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Are hipsters and artists the gentrifying foot soldiers of capitalism?


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


I’m weary of the anti-hipster sentiment (which has existed since the birth of hipsters). One might say that hipsterism does have an air of colonialism; the term originally referred to white Americans in the 50s who were “hip” with black people. These were white people who went to black neighborhoods during the era of segregation, and listened to jazz and read black poetry. This could be seen as the white gaze looking to outsource its cool from another “exotic” culture. However, this criticism of hipsters is inaccurate and dangerous. The original hipsters were true rebels, who would not partake in lynch culture (which happened as late as the 1950s in supposed liberal hot beds like Los Angeles). More importantly, if people don’t have an appreciation (not appropriation) for other cultures, what kind of world are we living in? One of segregation and of various races claiming their supremacy.
21st century hipsterism has become extremely broad. There are hipsters who fit the original mold–anti-establishment art punks who earnestly embrace diversity-- and so-called capitalist hipsters. While most hipsters have an appreciation for cultural history, this in no way means that they are conservative. Neoliberals would love for us to forget the past, and especially for us to forget the populist origins of liberalism. Hipsters proudly represent their knowledge of the past (particularly of anti-establishment icons of the past) to send the message that we know humanity can do better.
It seems strange to wag a finger at any hipster who opens a small business, because 1) hipsters are humans who have to survive, so their commitment to opening small, ethical businesses seems absolutely worthwhile 2) THE distinguishing characteristic of neoliberalism is corporate dominance in liberalism. So how, exactly, do small business owners of any kind represent a neoliberal ideal??

So…this article paints hipsters with too broad of a brushstroke. It’s objective is to smash hipsters without a logical argument or any meaningful research into their culture.


Thanks for this more considered take–you’ve managed to breathe some life into the hipster debate, which does feel a bit tired. I think what was so strange about this article was hearing a conservative politician like Matt Hancock say so directly that a hipster is a capitalist. This is something we all kind of already knew, but to hear that conservative politicians know and like hipsters starting small business (that are oftentimes scalable to fit the needs of the growing luxury economy) was somewhat startling. Regarding small business hipsters being neoliberalism’s wet dream: this was really in jest, and I agree yes, corporate dominance is the real wet dream and small business hipsters are the small fish in the pond. But the implicit critique here is that hipsters often start business that are steeped in privilege and that–arguably–don’t have a ton of positive community impact (whoever said hipster small businesses were necessarily ethical? I would argue the opposite!). I would also argue that most of these business start in locales like San Francisco, London and New York that have newly minted millionaires thanks to those cities’ banking and tech centers. With those newly minted millionaires come a lot of new small business catering to them–i.e., the old timey barbershop with charging docks embedded in the chairs charging $75 for a haircut, the beard wax factory, etc. Just look at Mast Brothers, which started as a small, supposedly bean-to-bar chocolatier in Williamsburg: they lied and frauded their way to millions by melting down other companies’ chocolate and wrapping it in nice paper. In this light, it feels to me that hipsters are removed from a political, counter-culture subtext and inserted into that of capitalist ingenuity–or rather, these two are today inextricable.