THE USES AND ABUSES OF CONTEMPT
Savage is a writer and immediate past editor of the Melbourne
University newspaper, Farrago. She also writes for
where this article originally appeared. She lives in Melbourne,
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 characterize
'hipsters' -- the slick young urban gentry with access to recreational
drugs and synthesizers.
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.
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.
live in the fashionable inner-city suburbs, make our op-shop
outfits look fashionable, read classics and literary journals,
watch Q&A (Australian talk show), 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?
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.
leveled 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.
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.
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.
from externalizing 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
would be nice if everyone were able to compartmentalize their
differences, keeping them out of sight, but we all outwardly
practice culture whether or not we can recognize 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.
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.