Hipsterphobia - Cava Sundays

Class War's Fuck Parade anti-gentrification protest in Shoreditch

Interesting article on Class War attacking "hipsters" as part of their high-profile protest against gentrification in east London last month, pointing out its pitfalls, as well as pitfalls of populist anti-gentrification campaigning in general.

Introduction


Following the Fuck Parade 3, Ian Bone recently announced that Class War would be mad not to continue to target independent businesses, due to the publicity they received for attacking the Cereal Killer Café. Class War have been consistently involved in some great ‘slow-burn’ campaign work against Property Developers and Council Corruption with regards to Gentrification. I also have no interest in defending profit making enterprises of any size from public criticism by virtue of their size. Political instability is a business risk like any other, and a very low one at that, due to the effort that goes into the militaristic securing of inner London by the Police. But to subvert the meaning of anti-gentrification campaigning into populist campaigning against Hipsters is a dangerous mistake, especially in the interest of self-serving publicity. Over the next few days, I will be posting three articles that discuss distinct problematic dimensions to hipsterphobia and populist anti-gentrification campaigning:
1) Hipsterphobia is Theoretically Outdated 2) Hipsterphobia is Xenophobic 3) Hipsterphobia Sails too close to Homophobia and Gendered Norms
These have been informed by discussions I have had over the past few days, but also a fair few years of undergraduate research into gentrification and the law. Also, I freely move between both the Anarchist scene and East London's other subcultures, so I have a fair bit of anecdotal knowledge too. I've tried to avoid too much obscurity and I hope you will be able to get something out of it.

*CS

1. Hipsterphobia is Theoretically Outdated


For a World where Everyone Knows their Place: Kryten and Lister Speak in Hushed Tones of the Dangers of Deviating from Class Norms.
I want to introduce the work of a Marxian geographer called Neil Smith. He sees gentrification as a global economic strategy for realising the value in urban land. He believes three distinct phases can be witnessed to any gentrification project in the West. I think they apply particularly well to London.

Phase One – Sporadic Gentrification

This refers to the ideas of the author who first coined the term ‘Gentrification’, Ruth Glass. In the famous quote, Glass argues:

“One by one, many of the working class quarters have been invaded by the middle class - upper and lower … Once this process of ‘gentrification’ starts in a district it goes on rapidly until all or most of the working class occupiers are displaced and the whole social social character of the district is changed” (Glass, 1964, p.xvii).

Referring particularly to areas in inner London where a few clusters of fairly derelict housing were being refurbished by liberal professionals who didn’t mind “slumming it”, this seems to be the definition of gentrification that people operate on today, some 50 years later. A lot has happened in 50 years.

Phase Two – Anchoring (1980s-1990s)

In this ‘Anchoring’ phase, the potential for gentrification to secure votes, investment and a degree of stability is acknowledged by the government, and they begin to make the changes necessary for it to ‘Anchor’ itself into the national economy. We could cite the introduction of the ‘Right to Buy’ council houses, the Scarman report’s recommendation that urban riots could be avoided by investment in poor urban areas, and the Thatcher governments decision to use that as an opportunity to pump cash and cops into city centres to secure them as retail and leisure destinations. During New Labour, we saw the introduction of Anti Social Behaviour discourse as a means of sorting the ‘responsible’ council tenants from the disorderly ‘underclass’. This also included incentivising working class participation in local urban regeneration schemes that sought to change existing council and squatted tenures into predominantly housing association or owner-occupied tenures. Of course, these schemes were all total stitch-ups. The goal was to use public money to devolve the dubious ‘power to privatise’ to the masses. This is precisely why I am so skeptical of Corbyn’s promises to democratise public services.  We also see the normalisation of CCTV and changes in architecture to reflect social control. This period takes us from the decline of Social Democracy and a National ‘chain of manufacturing’ economy, into the shiny, globalised world of Neoliberalism and a service economy. We also begin to see an explosion in the financial services industries, which needs constantly feeding in the form of land, debt and profit. This is best epitomised by the idea of New Labour’s commitment to a British Urban Renaissance, that redefines inclusion in the national fabric through an individual and collective obligation to be an obedient consumer-citizen.

Phase Three – Generalising (2000s +)

At this point, ‘urban regeneration’ has become hegemonic and unquestionable. Property in London is fragmented, lying in the hands of investors, speculators and developers the world over. Councils are ideologically committed and legally obliged to submit their stock and services to a fire sale to the private sector. The constant turnover of ownership and the constant fluctuations in prices of land feeds the various speculative industries involved, which now most of the economy is deeply interconnected with and dependent upon to stay afloat. Regulation stifling this constant changing-of-hands has been worn away. The governmental structures of Boroughs, Cities and Nations alike are compelled, by virtue of the structure they operate in, to use their resources (tax money, planning permission, law-making, law-enforcement etc) to secure what Smith refers to as “Geo-bribes” for local and international capital to make it’s home in whatever locale they happen to be in charge of. Think of the big developers here, the retail chains, the global architects, the law firms as well as the big banks. This is done because capital can move freely from nation to nation in search of the best deal. Think of our governments using our urban space as a sweetener to make these deals: a ‘slush fund’ of human lives. Urban regeneration becomes a socio-economic dogma that is used to fix everything; unemployment, poverty, lack of investment and crime. Of course, the irony being, that it is also one of the biggest things that causes these problems.

Conclusion

In this context, the idea of someone spending a fiver on a bowl of cereal seems rather superfluous, doesn’t it? Equally, we can see that the reasons why someone barely clinging on to living in Shoreditch can’t afford to spend a fiver on a novelty café-cum-tourist attraction is infinitely more complex than the cereal café itself, or even the recent subculture that it supposedly epitomises. However, we can also see that this person’s poverty is definitely deeply interconnected with the past 30 years of neoliberal urban development. In identifying gentrification as the enemy, we are close, but in identifying hipsters as the enemy we are missing the mark entirely. Arguing that the problem is with a [sub]culture of sale and consumption ignores the fact that there has been a global economic interest that has taken decades of preparation to realise that moment of consumption. Given that I know (and share) the contempt that groups like Class War have for ethical lifestylism, there is a serious inconsistency here when arguing that the consumption-sphere of capitalism is the place to make a change. Under capitalism, we are all consumers. Capitalism justifies itself by saying “the consumer is king!”, but our daily realities tell us otherwise. Consumption is an emotive area, for sure. It can be cruel, miserable, and fatal. It can be liberating, libidinal and excessive. But if we subscribe to the idea that our misery and liberation hinges on consumption, then we are cutting our analysis very short, and trapping ourselves within the realm of capitalist ideology. It is ultimately, like it or not, a liberal populist argument about poverty, wealth and greed.

“Spend a fiver in the greasy spoon, not the Cereal Café!” is what is implied here. Personally, I’m not interested in where someone eats their £5 breakfast, or how they choose to spend their money. Lifestyle policing is not my idea of liberating, revolutionary praxis. Short of this, it definitely won’t bring about any change in the global forces that have an interest in urban regeneration.

Hipsterphobia is Xenophobic

Hipsterdom Defined?

Before we go any further, it is perhaps useful to flag up the fact that I am completely stuck as to how to define the term ‘hipster’. We know a few things are in the mix: trend-setting and trend-observing, art and design, culture and nightlife. But these aren’t new things. They existed before, and will exist after, we use the term ‘hipster’. We might also cite disposable buzzwords like ‘vintage’, ‘pop-up’, ‘artisan’, ‘silicon roundabout’ or even more obscure niches like ‘streetwear’, ‘normcore’ or ‘health goth’. We might see beards, haircuts, plaid. We might see androgyny, ethnicity, lamé or black fabrics.

With this is mind, it is difficult to say what a hipster is – let alone what ‘they do’ - in an era when you can get your skinny jeans at Primark and your lumberjack shirt from ASDA. Big beards and haircuts are on builders from Essex as well as GQ magazine grooming connoisseurs. Despite the increasing polarisation of society along material lines, fashion and lifestyle is less reliable a metric of class position or social location than it has ever been. The elasticity of the term ‘hipster’ leads to some serious problems in my opinion. Especially when coupled with the use of a populist rhetoric (that seeks to divide people into ‘gentrifiers’ and ‘gentrified’) as opposed to a materialist analysis (that seeks to identify and attack the social forces responsible). This next piece will consider the role that Xenophobia plays in filling the gaps left in these rather porous definitions. It isn’t as theoretically sound as my prior piece, and is perhaps more emotive and anecdotal.

The Indigenous and The Other

“Our communities are being ripped apart - by Russian oligarchs, Saudi Sheiks, Israeli scumbag property developers, Texan oil-money twats and our own home-grown Eton toffs.” (Fuck Parade 3 Publicity)

Aside from the obvious problems that arise from blaming the free movement of international capital on defective ethnic caricatures (Russians! Arabs! Jews! Nouvelles Riches! Toffs!), there is a conspicuous omission here. You will recall how I mentioned in my previous post that ‘Phase 2’ of Neil Smiths analysis – The Anchoring Phase – involved the mass sale of council housing and the emergence of an ideology of regeneration and property speculation. This process was responsible for the embourgeoisement of a large section of the working class in the East End, with many buying their flats and selling them on for a tidy profit. A few of these went on to own other homes in the buy-to-let boom, and have continued to benefit from increased deregulation in planning and finance. Many people I know renting off private landlords are renting from individuals who are either presently or previously embedded in working class inner London communities. In short, the deliberate omission of slumlords and cockney capitalists from these discourses can feel a little bit like a demand for ‘East End masters for East End subjects!’. Was the East End a better place to experience capitalism under the old masters? Of course, Class War might respond (as they have done in previous years) that they aren’t against working class people doing well for themselves. I hope to do well for myself someday, so I can’t disagree. But hipsterphobia reinforces bogus ideas of what it is to be working class based on outdated archetypes. Clearly, it is less controversial to move to Essex and start a family and a building firm, but more controversial to enjoy fancy bread, vintage clothing and nights out in Dalston clubs.

Delboy’s Paradise: Against the backdrop of an E1 postcode, there is nostalgia and frailty but also the desire for local prestige and an opportunity to break out of the class (and not a hipster in sight). [37:44 - 43:00]

Romanticising the Past, Obscuring the Present

The need to ignore the role of home-grown Thatcherite success stories finds expression in the focus on the alien ‘other’. It reduces the complexity of the situation in London to a moral question of nasty people ‘invading’ an area which needs to be protected. I find it ironic that Class War – whose conference at Shoreditch Town Hall in the 1990s was attacked by the National Front, who were one of many fascist groups that had been deeply embedded in the area since the 1970s – can glorify the Shoreditch of the past so uncritically. The Shoreditch of the past was economically affordable, but not necessarily physically safe, for many minority groups. There have always been wars against and between the ‘other(s)’ in Shoreditch, since the slums of the Old Nichol terrified the Victorian moral imagination (and probably before).

In the present day, Shoreditch remains diverse, even if it’s diversity is fluctuating and contested, or shifting from residency to employment. It would be uncontroversial to note the influx of those that work in more traditional working class jobs (building, cleaning etc) in a time of Eurozone crisis. But what isn’t acknowledged is the role of EU migration in the creative, retail and service industries too. A traditionalist and masculine outlook on class is blind to the obscene working hours, low wages and total insecurity of these industries. When we take into account 3rd-national (that is, outside the EU) migration to London for these various industries too, we see that other subcultures dismissed as ‘hipster’ are actually much more ethnically and nationally diverse than the Anarchist scene. Most people who work in these industries want to make the most of being in a young, vibrant and trendy city: they haven’t necessarily come to London to drink in estate pubs with Anarchists, or dodging dogs on bits of string at crusty gabba raves.  To treat everyone outside this world with hostility and suspicion is nothing more than subcultural territorialism.

Combined with the tendency to insulate political positions from critique, and thus insulate the self within the comforting quarrels of the scene, this has a real impact on the revolutionary left’s ability to actually know what is happening outside their bubble, no matter how authentically working class they might believe themselves to be. Experience of the world around them gradually gives way to a knowledge of the ideological lens with which they view the world. In the scramble to make sense of an insane world, the Anarchist scene resorts to a rather tragic conservatism:

“…fuck upper class raves, fuck yuppies it’s not the fucking 80s, fuck hipsters, fuck paying to party, fuck £5 a pint, fuck capitalism, fuck racism, fuck borders, fuck Theresa May, fuck the criminal justice act, fuck homophobia, fuck transphobia, fuck patriarchy, fuck fascists……………..Fuck them all”

This abridged quote from publicity for the first Fuck Parade reflects a degree of insecurity in this cult mentality. Everything that exists outside of what the Anarchist movement and the Free Party scene can provide can get fucked. Presumably, we get closer to what we might define as a ‘hipster’ here  – that is, the decadent ‘others’ that dress fashionably at raves where pints cost a fiver. But given that many people who are racialised, subjected to borders, homophobia and transphobia don’t really want to hang out on the Anarchist/Free Party scene, is demonising them compatible with a supposedly antifascist praxis? Assuming the goal is to build a mass movement (something which I am fairly ambivalent about myself), telling everyone to get fucked is not a great start. It also feels a little protestant to me: forsake your petty earthly pleasures for an austere righteousness. Equally, I cant help but feel like this is more Victor Meldrew than Emma Goldman; a radical kind of curmudgeonery that harks after the good old days before the Criminal Justice Act 1994.

Conclusion

Veneration of more traditionally recognised working class identities (with a fairly masculine and heterosexual focus) is problematised by the extremely fragmented nature of the class experience in London. Within the category ‘precarious minimum wage workers’ we might find that the only thing these people have in common is the money they take home for their labour. But there are other factors that locate them geographically, culturally, socially in the city that make drawing common denominators extremely difficult. We are yet to begin developing a radical appraisal of class and tenure in London. Generally speaking, I feel like the left responds to this mammoth task by nervously wishing it away. Hipsters - for as much as they evade any meaningful definition whatsoever - are the problem, because they are a stark reminder that left strategy is floundering and the world is much more complex than radicals want to acknowledge. Hipsters are the alien ‘other’ that brings within them the seeds of doubt and the final erosion of an ossified worldview better located in the latter half of the 20th century. This is exacerbated by the fact that hipsters are to some degree ‘outsiders’ in the fact that they are a multi-ethnic and transnational demographic. Far from being a ‘way in’ to popular resentments, the NIMBYist attitudes of supposed revolutionaries towards the housing crisis merely reinforce just how out of touch with 21st century London they really are.

*CS

Further reading: An interview with Hipster Antifa Neukölln, who have chosen to respond to similar circumstances in Berlin.

Tomorrow:
Hipsterphobia Sails Dangerously Close to Homophobia and Other Gendered Norms. [3/3]

Hipsterphobia Sails Close to Homophobia and Gendered Norms

This has been really difficult to write. I have been poring over it for days trying to make what seemed to be gutteral, knee-jerk reactions seem more intelligible. I keep switching tenses, persons and so on. But Ive decided to get it out there because its driving me mad trying to tighten it up. Some issues are just too emotive, and maybe rationality is overrated anyway.

Spike in Homophobic Violence

There has been a spike in anti-LGBTQI violence in recent years in Inner London. I have heard of attacks ranging from verbal abuse, attacks in estate pubs, attacks on the street. Some resulting in punctured lungs and acid thrown in the face, others less severe. Even cops are getting in on the action beating Trans* women in broad daylight. [1]  

When the attacks are motivated by religious fascism, the left has no problem in laying the blame with the perpetrator of the attack. Remove this element, and the results are much murkier: subtle homophobias underpinned by an implicit xenophobia [2] emerge. In conversation, typical responses seek to shift the blame away from the perpetrator, by introducing a populist understanding of gentrification. Mobilising homophobic tropes the left is all too familiar with, homosexual men in particular are constructed as inherently bourgeois. Outdated critiques of gentrification, then, leap in to generate empathy for the attacker. This essentially reverses the blame: the attacker becomes the economic and social victim, and their violence is some form of defensive direct action. Such is the poverty of our critique that many queer people themselves will offer explanations along these lines. By wearing those [trendy] clothes, and daring to flaunt their [bourgeois] homosexuality, they were ‘asking for it’. Sound familiar?

“Dickheads” are identified by their “indeterminate sexual preference” and outlandish fashion statements.

‘Anchoring’ Gentrification & LGBTQI Communities

Referring once more to Smith’s ‘three stages’, in the steady collapse of Keynesianism and the emergence of the neoliberal city, we see a growth in space for queer sexualities in London. Whether by accident or design, this seems to eventually correlate with a growth in the normative acceptance of gay identities. Much could be written about the 1980s-1990s, but I lack the formal education to write it. However, what access to a wealth of shared queer spaces in London has given me, is at least a connection to oral history and anecdote. When I think of gay men’s urban lives in this period I think of the explosion in cruising, the emergence of Soho as a gay district, the GLC’s impact on finding housing for LGBTQI people and perhaps even the role of squatted and co-operatively run lesbian & gay social spaces. I might also think about the beginnings of a recuperation of gay identity into equality discourses. Either way, the Anchoring phase in London was one of upheaval and flux in property relations, and one where gay men (at least) found a sense of refuge in inner London’s fluctuating tenure and governance. This continues stubbornly to this day, in face of the onslaught of Generalising Gentrification: with people from all over the world choosing to make (East London in particular) their home because of the relative freedom it offers to shared queer culture, fashion, art and design. Similarly, it is important to acknowledge the effect this has on the heterosexual world; particularly those in the habit of setting and observing trends. The much-maligned hipster look du jour of the ‘beard and the haircut’ started out in the gay scene, as an ironic or fetishized appropriation of rugged masculinity. Much of these aesthetics and lifestyles will be maligned by populist anti-gentrification critiques as ‘hipster’ without any consideration for their origin, substance or purpose. Similarly, social commentary from the queer liberal left exposes the conservatism of much of the radical scene to sexual politics: commentators like Paris Lees, for instance, being far more accessible and exciting. Equally, the queer impact on music scenes (particularly of trans*, working class and minority-ethnicity origin) is becoming inseperable from ‘hipster’ subcultures to a certain extent. Think not just Le1f and RuPauls Drag Race, but also sympathetic straight performers like FKA Twigs and Blood Orange who work alongside performers who embody this aesthetic and cultural contribution. Similarly, in East London, we have club nights like 'Hard Cock Life’ which perhaps reflect this scene too.  

This blindness of the radical left to queer contributions to the pop-cultural zeitgeist, whether or not it is the individual’s ‘cup of tea’, is incompatible with an approach that proclaims to be against homophobia and transphobia. Similarly, to mobilise against these aesthetics is dangerously ambiguous. Not only does it lend homophobic and gendered norms the veneer of political respectability, it reinforces a tropes around ‘passing’ or being ‘straight acting’, that is to say, it discourages queer engagements with queer culture and reinforces the legitimacy of assimilationist agendas. It also reflects a focus on those masculine individuals within a more traditional  working class as an idealised form or revolutionary subject. Indeed, we may see the focus on hipsterphobia as a warped expression of frustration at not being able to politically reach these archetypes. In this sense, hipsterphobic pogrom politics increases the possibility of corporeal and social violence towards queers and the alienating of radical movements from queer, trans* and racialised subjectivities.

North London punks ‘Intensive Care’ focus exclusively on war with the male hipster. There is more than a touch of Sexual Economy here.

‘Generalising’ Gentrification & Heteronormativity

In the 2000s, the generalising effects of gentrification seem, at first, to strengthen this (complicated) gay refuge. My experience of London’s gay scene has been one of its’ interconnectedness with ‘hipster’ subculture and equally, my experiences going out in predominantly heterosexual ‘hipster’ nightclubs and parties have always ended up with there being more queer people there than the majority of Anarchist events. Whilst gay people, as residents, are in some senses no different to any other private renting demographic in East London (some can afford to stay put, most are forced to chase the best compromise between cheap rent and proximity to a social scene), unlike our heterosexual counterparts we are becoming increasingly reliant on our private rented bedrooms for social spaces. This is because the aggressive effects of – for want of a better term – ‘peak’ Generalised Gentrification (say, post-2012) are decimating the gay bars and clubs that would be maligned as ‘hipster’ hangouts by the Anarchist scene. In maintaining the illusion that ‘hipsters’ – as consumers of products interconnected with aesthetics and modes of gentrification – have any de facto power in the process, what is forgotten is that they are neither homogenous, nor indispensable, as a demographic. When a development opportunity emerges, the same thing happens as before: the previous occupants are swept away, and the more ‘deserving’ ones replace them, in what feels like an endless chain of increasingly contested entitlements. 

 Some members of the LGBTQI community capitalised on cheap land and a gap in the market to create cultural hotspots, granted. Over time, these venues came to signify ‘progress’ to the regeneration industries: the capacity of East London to ‘better’ itself with a rise in the value of land. And I’m sure, as businesspeople tend to do, many queer capitalists will have capitulated in this discourse. But just as cruisy public toilets were demolished, boarded up or redesigned under the gaze of CCTV cameras to protect the heteronormative family enjoyment of parks, our venues are the first to go under the hammer when more housing is needed to park the rich and their assets. You see, what isn’t acknowledged is the inherently heteronormative nature of housing design and the owner-occupier imperative in urban design – that is to say, we are culturally blind to the fact that housing is designed to reflect the needs of the nuclear family or the monogamous couple as understood in capitalist modernity. That is not to say that wealthier gay men don’t occupy these homes. Marriage equality discourse promotes the idea of ‘homonormativity’ and queer assimilation into the heterosexual cultural-legal sphere. But it is important to remember that many gay men who can’t afford these luxury properties in the expanding city centre are retreating to the residential areas, living in cramped overpriced conditions and working insane hours for the privilege.  Mental health problems, relationship problems, drug problems and riskier sexual practices are skyrocketing. Cruising apps like Grindr are stepping in to fill the void left by accessible gay nightlife (which is becoming increasingly distant and relatively expensive). Chemsex parties are increasingly popular, but are having a polarising effect on the gay scene. In case you hadn’t already heard: its pretty tough being queer in a straight world. 

 This dysfunctional little bubble can sometimes feel like the only place where we can be (some version of) ourselves, and realistically there aren’t many cities with even these dysfunctional arrangements. We don’t need supposedly libertarian people telling us to get fucked because they don’t like the clothes we wear, the culture we move amongst or the destabilising effect the complexity of our lives has on their narrow and antiquated view of the city. Most of us don’t like paying extortionate amounts of money to survive either, but we’re trying to make the best of our short lives. And yes, the possibility of having our lives cut short still hangs rather gloomily over our collective memory. Your lazy discourses threaten our already dysfunctional and problematic refuges. Come up with a vision of a world without gentrification that goes beyond a return to the days when we had less freedom than we do now, and maybe you will see more participation and support from queer people.

*CS

[1] There is footage of this online, but I chose not to link out of respect tbh.

[2] Xenophobia emerges in failing to identify homophobia within London’s working class, except when the perpetrators are religious fascists.

Reproduced with kind permission from CavaSundays.

Comments

Serge Forward
Oct 24 2015 08:11

Just had a quick skim and this looks very interesting and I'll give it a proper read later. One thing though, I'd be careful of seeing Class War as being in any way representative of the 'anarchist scene'. What they are is a small populist grouping based on another form of identity politics, where the notion of 'working class' has little to do with your relation to the means of production.

the croydonian ...
Nov 13 2015 23:10

how does one mobilise against an aesthetic? Granted, I am not gay, so I can't really speak about the experience of being queer and living in london but I don't think citing hair styles and certain clothes being in common between hipster and old gay fashion really enough to equate the two enough to say any anti hipsterism is inherently homophobic. Other than that I largely agree with this piece.

the croydonian ...
Nov 13 2015 23:12

Also, I am not quite sure how interior design is biased towards nuclear family? Like how does that actually manifest in practice? Is having more space, beds, rooms and better kitchens not something gay people ever need?

Biffard Misqueegan
Nov 14 2015 09:11

It's one thing to have an expensive hipster boutique open up on you block.. it's another thing to have your local discount shop replaced by an expensive hipster boutique. It's difficult to sympathize with those who are transforming your neighborhood into a place you cant afford to live in, regardless of who they are. The cultural and aesthetic qualities of gentrification arent actually the primary concern of those most directly effected by it.