Theresa May’s new digital and culture minister Matt Hancock recently said that “the hipster is a capitalist,” and well, who are we to argue? Though the hipster fancies himself a socialist, the bearded beast is one defined by his consumer habits, creates small businesses, and collects objects as a passion–neoliberalism’s wet dream. Stephen Pritchard writes about the hipster and Matt Hancock’s controversial comments, in partial below, in full via the Guardian.
The hipster is a capitalist.” So said Matt Hancock, Theresa May’s new minister for digital and culture, who replaced Ed Vaizey in July this year. A standout soundbite from Hancock’s buzzword-laden keynote speech delivered last Friday at the Creative Industries Federation meet and greet event for culture’s great and good at the British Film Institute. Many creative industries “leaders” lapped up his speech which, as well as lauding micro-enterprising hipsters, also depicted James Bond delivering a post-Brexit “global calling card” – UK cultural capital – from his Aston Martin, bizarrely named-checked King Canute, and heralded “Uber-style dynamic pricing”.
Cultural capital has always been Britain’s soft power weapon of choice; the perfect accompaniment to a, let’s politely say, “proudly robust”, heritage of rampant jingoism that has long served to justify our lust for colonialism and imperialism in all its forms. Hancock recognises this, and the fact that the hipster epitomises both the old and the new. A perfectly preened vision of 21st century Conservativism.
The hipster may be a capitalist, although aren’t we all nowadays? The hipster is also ethical, sustainable and highly mobile. Retro, beautifully reconditioned fixed wheel bikes with 70s steel frames and state of the art aero wheels are their trusty steeds. With carefully coiffed beards and retro haircuts, they dwell in craft beer drinking dens, pop-up shops, tattoo parlours, and restaurants selling cereal. The hipster is so very carefully considered: everything stylised; everything thought through.
Unlike the colonising pioneer of the past, however, the hipster is postmodern, post-industrial, and post-Fordist. It is little wonder, then, that Hancock fetishises the hipster as both an ideal actor in his post-Brexit creative industries fantasy and an exemplar of small-scale, micro-enterprise: a capitalist. An article in the Evening Standard suggested that the minister’s comments might surprise many hipsters, who pride themselves in “breaking away from the mainstream economy with independent-minded and ethical ideas and work practices”. But isn’t this an exact description of the kind of small-scale capitalist “innovation” that Hancock envisages as driving the core of Britain’s much-hoped-for creative industries revolution; itself a coded form of cultural imperialism?
The trouble is that this model of art as part-cultural civiliser, part-economic driver, part-social cohesion improver is deeply problematic. Hancock believes that knocking-up more glass-fronted “cultural quarters” will bring multiple benefits to everyone: “The lesson is clear: make an area interesting and you attract interesting people to work there.” You see, for Hancock, “cultural rebirth, connectivity, and economic revival go hand in hand”. And, of course, the hipster seems to personify these neoliberal ideals. However, whereas the minister said he was keen to avoid the state adopting a “top-down” and “prescriptive approach”, the state is actually doing exactly that, along with the support of capitalist bodies, like the Orwellian-sounding Creative Industries Federation.
*Image: Cereal Killer Cafe owners, image via the Standard