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12 December 2019

H is for Hipster: The decade the dickhead died

The eighth letter in the New Statesman's A-Z of the decade.

By Anna Leszkiewicz

Wanna feel old? It’s almost a decade since “Being A Dickhead’s Cool”, the parody video that went viral for its skewering of a very specific kind of dickhead, racked up more than nine million views in September 2010. The tropes and fashion it mocks feel like relics from another time – sailor tattoos, handlebar moustaches, deep V-necks and neon leggings. If this was the hipster in 2010, today he is dead. Alas. I knew him well.

Though the video was my first brush with the hipster, 2010 was not when the hipster was born. That came earlier, at the turn of the 21st century – best observed in Britain by the mid-Noughties cult comedy Nathan Barley. In fact, for some, by 2010 the hipster was already dead.

In that year, American Apparel CEO Dov Charney announced “hipster is over”, and the cultural critic Mark Greif wrote an essay and published a book called What Was The Hipster? Greif admits that rumours of the death of the hipster may have been greatly exaggerated: “Someone will point out that hipsters are not dead, they still breathe, they live on my block,” he writes. “Yet it is evident that we have reached the end of an epoch in the life of the type.” If the hipster does not exactly die, it evolves beyond recognition.

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The exaggerated stereotype of hipsters that flourished at the beginning of this decade – the one with a full beard and a full wardrobe of flannel shirts, a penny farthing, and aviator glasses – is gone. But some of the behaviours that once defined them – cycling, veganism, “spirituality”, enthusiasm for specific varieties of coffee and craft beer, sustainability, volunteering at co-ops, a weakness for slickly branded lifestyle products, artisanal boutiques or DIY aesthetics, wellness – now seem to belong to all of us.

In his book, Greif writes that the hipster “represents what can happen to middle class whites, particularly, and to all elites, generally, when they focus on the struggles for their own pleasures and luxuries – seeing these as daring and confrontational – rather than asking what makes their sort of people entitled to them, who else suffers for their pleasures, and where their “rebellion” adjoins social struggles”. Today, that statement could apply to online influencers as much as any counterculture.

Rampant consumerism as a means of identity construction and expression is no longer a habit exclusive to any single subculture (if hipsterism could even be called one). At some point over the last decade, the concept of the hipster was diluted and generalised until it could no longer reasonably exist as its own entity. Every person between the ages of 20 and 40 with disposable income began to look like a hipster. The hipster morphed into the millennial – that other impossibly broad, pointlessly debated, infuriatingly slippery cultural category.

If the 2010s was the decade the hipster died, then it was only because its particular brand of consumerism was so voracious, it ended up swallowing our culture entirely. The hipster is dead. Long live the millennial!

This article is part of our A-Z of the 2010s.

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