Sunday, 15 June 2014

Hipster Culture in TV & Film

So at the moment I'm writing a drama about a group of twenty-somethings living in London. Obviously I want it to be original and I've also decided I don't want it to be "hipster", which is hard because I've seen and relate to Lena Dunham's GIRLS quite strongly, and can't help but find parallels between that show and what I'm writing about (because I am a twenty-something living in a big city). Anyway, thinking about the hipster trend/culture led to me questioning where it all started and how it has recently seeped into so much film and television.  

First question: da fuq is a hipster?

Well, hipsters themselves cannot agree on this. The "movement" (if we can call it that) is not a new thing and has origins going back to the Beat Poets and, as the term suggests, the hippies of the 60's/70's. I'm going to call these "true" hipsters. They were the artists and creative people who worked casual coffee shop jobs and hung out on urban street corners, discussing their work and dreams, taking life one day at a time. They sought out the original and unheard of, rejecting everything mainstream and zealously guarding their discoveries from the masses. We're talking non-conformists without the get-up and go of the punks, but with safe, well-educated backgrounds to stop them becoming chavvy benefit-scroungers. Mostly, I feel like becoming a creative hipster was the "it" rebellion for kids from upper-class families - "Oh won't Mummy and Daddy be upset when they learn I'm wasting my Oxbridge degree working at a coffee-shop. They don't understand my need for creative liberation!"

"Nobody smile - smiling's too mainstream"

I have nothing really against these people and everyone needs to set themselves apart from their parents at one stage. Part of me is even attracted to the idea of surrendering to a creative and laid-back lifestyle; it sounds very noncommittal and carefree. What I don't like about this attitude is the exclusivity. If your tastes aren't obscure enough, if you shop on the high-street, if you take your job seriously, you're not good enough to hang with the hipsters. Their culture is counter-culture; I can't help feeling that of all the social movements since the 50's, this was the least welcoming and most class-segregated. Which is why now, in 2014, the fact that their culture has become a diluted, mainstream trend emulated by Primark is just wonderfully ironic.

So say hello to the modern-day hipsters. These are the guys and girls who buy their clothes from TopShop, Urban Outfitters and charity/thrift shops. They drink expensive coffee and own more than one Apple product, whilst also collecting vinyls and vintage cameras. Guys grow beards, girls grow bangs. They love triangles and tattoos, but not as much as they love triangle tattoos. 

You still need to know a couple of up-coming bands and dislike big hollywood franchises, but anyone can be a hipster, no matter their social class or background. In short, it has become a stereotype and label as commonly used as "Emo" and "Chav".    

True hipsters hate these modern hipsters. 

So, apparently, does the media and a growing number of the population. The term, once used to describe someone infinitely cool, has become a negative label associated with laziness, lack of ambition and the willingness to live off mum and dad, whilst looking down on everyone's taste and being highly pretentious with an unrelenting sense of entitlement. 

Personally I think this is a bit harsh. I am good friends with people who wear the "hipster" label quite comfortably and they are lovely. I know some hipster knobs too, but that's just the human race. What I always wonder is how hipster became a trend, the very thing it fought against? But I think that's a tangent for another time, because my next question is this..     

Am I a hipster?

Potentially. I do own several vintage items, such as a camera and a radio/cassette player. I did spend £30 in a charity shop yesterday, buying clothes to customise. I am hosting a summer solstice themed birthday party next weekend. I am pursuing a creative job. I have worked at a coffee shop. I have a degree, a Mac book and an iPhone. I have a "meaningful quote" tattooed on my ankle and I have to put filters on all my photos.

But I don't know any obscure bands; I listen to Radio 1. I only went into the charity shop because I'm too skint to afford River Island. My parents haven't supported me financially in any way since I was 18. I actually hate my iPhone (and not because it's become mainstream, it's just a piece of crap). I've never even smoked a cigarette and I'm really, stupidly ambitious. 

My point is, I don't care what label I fit under. I like what I like. And one thing I cannot decide if I like or not, is the sudden burst of hipsterness across my screen. 

Bringing me to my final question.... How has TV & film become hipster and, in my writing, what should I do to avoid it?

I'm now wondering why I want to avoid writing a hipster drama series. Is it because I am a "true hipster" at heart and can't bear to associate myself with something that's become so common and accessible? Or am I just trying to avoid copying GIRLS and find a fresh way to represent the uncertainty of being young in a scary big city?

GIRLS is actually where hipster TV started for me. It has been criticised for depicting nothing more than a bunch of privileged white girls whining about their problems. But I love it. I love that I find the characters cringey and infuriating; in fact I love them more for being such utter assholes. It's somehow completely endearing to see such flawed and useless humans on screen. The banality of the stories and the really natural dialogue all make for surprisingly entertaining television. It's surprisingly powerful and a really positive step in the right direction for female representation.

But there has been hipster-esque TV and film in the mainstream for a while. Lost in Translation, Juno, 500 Days of Summer are all heralded as hipster cinema. Since then there's been Never Let Me Go and Drive amongst many others and I've noticed elements in all that put these films in that category. Here's a list of things they have in common:
  • Protagonist feels misunderstood and their creativity suppressed
  • There is a broken and beautiful muse
  • Story is character driven and the pace slower 
  • Dialogue is naturalistic, often minimal
  • Characters are flawed and just want to live a peaceful life
  • Anachronisms in setting, props or design 
  • A partially or completely open ending
Writing these down makes me realise I like a lot of films that use these elements. However I think the films listed above were called hipster simply because they broke away from the norm. The characters themselves were not particularly hipster, as they undoubtedly are in GIRLS.

Television has a much more upfront take on the hipster culture. Sketch show Portlandia (on Netflix, check it out) makes fun of hippies, creative types and everything in between, picking up everything that's annoying or just plain crazy about sub-cultures. Other shows such as Community and New Girl use similar tactics of random humour and references to the weirdness of modern life (and as such I'm told are loved by modern hipsters).

Inevitably, it was only a matter of time before Hollywood would try to replicate this. I recently saw That Awkward Moment, starring Zac Efron. It was an appalling attempt to capture the spirit and zeitgeist of GIRLS and diluted the hipster attitude to the point of being sickening. The "random" humour was like watching your Dad trying to fit in with the cool kids by telling some rad joke. Everything from the glorifying of casual sex (already passé man, we're onto open relationships now), to the utterly predictable denouement, capped off with a pointless semi-open ending (no point to ambiguity if the story is cliché) was just uncomfortable. Even seeing Zac topless did not make it worth it.

As a conclusion to this rambling blog post turned essay, I've decided I'm just going to write as myself and not worry about ticking boxes or being compared to GIRLS. I may be creative and unusually enamoured with vintage books but that doesn't make me a hipster. I just need to carry on writing the scripts.

So there we go. I'm not sure why I woke up today and really, desperately needed to understand hipster culture. But to finish on a fantastically pretentious note as befits my creative soul, it's been a journey of self-discovery. Thanks for reading.