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on language

Hipsters are taking a great bashing on the Internet these days, and it's hard not to join in the uncharitable fun - contemporary urban fashion is at its most ridiculous point since at least the late 1960s, and there is something so cleverly smug about the skinny-jeans artist brigade that they cannot help but annoy. You have probably seen the "Hipster Olympics" video on YouTube, a fake contest in the spirit of Monty Python's "Upper Class Twit of the Year," in which young New Yorkers compete in choosing ironic T-shirts, photographing themselves for MySpace and criticizing a jock. So now I encourage you to check out my current favourite hipster-mocking site, the rudely named "Look at This [Expletive] Hipster," which is a collection of candid photos of real people on the blog site Tumblr.

LATFH, as we will call it, is modelled on the famously cruel Vice magazine "Dos and Don'ts" photos, in which an anonymous, violently misogynist and racist, and very funny voice made comments about unfortunate people photographed in the street. There is the same tone here.

But where Vice magazine praises, with masturbatory enthusiasm, some of its subjects (the Dos), LATFH is purely negative. It's all Don'ts. Which were always the funniest anyway.

Here are three textbook hipsters, for example, standing on the lawn of some college campus, all stick men with mandatory hipster slumped shoulders and mops of unwashed hair, in their super-narrow jeans and their striped T-shirts and their oversized glasses, and they are looking with some boredom at a girl sitting on the lawn in front of them, and she has a blanket over her legs. The caption reads, "There better be some torn leggings, bruised thighs and tattered cowboy boots under that blanket, or we are out of here." Which actually made me laugh out loud. Or here is an extremely skinny, pale, androgynous boy in dark glasses, sitting next to his identical-looking girlfriend on the subway, and the caption reads, "I'm sorry. This is the last time I'll ask, but are we a lesbian couple?" And here is a guy with the most unbelievably hideous, greasy mullet, big 1970s spectacles, an ugly mustache and a nasty acrylic sweater. He is saying, "Why yes, I do have ironic pubic hair."

Now yes, of course, this is a juvenile and conservative humour, and it is not cool to find sexual androgyny ridiculous; it usually indicates some kind of insecurity. I have been on the receiving end of it so much in my life I am surprised by my own hostility here. Why is it that the hipsters irritate me so? I try, I try hard, to see something subversive or rebellious or aesthetically interesting in their determinedly ugly clothes and their determinedly unimpressed stance and I just can't.

I see a certain hypocrisy: The hipster pose is of someone who rejects fashion, who is wearing second-hand clothes because she is poor and refusing to buy into consumer culture, who makes fun of sensual subcultures such as Goths and dandies, and yet the outfits she invariably concocts are so odd they cross the line into flamboyance. If you combine your second-hand 1970s dress with huge plastic sunglasses and canvas running shoes, you can't deny you want to be looked at. And then of course there's the weedy, whiny music, and the lack of interest in any cause or intellectual issue, other than possibly environmentalism (the default cause of the sensitive dropout).

The twist on hipster mockery, of course, is that (like all vicious satire), it comes from inside. That is, you have to recognize the subtle hipster tropes, which means that you are probably pretty much a hipster already. I myself wouldn't be so irritated if I didn't live in the thick of them. Vice magazine is the prime example of this self-deprecation, and LATFH itself is deeply in-the-know. One picture, of a guy in a plaid jacket listening to headphones, is captioned, "If I didn't already know I was listening to Animal Collective on these headphones, I would bet myself $100 that I was listening to Animal Collective on these headphones." Which is, of course, only funny to a hipster.

Indeed, this kind of photo blog, and Tumblr itself, are madly hip. This is exactly how hipsters communicate. Tumblr is a site where, for free, you can create your own "tumblelog," a blog that is usually a collection of photos, links and oddities rather than of written entries. Like Twitter, it represents microblogging, a trend away from the page-long texts and arguments of blogs and toward brief flashes. You could call it post-literate.

And like any good Internet meme, LATFH has spawned iterations with similar names. "Look At This Lovely Hamster," for example, is exactly the same, except it's pictures of hamsters. Is it a parody, is it ironic, or is it completely serious? What's the difference? I can't tell. That's how hip it is