Hipster hatred is reaching a new boiling point. Everyone who has ever dined in a restaurant in which $13 drinks were served in mason jars has by now savoured Will Self's funny screed in the New Statesman ("The awful cult of the talentless hipster has taken over") in which every stereotype of bearded urban life is nastily and hysterically insulted.
You may also have, not coincidentally, read a widely circulated piece in GQ last April, by Daniel Riley ("I'm Only into Jean-Georges's Early Stuff") which described a young person's competitive addiction to eating in cool new restaurants, as if this activity formed a kind of cultural study or research, and this naive author's stunning realization that obsessing about food is kind of shallow. This guy appeared to be exactly the kind of Instagramming idiot that Self was fulminating about.
In Self's piece, the British author blames his own generation (he is 53) for what he calls "the miserable gallimaufry of web-headed, tiny-bike-riding, moronic poseurs" who run the supposedly most fashionable districts of the greatest cities of the world. It is our fault, he posits, that restaurants have become places crammed with farm machinery in which one must listen to the loudest trip-hop, because we, the aging Xers, are the ones who claimed "that there was no distinction between high and popular culture, and that adverts should be considered as an art form," and we were the ones who sprayed out the "slurry" that was cultural theory. Worse, we did all that from an absurdly privileged position, at a time when there were jobs in universities for jerks like us.
Riley's GQ hipster renunciation comes from the opposite direction, from inside, and it is a child-like explaining of the obvious. The author admits that he has "bought into a system in which part of my value ... can be measured by the restaurants where I've stuffed my face." This cultural knowledge, in his social circles, was as valuable as the novelists or directors you knew. He claims to be not rich and to have only visited restaurants that appealed to the "cash-strapped," whatever that means in New York. "And these restaurants – with their tatted-up chefs barking orders over a Zeppelin Pandora station – acted as proxies for the culturally cool things we couldn't afford."
This is exactly the kind of superficiality that people suspect they are going to find in young men with giant beards. It bears out the standard media-borne hipster-hating insult: shallow, fake, posing, lightweight.
Everyone who is flamboyant has always attracted this exact list of insults, from Oscar Wilde on. These are the same insults that used to be levelled against me and my pals when we dressed up as punk rockers, with our spiky hair and our straight-leg jeans.
Of course it was a pose; all fashion is a pose. I have nothing against poses. I enjoy poses and I admire sartorial flamboyance. I even love costumes. I really can't imagine myself as someone who wants to sneer at a person who likes a different style of dress; I am not a redneck. And yet my inner eye roll when I see the 1860s miner's beard and the rolled-up jeans and the horn-rimmed glasses and the plaid shirt and the suspenders ... That eye roll is so convulsive it's well on the way to being vocal.
I am disgusted with myself for feeling this. People can wear whatever they want.
And why is it that so many criticisms of so-called hipster culture centre on restaurants? A stereotype has arisen: the place where each dish requires 200 words to describe, where the lamb was raised in a Montessori school, the tables are laminate or concrete (seriously, the expensive place around the corner from me called Barnyard or Manure has a patio filled with old tractors and concrete-topped tables), the glasses are old jars, servers wear wool toques as if they were camping, and the smallest thing costs $30. What is so annoying about these places is the contrast between their culinary aspirations, which are high indeed, and their comfort level, which is laughably low.
Young people are more than their restaurants, of course. Yes, they are their weedy folk music, and their video games, and their half-assed Buddhism, and their degrees in gender and privilege studies, and their deadly serious knowledge of celebrities. Yes, they are all that: there's plenty to make fun of. It's just that the only point of contact between old curmudgeons and the stylish youth happens in the restaurants where the latter work, so the restaurant concretizes, for the outsider, current aesthetic values.
But even the sneering mainstream media (what a young person would call the MSM), are confused about what they think of hipster neighbourhoods. After all, spending a lot of money in restaurants is something that older and clean-shaven people do. They like lots of new restaurants with locally sourced organic produce. And they sure do like to talk about real estate values, which unquestionably rise when the beards and the mandolins move in.
We were all very proud, weren't we, when Vogue named a Canadian neighbourhood as one of the hippest in the world? (Toronto's Queen Street West came in at No. 2, beating counterpart neighbourhoods in Paris, New York and Berlin.) It was all over the Canadian news. It means we are sensitive and cultivated.
So what do we hate, exactly? Do we hate fine food made with local ingredients? Why can sophistication and sensitivity, generally desirable values, be so annoying? Perhaps because we are still not so sure we want those things?
Or rather because we suspect that the purported values of the bearded waiter – especially classlessness and inclusion – are not actually in any way represented by pan-seared Northern Ontario pickerel with beet wasabi mousse at $27? Is it the strange sense that everything around us, even our sophistication, is somehow false, meaningless, a painted cardboard bulwark keeping out the real world of Putin and Ebola and the Islamic State?