Fitzroy is a suburb of Melbourne that used to be known for its edgy, artistic, bohemian vibe that had it’s own sub-culture if not counter-culture. There are still remnants of this with examples of striking graffiti art and longstanding haunts still being favoured by non-conforming patrons. In a generous comparison, Fitzroy may have been the Haight-Ashbury of Melbourne at one point.
However, as others find the attractions of this suburb – close to the city, cool bars and restaurants – the bohemians are being replaced by a more mainstream form of sub-culture. Hipsters. Melbourne itself has a reputation within Australia of being a bit painfully cool. It is certainly regarded as being pretentious and for those in other parts of Australia, the phrase “that’s very Melbourne” may not always be a complimentary. Rather, it may strike at a city trying too hard and with a predilection for the latest fad. This means that the Melbourne hipster takes hispterism to its highest form, and Fitzroy is the heart of Melbourne’s hispter.
Being a Thatcher baby, born in 1979, I would be one of those sad ageing wannabe hipsters not quite able to pull it off. The man of my early adult years was quite different to the hipster; he was the metrosexual.
I had not thought much about metrosexual man until I read an article comparing him to the hipster. Metrosexual man was slightly androgynous and had a love affair with himself, appreciating efforts in presentation. Metrosexual man was a global man living in a metropolis and he was distinctly modern, maybe even futuristic. But the future did not pan out for metrosexual man and he is no longer the man of the moment, and this article suggests that his passing indicates a change in our view of masculinity. However, I wonder whether the change and primacy of the hipster is not limited to masculinity but has broader social and political meaning.
The hipster does not want a corporate job in a tower block in the city. The hipster wants a job that allows him to make something from his own endeavour; from his own craft. He values the physical labour of an individual craftsman and how the product is imbued with the maker’s mark. He does not want to buy a clean, sleek, sharp-edged table produced by machines and a system based on division of labour; he wants to make it with his own hands, and preferably from rescued timber. The hipster wants to be an artisan.
When growing up, the only time I saw the word artisan was on a small, slightly decrepit wooden hut of Perth Artisan’s Golf Club, which I imagined only had members older than my grandpa. Now, there are artisans that who still have a thick thatch of jet black hair. The local bakery is now an artisan bakery; the hairdresser is an artisan groomer; and, of course in Melbourne, the hipster serving you coffee is an artisan barista. The hipster is rejecting that notion of mass-production for individual craft, and such is the hispter’s dislike of modernity, he is even buying bread made from ancient grains.
Allied to the rejection of modernity is the rejection of metropolis. The hipster does not want to live a 24 hour city life but rather has a desire to reconnect with a simpler life. Cities like Melbourne have had rapidly rising property prices but that does not explain the attraction of moving miles past outer suburbs to rural towns like Ballarat, Bendigo and Castlemaine. Even though hipsters are still an urban phenomenon, and Australia’s home of the hipster is Melbourne’s inner city suburb Fitzroy, the hipster is ignoring the expanse of the city to root himself in his locality, even if it is an adopted one. He will have his local barista, local brunch place, local barber, local bar where he can drink beer from his local microbrewery, local park and local friends. On Saturday mornings, he will walk past the cheaper supermarket to load his canvas bags full of food from the local farmer’s market.
Melbourne has surprised me by the ubiquity of its local markets and farmers markets. I don’t have to go far to find a farmer’s market on the weekend and South Melbourne Market is open 4 days a week with food, clothes, restaurants and other shops. Other suburbs have their own markets and even outer suburbs attract weekly farmers markets. They may not be quite as busy and central to shopping as those markets from my time in Cambodia, but I can still go months without having to venture into a supermarket – something I would have found difficult to do in the UK.
Hipsters do not only dislike supermarkets for their focus on mass production, but their preference for places like South Melbourne market, and farmers markets in particular, is a preference of the local over the global. The hipster is not a fan of globalisation, of which the supermarket is surely an emblem.
The previously mentioned article concludes that the hipster is focussed on reclaiming something, something from the past, whereas the metrosexual man was about re-imagining, re-imagining the future. And it is at this point that I begin to see how the hipster may not be so far away from politicians he may not identify with. The value of traditional labour and production; the value of the local over the global; the value of direct, unvarnished truth over a polished presentation are all themes that Trump in the US or Farage in the UK more greatly represent than those who they have defeated. In the UK, Farage’s victory was defeat for David Cameron; he who was a politician with a modernising agenda, clean presentation, and smooth skin possibly enhanced by botox. Cameron was a metrosexual.
The hispter may recoil from such a link but to what extent is there a difference between a hipster seeking out the local in favour of the far away, and protection of national production over global trade, which Trump has based his popularity on? The hipster is not alone in this however as the whole of Australia has a strong preference to buying Australian. Products proudly display “Made in Australia” stickers and a relatively new beer (Furphy) proudly advertises that all of its ingredients come from the local state. Foreign ownership of farms is a hot potato and Chinese housebuyers are blamed for rising house prices and a shortage of homes.
Australia’s PM, Malcolm Turnbull, would doubtlessly see himself as a modern politician and with a home in New York and having worked internationally, he is comfortable with a global metropolis. He sees technology as the white hot future. Others in Australia, such as Cory Bernardi or Pauline Hanson are about reclaiming something from the past,and the Australian people are not yet wholeheartedly sold on Turnbull’s future over a reclamation of the past. Although Macron, a modernising, clean cut, intellectual man of the world, won the French election, I’m not sure whether it was a vote for Macron or a vote against Le Pen. Her reclamation of the past won many but not enough. In the UK, my characterisation of the different camps falls down slightly. Where does a women, Theresa May, fit into my masculine focussed clash of metrosexualism and hipsterism? And although Corbyn has a beard and a tendency to hark back, I don’t think Jeremy would be considered a hipster.
But the UK may provide a fruitful lesson for politicians keen to win the vote of hipsters. Before David, there was Tony and Tony Blair in his desire to prove that Labour was a new, modern, corporate friendly, clean, well presented party, made a rule about beards. He didn’t think voters trusted people with beards so senior politicians were told to shave them off. Forcing the shaving of a beard would surely be the easiest way to lose the vote of any hipster.