Hating hipsters and bogans


Latte sipperI was recently sitting in an inner-city beer garden with four friends (a designer, a sound engineer, a student editor and a doctoral candidate), discussing the shameful traits that characterise 'hipsters' — the slick young urban gentry with access to recreational drugs and synthesisers.

'They're just so smug,' one said to a chorus of nods. Another offered a quip about fixed-gear bikes, the hipster's vehicle of choice, while sipping on his boutique cider.

To the outsider, of course, my friends and I look as though we might ourselves be hipsters, and are probably derided as such behind our backs. We studied arts and sciences at university, and those of us who didn't are pursuing careers in the arts and social sectors.

We live in the fashionable inner-city suburbs, make our op-shop outfits look fashionable, read classics and literary journals, watch Q&A, hold compassionate politics, and have social lives that involve parties, theatre, lectures, protests and lattes. We love Brooklyn and Berlin, but also think Africa might be 'pretty cool'. Yes, there are puerile vanities here, but where are comparative vanities not entertained?

In bogans, of course. But then, being a bogan would put one under the same weight of social scrutiny: the stereotype says they are anti-intellectual, sexist, racist, small-minded hicks with a taste for processed food and alcohol marketed to 14-year-olds.

Criticisms levelled against hipsters and their grown-up, Green-voting elders — 'latte sippers', 'Chardonnay socialists' (are socialists prohibited from drinking, or is only Stolichnaya allowed?), and the caricature of 'middle-class guilt' — have little to do with actual coffee, chardonnay, or affluence. They have more to do with attempting to unravel fraud.

There is a sense that the trappings of inner-city elitism are manufactured markers of status, rather than genuine expressions of alternative life; that politically correct gestures have little value when they cost nothing to commit. Self-interest, the critic laments, is at the heart of outward gestures.

While this criticism is valid — the existence of the vapid fashionista is well documented — we should discern what value there is in contempt, particularly when aimed at groups such as 'hipsters' and 'bogans', which are impossible to precisely determine.

Aside from externalising angst about the possibility of having hypocrisies of one's own (calls of hypocrisy rarely come from the unencumbered), hipster hatred, like bogan hatred, is equally about uncritically deprecating an entire set of cultural practices and preferences to advance oneself.

Hipster derision expresses a deeply held parochialism and conformism in Australia (and globally), which is especially apparent and alarming among young people for whom hipsters are their generation's answer to Boomer lefties and Gen X radicals.

Perhaps my generation has learnt from previous ones that when belonging to an alternative class becomes popular it loses currency. Or that we are wise to the mythologies of Baby Boomer idealism and rebellion paralleled with their pursuit of wealth and status.

But hipster derision is more than that. It is a tall-poppy mechanism that identifies a perceived elitist in-group and devalues it in order to justify one's belonging to the mainstream.

That it is strongest among people my own age is a testament to the cynicism of my generation; our humour credits the perception that vegetarianism and veganism, charity and consumer responsibility are moral vanities rather than attempts to make ethical use of the privilege afforded us.

Although we have made cultural leaps and bounds, Australia is still a parochial country in many ways. One of these is the emotional challenge we attach to being confronted by people who have chosen or inherited other ways of living.

It would be nice if everyone were able to compartmentalise their differences, keeping them out of sight, but we all outwardly practice culture whether or not we can recognise the trappings. So long as the choices hipsters, bogans, and old-fashioned conformists make — however conceited — remain their own and do not harm others, criticism should be reserved for more interesting matters.

Arts communities, where hipsters reside, certainly include dilettantes and frauds — they always have. Regardless of their existence, a vibrant artistic culture is an indication of cultural affluence, which should never be devalued. 

Ellena SavageEllena Savage edited the Melbourne University student magazine, Farrago, in 2010. She writes essays and fiction.

Topic tags: Ellena Savage, hipsters, bogans, QandA, latte, fixed-gear bikes, boutique cider



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Existing comments

Thanks 4 your hope-filled conclusion.
How often is a closed window or door because of fear.

Youth need fresh air, as they need protection from projected thoughtlessness, or action without inclusive contemplation, that is inclusive of Jesus Christ.

Louise Jeffree | 04 March 2011  

"Self-interest... is at the heart of outward gestures." Lovely writing, Ellena; thanks for another interesting article.

louise | 04 March 2011  

I am sure it is a natural product of living /learning as life feels like a big fish/little fish ocean. Trying to feel comfortable with labels and then having them overtaken by others...

The whole thing is transitory and the young look to invest while others less fortunate try to survive.
This is how hipsters look like frauds.You must walk the walk.

Catherine | 04 March 2011  

Indeed, as long as our differences are not harmful, criticism needs to be reserved for more, say, as you say, interesting, matters. I don't think that I could always avoid hurting someone else's feelings, but harming someone is out of the question.

Joyce | 04 March 2011  

Bit confused by 'cultural affluence'. Do you mean a society financially affluent enough to afford to support the arts, or a society rich in terms of artistic culture?

Geoff | 04 March 2011  

Nice piece, although I wonder about the extent to which 'hipster' and 'cultural vibrancy' are related properties. Case in point: the hottest hundred.

Edwina Byrne | 04 March 2011  

I grew up in the age of the "hippie, bodgy, widgy" young people today are dressing and acting the same without the above stigma added to them...My son calls me a bogan as I am a Collingwood supporter....People today need to be able to laugh at themselves along with others

Gwen thomas | 04 March 2011  

'Self-interest, the critic laments,is at the heart of outward gestures.' Almost everything, I dare say, is at the heart of self-interest. Even breathing is. The difference, I submit, is that some of us attempt to better their lives by destroying others, where some of us attempt to better their lives by including others, even although this can be made most difficult. Where some of us can be utterly selfless, others need to be in medias res.

Joyce | 04 March 2011  

Geoff:by cultural affluence I meant a security of artistic purpose and identity within art communities, as well as recognition from outside. Lots of wealthy societies suffer artistic poverty, while some materially poor socities flourish artistically (Australian Indigenous, Roma, etc.).

Ellena | 04 March 2011  

Yesterday's cool, is tomorrow's cold. I have a good horse laugh at myself when I catch myself judging other's lifestyles, and observe my own cultural trappings. I had to look up 'Hipster' on Wiki, however admit to inhabiting coffee shops since their inception. Love the content and style of this article.

Dawn Baker | 04 March 2011  

Yep, that's the distinction I was thinking of.

Thing about hipster derision is everyone derides them. No-one identifies themselves as a hipster, there's no pride attached. Unlike previous left-wing-youth cultures, there's no ideology. It's a matter of looking cool and having cool stuff. Any inner-north-youth-type who bags hipsters could be identified as a hipster by someone else.

And a lot of the vegan/vego/dumpster-diving stuff IS moral vanity. They make superficial life changes but still drive cars or eat food shipped by trucks or plug their iPhones in to the mains. Hippies drive to bush doofs in smoke-spewing old vans rather than be "consumerist" and drive a new and fuel-efficient alternative. It would do a whole lot more environmental and social good if all those people turned their efforts towards lobbying us off brown coal power and onto renewable energy, for instance, than making pot-planters out of old milk bottles. There is indeed a fraud to be unravelled, as you suggested.

As for this generation being more cynical, everyone always thinks their generation is the most X, Y or Z. Because we have a limited view of the past, it's easy to see it as somehow simpler, but...we weren't there.

Geoff | 04 March 2011  

Ellena, thanks for your interesting article and the thought you have put into it. Ernest Hemingway was told at the beginning of his writing career, 'all you have to do is write one true sentence'. For me, your statement in parenthesis 'calls of hypocrisy rarely come from the unencumbered' summuned the rightfully ambivalent approach of the whole article.Its a very true sentence. It seems to me that we can criticise 'bogans' because they blatantly trade on their status as victims, whether the resentment displayed is real or carefully cultivated (and usually a subtle mixture of the two deserving neither outright condemnation nor complete validation). It is, unfortunately, an Australian tradition, and yet there is probably something of this tradition in all of us, whether we see ourselves as a bogan or a hipster, or anything else really.

I think you have put your finger on the area in which theology is being formed,and which will in the next little while be where sociology turns its weary head,ie: the intersection between the two insights that 'God is on the side of the oppressed', and that baffling propbem for those who go to help them: 'hurt people hurt people'.
Thanks again.

Dave | 05 March 2011  

While it is right to appreciate the value of a 'vibrant artistic culture' and culture in general for that matter, i think you err in your assumption that a politically correct attitude of tolerance will create conditions for culture to flourish.

In modern history, 'culture' in the form of artistic, musical, dramatic expression reached critical mass arguably during ( & as a result of) the most intense periods of social and political conflict (the very idea of counterculture?)...

Human beings are not homogeneous. That we have distinguishable'culture' at all is a testament to the vast differences inherent in mankind. Culture is formed and defined by interaction between groups who do recognise and appreciate differences. Criticism and conflict is important, if not vital, to this process.

It is illogical that you yourself demand that 'conformists' be more tolerant while criticisng them as parochial and cynical... Those who support political correctness are often (and i'm not suggesting you are) distanced from political reality.

Tolerance is about being prepared to face the fact that people have differences, and disagree, often violently, over them. While violence is not desirable, neither is homogeneous obedience to a rule which says 'do not criticise'...

Gene Ryan | 03 October 2011  

Remarkably good - Thank you! I searched the literature long and hard for a critique of this construct (hoping to base a sociology paper on it) and come up all but empty handed. If only I was able to cite well reasoned articles rather than peer reviewed journals!

Jon Benge | 29 January 2014  

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