25.4.13

Opinion: We Are All Hipsters. Unfortunately.

Overconsumption: not pretty sight unless you're hipster, right?
I've read that 21 Types of Hipster article that's gone viral in Berlin's English communities the past few days.  And I can't help noticing that the definitions in there embrace pretty much everyone I see in the streets - whether I'm in London, Barcelona or Berlin.  The faux-retro truckstop caps, teamed with designer plaid shirts, teamed with H & M shades that cost ten times what they look like they're worth, teamed with Diesel skinny jeans, teamed with pre-stretched American Apparel sweaters and sloppy, scruffed name brand trainers. You could say that the hipster trend is a 'diverse' style, embracing 80s glam, punk, metal, biker, disco, hippy and goth. 

Hipsters, generally speaking, are people who seem to have too many teetering piles of zany, mismatched accessories & clothing laying around their funky coversion flat, unworn.  They've gotta be blase about how they mix and match it all, in order to put all that crap together in new & original ensembes each day.    Being a hipster means having so much money, so much stuff, and so little time to wear it all, that even just putting clothes on each day is an exhausting chore.  Hence their world-weary faces and louche, resigned poise.  All those wardrobe doors and drawers to open - what a workout!  It's a style for people with lotsa clothes... but no time for putting outfits together in a meaningful way.

And yet Clive Martin of Vice Magazine (piss-taking handbook for/against all things hipster) recently wrote that hipsters are now so normalized that they can't be ridiculed anymore. I totally agree with that... but I don't agree with his inference that it's too difficult to "wage war on a subculture that defines itself through constant revision."  Subculture?  Ex-squeeze me?  'Hipsters' can't be a subculture because, by definition, they are doing, and being, exactly what all good Westerners aspire to be: voracious consumers.  They have basically spent so much time shopping that they've managed to cycle through every fashion trend ever created, in a bid to stay ahead of the trend curve.  This speaks to an identity that's entirely bound up in stuff, inseparable from it, and an unresolved identity crisis that is played out in shops strewn with clothing, so many cast-off shells of a self that will never find a perfect fit.

People seem to look down on 'hipsters' (and it's interesting that hardly anyone ever uses the word to describe themselves, only someone else) because they are clearly looking in the wrong place for their identity, i.e. fashion.  But how does that make hipsters any different from anybody else?  Hasn't everyone at some point been materialistic, and bought something with the vague idea that somehow, it's going to change their life?  That's the capitalist dream.  An existential craving to become 'better' or 'more' through buying stuff is business as usual whether you're in Paris, Melbourne or L.A.  Not every person wears the decadent hipster style but nearly everyone with a job is decadent in other ways: going to pubs and cafes daily, eating out in restaurants weekly, owning wide screen TVs or even smartphones, taking multiple holiday out of the country per year, etc. All these trends seem decadent to people like me, who started working in 1996, when consumer spending was nearly half of what it is today.  At that time, DIY clothing, free parties, pot lucks, protests and fanzines were the coolest things around.
  
I don't want to sound like an old person, suggesting that we are all consumption junkies simply because people have more stuff nowadays, but the facts and figures support my opinion: everyone is overspending as much as the average hipster on something. Since constant consumer spending growth is the Holy Grail of the Western economy right now, is closely tracked in charts like those below, salivated over by investors whose every waking minute is devoted to pushing the bottom line higher. Their campaign to keep the masses spending has worked a little bit too well though.






These graphs show the consumer spending growth from Germany, the U.S., the U.K. and Spain from 1995 till 2012/2013.  The dramatic rise in spending is reflected in every Western nation.  Source: TradingEconomics.com
The universal trend of nonstop consumption growth is rarely noted in the mass media, except in glowing annual growth reports. I think many people would be as shocked as me if they looked back and see how high consumption, and production, have become thanks to the Western nations.  Society has noticed a down side to over consumption.... aside from causing credit crunches and recessions, it also has a soulless, very human downside.  I think that society has epitomized and demonized this in the so-called 'hipster subculture' because they are so darn obvious about their spending, but perhaps their energy would be better spent cutting back on our own spending.

Whenever I go into the store to buy anything - a pair of shades, say - they're invariably bright, silly hipster shades.  Same with trousers.  And shoes. To get something non-hipster, I'd probably have to go to a designer store and spend even more money I don't have.  It seems that being a hipster is less of a conscious choice, and more of an unavoidable by-product of shopping.  Maybe that is because hipsters are a physical symbol of a generation that believes that buying is the same thing as being. Maybe that's why, whenever I want to spend, I can't escape coming face to face with the hipster trend. But I also can't escape the sneaking suspicion that I'm reaching for those imitation, retro  80s shades, not just because they're everywhere and cheap but because, on some level, I wish I could afford to be as conspicuous about my consumption as those f%$ing hipsters.  I am pretty sure I don't wish that, but I wonder how long that will last, when the largest 'subculture' in the West around revolves entirely around buying shit.



Thoughts?


3 comments:

  1. hahah hey alexia its kt, good article, i was wondering if i gave you nathan barley on usb in the end because this post seems all the more relevant to that tv show i was telling you about...written by charlie brooker and christopher morris of brasseye. it rips the piss out of hipsters and is fantastic television. that article was brilliant though - the different types of hipster you see in london! they missed out the orange and black lipstick wearing, upside down cross flaunting, pastel haired, platform converse wearing, unicorn and psychadelic imagery obsessed (although theyne vere done halluconigens) girls......look at tumblr and you will see them all...

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  2. Nice to see someone giving an educated opinion about this.

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  3. Ta, Anonymous:-)

    @kt: no you didn't put it on the stick. Sounds right up my alley ;-)

    Unicorns... I totally forgot about those!!

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Berlin, Germany
...is NOT a fashion blogger! I write about underground music, activism, social media rights. Other publications that I have written for: OpenDemocracy, Urban Challenger, Siegesaeule, Alternative Berlin and Sensanostra.