First published Time Out Sydney, 10 Apr 2013
Remember a few years back when “emo” was a pejorative term?
It was the go-to derogatory adjective (or, less often but infinitely more irritatingly, noun) for a certain type of person that no-one would ever admit to being – vaguely moody, self-absorbed and almost certainly wearing black, unless it was a band in which case it was a term that apparently meant “men with guitars” (seriously, I’ve heard “emo” applied to everything from My Chemical Romance through to Something For Kate).
But emo was like pornography: difficult to describe, but you knew it when you saw it. Also, in that it seemed connected with a whole lot of wank.
No-one’s used “emo” outside of inverted commas in years, but since about 2011 the I-hate-the-young-people term of choice has been “hipster”, and again everyone knows what it means while the definition has remained diffuse enough to apply to anyone you wanted to insult without being pinned down to any particular reason why you wanted to insult them. Hatred of hipsters is matched only by hipster hatred of the term “hipster”, which the Atlantic recently voted as one of the worst words of 2012.
That guy in the hat on a bike? Hipster. Those people sitting in the beer garden of that inner suburban pub? Bunch of hipsters. The music playing in the café yesterday morning? One of those hipster bands, no doubt. Though not actually No Doubt, obviously, since hipsters would be listening to something far more cool – unless they were being ironically retro, of course, which would be such a hipster move.
As a bearded, bespectacled man who owns several checked shirts, principally buys albums on vinyl and lives in a suburb replete with cafés, I tick a number of the 600 or so boxes that qualify one for hipsterdom, and even I avoid the term (I prefer the more poetic appellation “aging indiekid”, myself). But now that it’s become fashionable to hate on the word itself, it’s worth asking: um, what’s actually wrong with hipsters?
See, I get what’s complaint-worthy about, say, Nazis. They do stuff to people in an aggressive and racially-unpleasant way. I think we can all understand why folks would have reservations about Nazis, as a rule, but hipsters?
They’re generally what, inner-city folks of a vaguely artistic bent, generally with a degree or so under their belt and a progressive political outlook, doing such not-especially-aggressive things as riding bikes, launching websites, and playing in noise bands. They’re opening small bars and pottering about in community gardens. Seriously, they’re pretty easy to avoid if they irritate you so much, since they all seem to be fairly busy. After all, that organic ale isn’t going to microbrew itself.
While one of the criticisms of emo kids was that they were too self-absorbed to be political, hipsters get stick for having too much of a political outlook – so much so that the Miranda Devines and Alan Joneses love whaling on them as being latte-sipping inner-city types that are everything that’s wrong with Australia, with their fancy book-learnin’ and community action.
Maybe it’s just another version of our rich cultural cringe and our nation’s weird, inexplicable anti-intellectual streak. Or perhaps it’s something more positive: an indication that previous Australian cultural punching bags like non-whites and non-straights are less valid targets in 2013.
Seriously, if the worst subculture we can come up with as an object of contempt is a bunch of well-educated, environmentally-conscious, socially active and culturally aware twenty- and thirtysomethings with a penchant for quality coffee and retro tattoos, our society’s probably in pretty good shape. I mean heck, some of my best friends are hipsters.
Not that I’m one, obviously.