Is “Hipster” a Dirty Word?
I’ll admit it, I’m probably what a few people would call a bit of a Hipster. I don’t think it’s too bad, I’m not too far gone, but I definitely would like to count myself as one of the “different”. I think the root of this definitely stems from a bit of dissatisfaction with the modern world. We’re burning up our atmosphere, producing enough useless garbage to sink the planet and generally living lives built around the idea of money rather than personal fulfilment and cooperation.
I know, I know, it’s a pretty trite and worn out argument, but it’s true! We are killing ourselves slowly by staying inside the proverbial cash-lined box. It’s just easier and cosier, for the time being, to stay within it. But then again, even if we try to escape our parent’s culture, we simply buy ourselves into a new one if we’re not careful.
The whole Hipster chic thing is big business, with countless hostels, restaurants and bars priding themselves on their modern, creative and earth-friendly image, and manage to charge a lot more because of that. In my time adventuring and reviewing I’ve visited and even stayed at a number of these establishments to be pleasantly surprised. Not all of them are full of pretension, some are just genuinely cool. (I’ll actually be posting an article about this soon!)
But if the Hipster thing is creativity, uniqueness and a desperate battle to prove oneself “different”, then how come so many of these hip locations end up so similar? Is there really only one brand of “different?”
I think the truth here is that while business try to distinguish themselves from the stuffy, old and tired, they are also aiming to make a profit by appealing to a lowest common denominator. Over the past decade this has meant a slow shifting from traditional values and a nostalgia for the rustic to a more hopeful, futuristic vibe of white walls, pastel colours, wood and glass. K-mart now sells pastel vases and chic, Scandinavian inspired stools. For those too lazy to repurpose your old jam jars into cute, 50’s style soda glasses, you can just go to the store and pick up one of the thousands of purpose-built and mass produced jam jar glasses.
In the end, we’ve bought out of our parent’s culture, hoping to distance ourselves from the past and live creative and uniquely expressive lives of our own, but we’ve bought straight into a new one set up to trap us in a new style, a set of old products slapped with new branding. In a modern, capitalist society, there’s just no easy escape from the cyclical, gravitational pull of fashion.
What creates and enables truly unique and interesting thinkers is a support system and society built around giving people artistic freedom, and incentive for pursuing it. Instead of governments cutting funding to arts programs, events and education, let’s turn that around and provide scholarships, money for independent arts organisations and, in general, support the unique voices from which the ideas of the new future should grow. It’s a very lofty idea, but I think it’s an achievable goal. Life is about changing and moving forward. If we don’t embrace the future, and find those who can guide us to it, then we’ll be stuck languishing in the old and the fake.
I guess the question going on is, is Melbourne, generally considered Australia’s hippest city, going in the right direction?
I love Melbourne, I really do. In my last blog post I talked a tiny bit about how I feel Melbourne is the “big pond” for creative fish to swim in, and I do believe that, but it doesn’t wholly escape the Hipster trap.
Walk along any of Melbourne’s trendy alleyways and you’ll be able to find five dollar (or more) coffee, along with a similarly pricey breakfast (normally including avocado). Don’t get me wrong, I fucking love avos, but there’s seems to be something about them that attracts a high-price tag in the more hip joints. Melbourne is a diverse and interesting city, but a lot of it’s coffee culture stems from the original idea of the trendy bean-loving Hipster. While I’m sure a lot of cafes would love to escape the rat race and go full caffiene-crazy, they also need to appeal to the business class who wander in every day around noon. This leads to a majority of places ending up as sleek, almost bar-like affairs. Again, I just think this is another example of the “different” become commonplace.
Of course, I have no problem with good coffee becoming popular. I’m addicted to the stuff myself.
My favourite part about Melbourne, as I displayed in my last Melbourne post, is Hosier Lane. This is a chaotic mess of an alley, covered from top to bottom in bright graffiti. It’s an absolute tourist magnet, of course, but that doesn’t immediately make it bad. The flip side of the glorious chaos is that it’s also controlled chaos, a signal of Melbourne Council’s control over artists. It’s a funnel to hide and regulate the splashes of colour that should, in an ideal, anarchist’s dream, be covering the whole city. Well, at least it’s there! It’s lovely to have a bit of wonder among the skyscrapers.
I do very much appreciate Melbourne’s commitment to light and colour. Following celebrations for the Lunar New Year, the riverbank was lined with Chinese style zodiac animal lanterns, squabbling pandas, towering and ornate gates and much more. Combine this with the masses of people waddling through, you get a sense of Melbourne as a vibrant city. But that doesn’t make it unique. I mean, Adelaide is vibrant as well, though we do seem to go a bit too hard and wear ourselves out during the Mad March Festival period. Adelaide is in desperate need of funding for a bit of a make-over. Our arts centre is pretty from the riverside, but full of old equipment and horribly dated on it’s city facing side. With a bit of work and more collaboration from local artists and our own tribe of Hipsters, Adelaide could easily become as colourful and fantastic as Melbourne, if not surpass it. Melbourne’s wealth and international status just has us trumped for the time being.
Unlike my European city stays though I didn’t get the chance to try out any of Melbourne’s hostel offerings, instead opting for a family hotel. I mean, when you’re travelling with others, Melbourne’s hostels can really rake up the wallet as well as any hotel. But oh well, I suppose the opportunity for a good night sleep makes up for missing out on that experience.
Melbourne has an undeniable creative heartbeat, beat, beat, beating under a somewhat cold and business-like exterior. It’s obvious from it’s lush gardens, busy streets and easy-to-manage public transport, that it deserves its place in the list of “most liveable cities in the world”, but I like to think that so does Adelaide. At the same time, though, it doesn’t wholly escape the trap it basically set up for itself. Melbourne’s reputation as a hip city both defines and controls it’s direction in a way. While it is full of creatives and opportunity for those creatives to seek out, it is also a place where the Hipster chic will soon drain your wallet. Everything has it’s price, nowadays.
What do you think? I’d love to hear some opinions on the Hipster culture and, more importantly, the market around it. What’s the hippest place you’ve ever visited?