You might remember Poykpak’s Williamsburg-set Hipster Olympics video from 2007. Events included MySpace photography and ironic t-shirt hunting, and it featured the American Apparel Instant Replay and sponsorship from PBR (“When you aim for authenticity…”) That video was a pretty good primer for anyone who asked “What’s a hipster?”

Three years on, the hipster problem shows no sign of abating; in fact, it’s worsened considerably. I watched the Olympics piece recently, and it seemed whimsical and understated – a relic of a more innocent time. Recently, though, a new video highlighting the East London hipster infestation has achieved huge viewing figures on YouTube. While it’s more abrasive and less affectionate than Poykpak’s, it’s just as accurate – pardon the cliché, but it’s funny because it’s true. While I’m usually averse to including links or even pictures in my TNB writing, I’ll throw one in at the end of this piece. Because you really should see it.

There’s been a bit of a backlash against hipster bashing lately. They’re fish-in-a-barrel easy targets, and a lot of the ire is put down to sour grapes. One possible definition of a hipster is: Anyone younger than you who’s having fun.

But they’re invulnerable! A true hipster can’t know it’s a hipster, so the abuse just bounces off; their ignorance is like a SHIELD of STEEL. So we can get the boot in as much as we like, nobody’s getting hurt and everybody likes a good rant.

I’ve called the situation “The hipster problem”, a title usually reserved for genuinely serious circumstances like, say, “the homeless problem”. Obviously we’re not really dealing with a great societal disaster here, just a huge bunch of twits…but for me, they can be a real problem, and I really do have to deal with them.

I live in the most hipsterical street in London, Broadway Market. At the (thankfully) far end is a black hole of foolishness, a pub called The Cat and Mutton. Not long ago it was as rough as a badger’s arse, a good place to go if you wanted to get stabbed. Now it’s a good place to go if you want to stab someone. Every review of this pub says the same thing: Nice enough interior, good food, rude staff, OK beer, full of wankers. It’s the epicentre of the city’s hipster awfulness. Push through the crowd of Muppets clogging the pavement and you’re in a park called London Fields where, on a sunny day, satellite images show more plaid than grass.

Supposed definitions of hipster are usually descriptions rather than definitions; lists of distinguishing features (skinny, plaid shirts) and behaviours (hanging out in London Fields, being skinny, wearing plaid shirts).

The peculiar thing about the scene is this: It’s unique among youth movements in that it’s not based on anything. Not music, not fashion, certainly not politics. If they had banners they’d say I don’t care or simply Whatever. They could wear little badges reading Meh. I say movement, but that implies momentum and direction. It’s more like a youth stasis.

The hipster conforms to a simple definition of postmodernism – it’s defined by what it isn’t. It’s a cult of self, fostering delusions of creativity in which anyone can be a writer (all you need is a blog), a photographer (if you have a telephone), a DJ (iTunes) or a stylist (you wear clothes).

( Yes, I’m aware of the irony, posting my unedited opinions online, but the Nervy B has entry requirements innit. You have to be totally articulate with words and shit. So suck it.)

They take photographs of, and blog about, themselves and their friends. Nobody else sees or cares about the results of their labour, which is fine, because they don’t care about anybody else. It’s this blinkered self-centredness that, for me, promotes them from an amusing irritation to a real problem.

Last Sunday I went up the road, intending to sit in a café and watch the fools go by. Saturday’s market day, and I expect movement to be slow, erratic and difficult; Sunday, though, should have been OK. But no. I had to keep stopping, saying “Excuse me,” waiting for access, and it took a long time to reach the coffee shops, where the queues were out of the doors. And did the thronging wretches line up along the wall? Of course not! They formed neat lines across the pavement. I turned round, went back home, and got on Twitter, which is a pretty good medium for a quick spleen vent. Each tweet was tagged #BroadwayMarketTwats – I’ll spare you that – but it went a little something like this:

 

Here we fucking go.

I know you saw me coming, so why didn’t you get out of the way? This wheelchair can’t move sideways. You can.

My wheelchair is a necessity, not a fashion statement, unlike your stupid nonprescription glasses.

I can’t get through the gap between your emaciated arse and the pile of fixies chained to the lamppost. Please move.

I know you can walk without looking where you’re going, you usually stroll along fixated on your iPhone/iPod/navel.

When I said “Hello, excuse me please,” I was addressing you, not your leashed rodent.

Really? That’s a dog? I’ve had more impressive mammals living under my kitchen sink.

Whatever it is, take some responsibility for it. Get it, and yourself, out of the way. Thank you. And you, Tinkerbell.

Is there a Facebook group coordinating East London’s most self-obsessed oxygen wasters?

Because you all seem to be in the same place at the same time.

Congratulations. Anyway. Thank you, drive through. S x

 

Aha, yes, a wheelchair. In the Hipster Olympics video, a referee checks the competitors’ attributes including jean tightness and appropriate air of nonchalance, ending with “…and, of course, no physical handicaps.” So you see, I can’t be one of them. I’m invisible; I am literally beneath their notice.

Here, have a look at them. A nice bonus for me: The chap in the red t-shirt at 0:55 (who is, to his credit, about the least nobby looking person in the video) is standing outside my house.

Dickheads.

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Formerly a professional modelmaker, STEVE SPARSHOTT turned to writing after brain damage sustained in a 2003 road accident removed much of his physical function. Typing with the three middle fingers of his left hand at a blistering fifteen words per minute, he has had work printed in London literary magazine Smoke, and various academic publications have featured his design-related social criticism. He has reviewed films for Screenjabber.com and Nude Magazine, and because his life just isn't difficult enough, he's writing a memoir called Get Well Soon. He is well chuffed to have an essay called Fin in the Nervous Breakdown compilation The Beautiful Anthology.

54 responses to “Your Life as a Dickhead”

  1. This is a lovely companion piece to the one I posted last night wherein I prodded “gossip, what is it?” and suggested that if we can figure out what a hipster is, then we’re not far from defining what makes chitchat into gossip, haha. Your methodology was at once similar (coffee shops, bad eyeglasses, slumping in the streets) and divergent (online visual aids) from mine. Nice. Very nice.

    • Reading “My Word vs My Word!”

      Please hold.

    • Thank you for holding.

      So, yes, looks like the buggers are everywhere. I left a few days before posting this because of Becky’s “You Listen Here, Disaffected Youth Person”, and you’ve covered the same territory too! I feel like a proper bandwagon jumper.

      As you found, it’s easy to provide examples of characteristics, but not so easy to answer questions like “What is a hipster? Why is a hipster?” I didn’t set out to provide a definition, but one suggested itself when I was wondering why I was apparently invisible to them. I think that, in the absence of any real focus, they become obsessed with themselves, their peers, and little else.

      And that video says “dickhead” a lot, which is very funny.

  2. Brian Eckert says:

    This line is awesome: “…a good place to go if you wanted to get stabbed. Now it’s a good place to go if you want to stab someone.”

    I don’t really get the hipster thing. Maybe that means I am one? I am skinny and wear skinny pants. Plaid…meh…it’s alright. I’m sure the problem is much worse in cities. Out in the country here, if you wear skinny pants, you’re labeled a fag, not a hipster. So maybe I’m a fag.

    • Same here. Yesterday I was wearing the ubiquitous red buffalo plaid, my skinniest jeans, and a pair of ridiculous klumpy silver Reebok basketball boots. Visually, my sensibly cropped grey hair saves me from total hipsteria. And my Buddy Holly goggles are the real thing. Maybe I’m a gripster.

      I wonder, can hipsters survive in rural environments? Oh dear, I think I’ve just pitched a reality show.

    • I’m with Brian. I don’t consider myself a hipster by any means. In fact, I read this and laughed and thought, “fucking hipsters.” Yet, I can’t help feel that I probably look to others very much like a hipster twat.

      • Today I played a game of “hipster or person?” while pottering about in London. Appearance-wise there’s a fair bit of overlap. I mean, everyone under forty’s in skinny jeans; it’s more to do with that self-obsessed attitude. I’m sure that I look pretty hipsterous when I’m sitting in a coffee shop tippety-tapping away; to the cynical observer, I might appear to be taking retro pride in my little 2004 PowerBook, and I’m probably “working” on my screenplay.

  3. Becky Palapala says:

    Ugh.

    Major gentrification moment the other day.

    I live in a relatively quiet, blue-collar neighborhood on the edge of the city. It’s happily, harmoniously diverse, somewhere at the junction of working class and middle class.

    I have seen homeless people, I have seen Indian people, I have seen Latino people, I have seen black people, I have seen white people, I have seen war veterans, I have seen just about every kind of people EXCEPT hipsters.

    Until last week.

    It was 75 degrees out and there they were, in their flannels and knit toques, waiting to cross the street with their reusable grocery bags, which I assume means they live in the immediate vicinity.

    It starts.

    • I don’t want to be all “I was there before it was cool” but it all kicked off literally weeks after I moved here. The first Saturday “farmers’ market” took place and property prices started to lift off.

      I must say I still like it here. There’s very little friction between the original residents and the new circus, and I have a choice of FIVE independent coffee shops to work in. There are three bookshops, too. Two are dedicated to art/fashion/photography; the other is the perfect local bookshop. Great selection and recommendations, occasional readings, supports local authors – the place even smells just right!

      Remember: Look both ways before crossing the road. Fixters are reluctant to slow down.

  4. devils advocate says:

    Still looks like your arguing against people younger than you having a good time. It’s not as if any of the people popping gasket about “hipsters” ever did or said anything gauche or cringe-worthy when they were younger is it? The snipers I prersume all sprung fully formed rounded people out of the womb and never gushed about something trivial or wore por hat . And as for the negative effects of of gentrification of areas well thems the breaks we all live with the delusion that this place (insert latest nice area/cafe/market/pub with decent coffee and wobbly pastry) would great be if wasn’t for all these other people.
    I do wish they’d pull their trousers up though.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      And indeed, one day, these hipsters will complain about the new hipsters, whoever they are. It’s the circle of life.

      All’s fair in love, war, and generation gaps. Getting butt-hurt about it is useless and only invites more mockery.

    • Hi DA.

      I actually take comfort in the young-people-having-fun thing. Without exception, every generation laments the language/style/manners/smell of the next, and when I moan about the kids I’m aware that fifteen years ago I was the one being moaned about. And I reckon I turned out OK, so I reckon this lot will too.

      The gentrification’s worked entirely in my favour. As you say – coffee, pastries; I’m not complaining.

      This bunch, the ones we label hipsters, they intrigue me though. I’ve been forced to think about them by their physical proximity and obstructive nature and I think they’re suffering from too much choice. Music, film, fashion, everything’s available immediately, nothing remains secret or select for long, and it’s impossible to latch on to anything. There are no more cliques, no goths, rockers, indie kids – it’s all homogenous*, one big unfocussed “scene”.

      I blame the internet. Stupid internet.

      *might be the wrong word

      • devils advocate says:

        we were discussing this elsewhere the other day, the ease of access to music and increasingly films will most likely reduce the obsessive nature of liking them. The hunting out tunes(the sending off to obscure po boxes etc) was part of the fun as was late night cinema showing of cult films (something that’s also gone now) I mean my vhs copy of clockwork orange is a swedish tv version with subtitles . Not sure if this is all good or bad just different this massive choice leads understandbly to wide but shallow knowledge as does the skip/shuffle button.
        I imagine there are still music obsessives but that their experience is less intense maybe and also they share their passion not with the only other kid at school who liked the Smith’s but with Klaxon’s fans in New Zealand and Malmo.

        • The Swedish subtitles thing is still happening; I may or may not have downloaded a few dodgy episodes of BSG and Dexter. The BSG subs don’t bother with the ridiculous “frak”, they use what are obviously proper Scandinavian swears.

          I always used to send off the cards in CD cases for updates on the band or label. Never got anything back. Not once.

  5. James D. Irwin says:

    I’ve been to London a few times over the summer and they’re fucking EVERYWHERE.

    Even in bloody Winchester.

    Fucking hipsters.

  6. Matt says:

    Nice little plant that grew out of the #BroadwayMarketTwats

    I hate the way the hipster set has appropriated the plaid flannel shirt, mostly because I still wear my plaid flannel from back in the grunge-era 90s. Of course, I still listen to the music – because it gives me pleasure, not because I’m making a statement. And because I’m not a fucking wanker.

    Lucky for me, there aren’t a lot of hipsters in my part of town; maybe it’s because I live close to the ocean and warm sunny beaches, and it’s difficult to make a slovenly fashion statement when the people around you spend half of the year wearing as little as the local indecent exposure laws will allow. Though I’m sure eventually they’ll figure out how to tan (or sunburn) ironically, and that will be that: we’ll start seeing skinny people wearing those pre-1950s unitard swimsuits with straw fedoras and oversized plastic sunglasses, littering the sand with their PBR cans and American Spirits cigarette butts. Fuckin’ bastards.

    “Fixie” is Englandish for fixed- or single-speed bicycle, yes?

    • I remember finding a blue checked shirt in a charity shop at the bottom of Peascod St, Windsor, in 1993. I pulled it off the hanger and tried it on by tying it round my waist.

      WANKER

      Of course I’ll never admit to it.

      I think there’s a danger of a new breed arising – the beachster! They’ll wear high waist trunks (“You’re either a high waister or a time waster”) and they’ll write “Don’t stop believing” and “I <3 bike polo” on their flesh in factor 50, letting the rest burn.

      Those unitards could definitely happen. They’d be the new deep V.

      I think “Fixie” is used in the US too. Yes, fixed wheel, fixed gear, track bike, ridden by fixters. Ask the nearest bearded Portlander.

  7. Dana says:

    “Supposed definitions of hipster are usually descriptions rather than definitions; lists of distinguishing features (skinny, plaid shirts) and behaviours (hanging out in London Fields, being skinny, wearing plaid shirts).

    The peculiar thing about the scene is this: It’s unique among youth movements in that it’s not based on anything. Not music, not fashion, certainly not politics. If they had banners they’d say I don’t care or simply Whatever. They could wear little badges reading Meh. I say movement, but that implies momentum and direction. It’s more like a youth stasis.”

    Great rant Steve! Right on the money.

    “Really? That’s a dog? I’ve had more impressive mammals living under my kitchen sink. ”
    Heh! High five! Apparently, I’m a smalldogist. I often make disparaging comments about people based solely on their oversized truck or undersized dog.

  8. Cynthia Hawkins says:

    I think we must have the same problem in south Texas as Matt describes of his locale above — it’s too hot here for hipsters to thrive. Ah! Have we found their achilles heel?

    • Slade Ham says:

      Oh they’re here, Cynthia. They’re here. They just congregate in Austin.

      • Cynthia Hawkins says:

        Well, there goes my big theory that global warming would take care of it.

        • On the hottest day of the year (it got a bit Do the Right Thing, there was actually a shooting), London Fields was totally mobbed. I’ve never seen the place so packed. They’re skinny, so they have a high surface area/volume ratio, allowing them to radiate heat efficiently.

          Hipsters could be the next step in human evolution. I didn’t say it would be a step forwards.

  9. Greg Olear says:

    It’s almost worth your shitty experience to read another vintage Steve Sparshott rant. Almost. Those hipsters are fuckers, truly.

    What will they be like as pensioners? Will there be nursing homes for hipsters, I wonder?

    Great piece, as always.

    • Turns out it was well worth it! I’ve had so much positive feedback, and as always it feels good to write something. Admittedly it’s displacement activity – I should be getting on with The Book – but it clears the pipes.

      Now I’m trying (and failing) to come up with a “hipster replacement” gag.

      Cheers!

  10. Zara Potts says:

    “I live in the most hipsterical street in London, Broadway Market. At the (thankfully) far end is a black hole of foolishness, a pub called The Cat and Mutton. Not long ago it was as rough as a badger’s arse, a good place to go if you wanted to get stabbed. Now it’s a good place to go if you want to stab someone.”

    Now that paragraph, is totally hipsterical! Love it!

    One of the good things about NZ is we don’t have a huge amount of hipsters. They are around certainly, but even goths outnumber them here. Great piece, Steve. You really should post more often!

  11. As usual, I’m going to duck out ’til tomorrow, when I’ll reply to all you lovely people, and that guy there too.

    Apologies if the “Dickheads” song is stuck in your head, it should go away after a couple of weeks.

  12. zoe zolbrod says:

    Am I the only one who thinks hipsters are sometimes cute?

  13. I don’t even like Star Trek.

    Oh, and the London Fashion Week crowd I bumped into today took the biscuit. Self-regard cranked up to eleven, snapping each other not with telephones but with fridge-sized DSLRs*, and even less aware of my presence.

    *Yes dear, you’ll definitely get onto the front page of Hel-Looks, or Facehunter. Or LATFH.

  14. Gloria Harrison says:

    Did you make up the word “hipsterical”? Because it’s genius. The video is really great, too.

    Those nutty youngsters.

  15. Having moved to Seattle from San Francisco, I feel I can make a claim to have lived amongst hipsters in two of their most rampant locales, not unlike Dianne Fosse, Fixies In The Mist. I too have raged down sidewalks laden with unshaven slack and wished for an implement (painful, metallic) with which to disperse them. But, you know, the notion of condemning youth culture tires me now more than it brings relief.

    I do think the notion of “unprecedented choice” in music and film having a ruinous and unpredictable effect has some merit. I try to imagine myself at 18 armed with the massive iPod I now wield, the likely product being a lethargic, THC-soaked blancmange.

    Even so, that video is great.

    • I was a hipster of sorts (kind of on the fringe?) and can’t wait to watch the video. At work right now.

    • Fixies in the Mist! They’re so quiet with their no-freewheel nature. Do you have those little electric vans there? FedEx use them. They’re on you before you know it.

      Some folks have suggested fitting my chair with a snowplough or cowcatcher. The idea appeals to an extent, but I think I’d rather be known locally as The Wheelchair Guy than That Guy With The Wheelchair Who Kills People.

      I can’t imagine what effect the instant availability of everything would’ve had on my younger self. It’s hard to conceive of anything feeling special – but I suppose bands still have devoted fans. I think the kids will be all right.

  16. This is a brilliant piece Steve. You should read my piece “Dead Generation.” It’s set in the mid 1990s but is the same sort of peek at hipsterism and that mehness, which at the time I called an MTV-sucked rebellious youth, only not knowing what the hell they are rebelling against. You’re a brilliant writer, man. I wish I had your eloquence and sarcasm in words.

    • What are you rebelling against, Johnny?

      Whaddaya got?

      I suppose this sort of vagueness has been going on since young people were invented. Just looked at Sean’s “Worst Band Names” piece, and Becky called it in the comments – Rise Against. AGAINST WHAT? YOU SNIVELLING WRETCHES.

      Not that this new crop are rebelling, or even claiming to rebel. To their credit, they seem pretty content with their lot, as long as new stuff keeps coming. It’s as if everything’s gone the way of the fashion scene – newer is better, everything must change with the seasons, and the cycle of homage/retro/vintage coils tighter and tighter.

      Ahem.

      Dead Generation’s not on TNB is it? I had a look at your archive – I really liked Jumpers. The struggle through a landscape that’s evolved around cars rather than humans reminded me of Poe Ballantine, who may well be my favourite writer.

      Cheers!

      • I forgot to migrate it over to the new TNB. Here: http://archives.thenervousbreakdown.com/nlbelardes/2008/11/the-dead-generation/

        Gotta get back to work. Let me know what you think. The comments are interesting too.

        • I’m reading it right now, in one of my favorite cafés. I like the lyrical style, with more than a hint of beat/stream-of-consciousness flavour*.

          Wow, “pseudo-zeros”, now there’s an insult.

          He finished divorcing his wife a year after he met a girl I like to think of as Cholera at a downtown bar. – OK, that made me do a LOL, which is embarrassing in public.

          Hang on, wasn’t Bakersfield PD a comedy show? Only ran for one season.

          I fear for Steve.

          In 1996 I was 25, and I bought a book written by a 25-year-old, Our Noise by Jeff Gomez. It’s about the same people you write about here, in the same situations, but it simply relates their stories. On their own, they’re terribly dull; I think I was reading a passage describing one character’s preference for putting a little more water in his Pot Noodle when I thought “I could do better than this.”

          They – we – weren’t very interesting when our actions were just reported, but by asking “Why are we so nothingy?” and giving your investigations an urgent, swirling voice, you’ve made us seem much more interesting than we really were!

          *truthfully, I don’t really know what I’m talking about here

  17. Simon Smithson says:

    Oh, man, having lived in SF…

    Fuckin’ hipsters.

    ““…and, of course, no physical handicaps.”

    Yep.

    And in my experience, all amazingly white!

    • They are by and large a pasty bunch. Although a friend of mine in NY sometimes happily calls herself a “stupid blipster”, and there are a few lads round here who have a rather effective TV on the Radio sort of “nerd brother” style.

      There’s also a gang of Asian chaps who ride tasty looking “vintage” (’70s/’80s) bikes; you can tell each component has been carefully sourced. If you saw them without the bikes you’d think they were hipsters, but I reckon their specific enthusiasm excludes them from the mass of whateverness.

      Also, “Kriegslist”!

  18. Simon Smithson says:

    Steve, you may especially enjoy this:

    http://hipsterhitler.com/

  19. D.R. Haney says:

    Justin Benton posted a piece about hipsters last year, and I mentioned then that I’ve been through all kinds of contortions about hipsters. Now I just find myself amused by their self-importance, as well as their solipsism. They never in the least seem to take in the world around them, and yet they must, since they obviously recognize others of their ilk, and if that doesn’t include you, you’re summarily ignored. But how do they know? That’s the question, since their eyes face only themselves. I would wish that one of them would read and explain, but that’s like wishing for snow in Havana. Torture could conceivably lead to insight. Here’s hoping I’ve supplied you with an idea, but I have a feeling it’s not one you haven’t considered already.

    • Torture hadn’t occurred to me – I jumped straight to murder. I collared a fixter a couple of years ago and asked him:

      “What’s the deal with having an aero wheel at the front and spokes at the back?”

      He answered “Dunno, it’s just a cool look.”

      “Well, you’ve got to have somewhere to put your spoke cards.”

      “What are spoke cards?”

      “You’re a twat.”

      So I was none the wiser, but my prejudices were reinforced.

      So yes, how do they know? They have so little self-awareness. Plenty of self-regard. Perhaps if you have to ask you’ll never know. I can live with that.

  20. […] http://www.thenervousbreakdown.com/ssparshott/2010/09/your-life-as-a-dickhead/ In the nineties, it had become commonplace to assume that one could no longer say heartfelt, sincere things outright, because all genuine utterance would be stolen and repeated as advertising. Whatever anguish this caused seemed gone in the artifacts of the early aughts. The ironic games were weightless. The emotional expressions suggested therapy culture, but hipster art often kitschified—or at least made playful—the weightiest tragedies, whether personal or historical: orphans and cancer for Eggers, the Holocaust and 9/11 for Jonathan Safran Foer. […]

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