Sunday, 19 May 2013


Thoughts on old and new on my new old typewriter.

It is an understatement to say that at the time of writing this, the word 'hipster' is not one that many people wish to have attached to themselves. The word itself conjures up imagery of boys and girls in vintage clothing stores discussing albums of which you have never heard, pawing woefully between racks of clothing and sipping occasionally from their ethically sourced caramel macchiato, so much better than 'that immoral crap they pedal out to the drones at Starbucks, maaaaan.'
Indeed, despite being a style defined more by the ideology of simply doing things before they become cool (hence, I believe, the 'hip' in 'hipster') an entire cultural language seemingly apart from this ideology has been attached to the word hipster. Hipster. Hipster.

As an effect of the conjugation of these two philosophies, the word hipster has become a derogatory one, with an entire slack-jawed MacBook pawing archetype assigned to it, just like any other comedic stereotype. It seems to be, from a very superficial perspective, that as soon as 14 year old girls begin donning thick-rimmed glasses and declaring themselves 'hipster's, any historical meaning to the word in question becomes lost forever.
The earliest use of the word, to my undernourished knowledge, is in the novel On The Road, by Jack Kerouac. The book was introduced to me by a certain Mike Woodfine, a man who incidentally does not implore the usage of 'the H word' in much the same way that the British Nationalist Party doesn't like the use of the word 'racist'.
In the book, a road-tripping tale across America, Kerouac makes several mentions of the hipster breed, but interestingly never makes any effort to explain what they were like. Forever moping in the corners of bars, we're never given a proper explanation of what the word meant to people at the time, but the absence of this explanation is key - it tells us that even in the genesis of hipster, an image was already held in the minds eye of the populace - Kerouac didn't explain what the word meant simply because he rightfully assumed people would already know. It wasn't a character he created, just a cultural referential code. The question is; was it still derogatory then?
Logic dictates that it did not hold the same cultural values then - unless the hipsters of Kerouac's gneeration sported turn of the century garb in an attempt to get that 'vintage' feel, the addition of cultural coding such as vintage clothing and a love for coffee and obscure bands has been a recent assertion in the eyes of society.

But as much as I would love to get stuck into researching the etymology of the hip kind; I must first admit that I began writing this essay with a slightly different agenda in my mind. That is, a defensive agenda. A reason why this would be a defensive essay is obvious, and that would be that it was defensive of myself - that I was offended that I fit the stereotype of a hipster and wanted to spend some time standing in front of your view of my retrospective wardrobe and commit to paper a bullshit argument about why I am not a hipster.
However, this is not the case, as considering I am writing this on a typewriter whilst wearing corduroys that no place sells anymore, this is probably - if not anything else - a documentation that proves that I fit the hipster stereotype like a glove, my hip credentials like a drivers license made of pure pretentiousness. No, today I write in defense of something else entirely - the hobbies and various lifestyle choices which have become untouchable by people under the fear of being labelled a hipster themselves. In particular, I speak in defense of the world of vintage.

A few weeks ago now a very special object came into my possession. The object was an Agfa 35mm film camera. Being a photography student myself, it gave me an abject fascination from the moment I laid eyes on it. Dated around the late 1950's, the camera was the mechanical and physical embodiment of everything I had learnt about photography.
Besides the wonderful magic of a chunk of time that had been perfectly kept, the camera was a tool of learning. It adjusted everything I knew into a way that suddenly made so much more sense. I guess the easiest way to explain what it felt like is through the metaphor of looking at a family album for the very first time. The faces of dead relatives make you think about the ones which are still alive in reverse order. You suddenly become aware of who gave your mother those eyes you had seen hundreds of times and you realise that years before your birth someone came to that assertion in reverse. Hasn't she got her father's eyes?
It's a shame I thought, that out of not wanting to be branded a hipster, I had neglected to invest in one of these beautiful machines. I felt guilty, in a way, that social ruling had held me back from learning about the past in this new way. I was unsure whether to be angry at myself or at others.

And now, as I think about times gone by on the most auspicious of times - my turning 18 - I bash away at the keys of my Brother typewriter. The typewriter; the honorable bicycle to a laptops supercar engine. The smug face of the cyclist as he feels the wind flow through his hair. Each slam of the keys sounding like a booming footstep down a hall of literary greats. On the walls looking down at me are the faces of men and women who have slammed these keys before, who have endured the wails of their neighbours protesting the clack of keys carrying on late into the night. Writing never felt so loud. It never felt so pulsating and angry beneath my fingers.
In the same way that holding the machine in my hands has taught me what was in the minds of the men who created the first computers, the machine has lent me to a world I had only read about before. In the same superficial way I had ran my fingers over the camera and given myself over to a time gone by, this beautiful machine has allowed me to play writer. Tonight Michael, I am Hunter S Thompson. Tonight Michael, I am Gay Talese. Tonight, Michael, mon cher, haven't you heard? I'm Tom Wolfe.
Balls to hipsterdom. In my bold typeface with my clacking tonight I am lost in fantasy land. It's a stronger pill than anything sold in any nightclub bathroom my friend. I'm no hipster, nope, not today. Tonight I am the greatest damn writer ever to have lived.

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