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Hating hipsters and bogans

  • 04 March 2011

I 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