving to East London from Cambridgeshire, playing synths, riding a fixed-gear bike and claiming to work in the media when you're actually on the dole. (Full disclosure: I do actually work in the media, but only because I'm not at all hip.)

What's striking about this video is its pincer-like grasp of a concerted youth movement among a very specific demographic: the skinny jeans, the moustache deliberately reminiscent of a sex offender, the pallid skin and extreme ectomorph physique. The plaid shirts and NHS glasses, for which there is no prescriptive need. Those culture snobs who think all the great "isms" are over: here's one for you. It might be fairly insubstantial, but it exists nevertheless.

The other striking thing is that this video is very clearly made by a new breed of Hipsters mocking Hipsters for the benefit of other Hipsters. They're not the first subculture to have been loathed by the mainstream, but they're certainly among a minority that is loathed by their own piranha-esque adherents. The bourgeois lameness of Hipsterism was its main aspirational attraction before the credit crunch, when it was acceptable to live as a mime artist in Berlin and wear the same pair of jeans for 10 years before you started earning a crust. When those who went straight into jobs were square, and money was for losers.

But as it became rapidly apparent that the economy was even more shagged out than your average Hipster, the movement became an object of scorn. This sort of reflexive self-hatred is rarely seen among the young, who are generally so convinced of their own righteousness that they walk around with their eyes closed. Such integral malaise comes with age; it's why divorcees buy sports cars and trophy wives.

Being a Dickhead, along with blogs like Lookatthisfuckinghipster.com and Unhappyhipsters.com – both of which collect pictures of some of the more chronic cases of Hipsteriasis – are about as navel-gazing as the race of bright young things they purport to ridicule. "Look at these misguided empty souls", they trumpet, "so obsessed with their blogs and their deep v-neck T-shirts that nothing else matters to them." But these very bloggers probably own grey marl and anti-socially large beards, they may work in the media too; they're meta-Hipsters. You can't create a new movement simply by cussing the old one.

Youth subculture always sits uneasily with those who fear it – usually a mixture of prudes and bigots. The New Romantics came in for plenty of faggot-bashing; the grunge kids took the rap for not washing their hair (which they didn't, yeah? But it was part of a look, yeah?). Never before have the dirty-haired faggots attacked themselves. But where glam, punk and grunge all stemmed from music, and other movements sprang up around political factionism, the Hipster supports and believes in nothing. It's an entirely commercial movement founded on, in the first instance, smugness at the accident of being born middle class and, latterly, indignation at having been born middle class. And it has been perpetuated by the likes of American Apparel, which is now in trouble, Blackberry – those Hipsters love to stay in touch! – and hideous niche magazines that only ever publish one issue and are in the pay of corporate advertisers.

People have always hated the cool set and laughed off what the kids were doing as pretentious and weird. But it's a post-post-post-ironic sneer too far when they're laughing at themselves. We need a real "ism" to fill the void created by The Hipster.


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