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Notes on Hipsterism

By Mark Simpson

While everyone else in the 80s wanted to look like they’d walked off the set of Blade Runner or Top Gun, Peter York looked and sounded like he’d stepped out of Dangerous Liaisons. Whenever the co-author of Style Wars and The Sloane Ranger Handbook popped up on telly, as he often did back then, talking about trends or ads in a dapper Saville Row suit, his hair looked like it should be powdered and bowed, and his upper-lip beauty-spotted.

In BBC Four’s recent TV doc The Hipster Handbookwhich I was asked to contribute to but was unfortunately unavailable York seems relatively unaffected by the vulgarities of time, sartorially or even much physically, given that he’s now in his 70s. That imperious ‘high’ hair is still there, if greyed. Though who knows? Maybe it really is a wig now.

His almost drag queen hauteur is still also present and incorrect, enabling him to be wonderfully rude and direct but entirely politely. I have no idea about York’s sexuality, but in an odd way his persona reminds me slightly of Quentin Crisp (or rather, Hurtian Crisp).

When he visits Williamsburg in Brooklyn, NYC, the birthplace – though perhaps we should call it curationplaceof hipsterism he explains in clipped tones to a local complimenting him on his ‘fashionable’ Olde Worlde overcoat: ‘It’s the national dress of my country’.

York was an anachronism in the 1980s but also strangely, sharply (post)modern. Now that we’re living in a ‘post-postmodern’ world he looks like a time-traveller. Dr Who as market researcher. In Williamsburg he discovers that a decade or so on from their arrival, hipsters and even beards are now thin on the ground, having moved on to pastures more affordable – and are not much missed. Asked to define a hipster a young, clean-shaven man dismisses them as: ‘creatives about to turn into yuppies.’

York also travels to Shoreditch, London where hipsters are, as in most other ‘cool’ enclaves of large cities in the Western world, apparently still very much ‘a thing’ – after all these years of peak hipsterdom and regular pronouncements of its death. It’s full of young creatives being uniquely individual and amazingly authentic in their identical plaid shirts, compulsory facial-hair and passion for really-like-difficult-to-source coffee beans and expensive frosted cereals.

York like any good dandy, aspires to be as artificial as possible. Culture is nature’s enemy and vice versa. Hipsters however, perhaps because they usually have no idea about nature at all – and seem only to have the same ‘ironic’ idea about culture for that matter – are obsessed with authenticity.

‘It’s SO not me’ drawls York.

Paradoxically, the clean-shaven, sharply-dressed old man of slightly camp artifice seemed much more substantial than the young, earnestly ironic men in their ill-fitting beards and table-cloth shirts. Then again, I imagine Mr York is very substantial financially (according to Wikipedia, in addition to his best-selling books he works as a management consultant).

And yes, the doc was entirely focused on the male hipster: the only women interviewed were social commentators, academics or sales staff in hipster clothes shops. To the point where it sometimes looked like a documentary about a bear cub commune. But most people are only interested in the male hipster – and as York points out, most women can’t grow the hipster hallmark: a beard.

York’s mere presence offered a kind of mocking critique of our hairy young creatives – even without the impish glitter he had in his eyes when listening to them as they droned on about the ‘tradition’ and ‘craft’ behind the expensive bottled beer they like to drink and make.

The money shot came when he visited a barbershop in East London, now specialising in ‘facial-hair management’, observing a handsome man-bunned twenty-something chap reclining in a retro barber’s chair getting his bushy brunette beard ‘managed’.

‘Would you like it rounder at the bottom – a lumberjack finish?’ asked the bearded, inked, young barber solicitously.

At the climax of the ‘management’, the barber rubbed beard conditioner into the customer’s pride and joy.

Regardless of what the actual, existing sexuality of these two young men is it’s difficult to see how this scene could be any gayer. In fact, if it had been properly gay, with your actual gay sex – cocks agogo – it would somehow have been considerably less gay.

And what’s more, it was gay threesome – with York as the older voyeur/punter (in a double-breasted blazer).

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‘What does “lumberjack” mean?’ asked York, with a heroically straight face. The barber patiently explained that it’s a ‘wild’, ‘rugged’ look. He mentioned the ‘lumbersexual’. But pronounced it ‘lumbosexual’. Which is, actually, the way it should be pronounced.

The barber, who I think may not have been so much a true believer as just someone trying to make a living, made the salient point that a lot of his customers ‘work in media, architects, or web design, that type of thing’, who ‘spend a lot of time in front of a PC screen so don’t have that feeling of being in touch with their, like, masculine side’.

Amidst all this plaidery and lumbering York’s voiceover tells us that the shelves in the barber shop are positively groaning with beautifully-packaged product: ‘This is not a lumberjack’s cabin – this could be Mayfair’.

He suggests that hipsters’ laborious obsession with ‘masculine authenticity’ produces a look as constructed as what he terms ‘the metrosexual look that went before it’. He also admits that he can’t quite get the ‘beardy thing’ and that it strikes him as ‘a bit steampunk, a bit homosexual – a bit Clone Zone, a bit Tom Selleck in Magnum PI’.

Tom Selleck - original hipster?

This is probably where I would have popped up saying something unkind. Though I’m not entirely sure that I would have been needed.

All the same, I’ve listed seven unkind thoughts on hipsterism below:

1. Everyone hates hipsters – including & especially hipsters.

They’re far too special and unique and knowing to be captured in a word. Let alone that word. Hipsters want to be the curators never the curated. Which is why everyone delights in pinning the ‘H’ word on them as they try to wriggle away. It’s Kryptonite to their eclectic superpowers. Or garlic to a vampire.

2. Hipsterism is a cult with no credo

As that that big beardy Karl Marx put it: ‘Hipsterism is the sigh of the badly-dressed, a longing for authenticity in an inauthentic, online world. It is the OxyContin of the creative classes.’

3. Hipsters think they’re totally worth it.

And so should you. ‘Artisan’ means: ‘double the price coz expensively-educated kids got their hands dirty – and wrote something amazing on a chalkboard’.

4. Hipsterism is not locally-sourced.

It’s a thoroughly American cultural franchise. Hence hipsters in London or Brighton or Barcelona or Berlin or Rome laboriously replicate the obsessions of American hipsters – such as ‘gourmet burgers’, ‘craft ales’ and ‘real coffee’ – that were a reaction to the Budweiser blandness of American consumerism. Regardless of the fact that in Europe we already have amazing ‘real beer’ and ‘real coffee’ outlets. Called ‘Germany’ and ‘Italy’.

5. Hipster masculinity is also not locally-sourced.

It is imported, assembled and accessorised – curated – largely from officially ironic but rather anxious-looking retro ‘authentic’ American signifiers such as ‘the trucker cap’, or ‘the lumberjack’. Signifiers which are fairly meaningless in the UK – except perhaps as a Monty Python sketch.

6. Hipsterism is the anti-sexual wing of metrosexuality.

Maybe it depends on how aroused you are by gingham, but hipsterism sometimes looks like a form of male self-love that seems to be oddly self-loathing. Flannel shirts as hair shirts. Hipsters generally have big beards and big data allowances instead of bodies. (This is perhaps why some hipsters like to make ‘gender flip’ memes mocking the objectification of women which depend on the notion that men aren’t and can’t be objectified.)

7. The hipster beard is not a beard.

It’s far too heavily overdetermined to be mere face fur. There’s something magical and quasi-sexual about it. At least for hipsters. For all their famous love of irony, most don’t seem terribly ironic about the hairy thing on their chin that they treat like a prized, pampered pet.

The plain, unvarnished, but nicely-conditioned truth is that the hipster beard is a fetish in the classic Freudian sense of a penis-substitute. This is why they have to be so BIG, and why they can’t leave them alone.

And also why we can’t stop staring at them.

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Older Drivers: One Foot in the Grave – The Other On The Brake

By Mark Simpson

You’re stuck behind a MG Rover that is going a little slower than you would like. It’s driven by someone with white hair, glasses, and perhaps a hat and driving gloves. They are taking their time at junctions and traffic lights while peering over the steering wheel like that ‘Kilroy Was Here’ Second World War graffiti that they are probably old enough to have drawn themselves.

Suddenly the idea of bringing in compulsory re-testing of drivers who are over 70 becomes very appealing. Anything that thins out those doddery drivers from our roads must be a good thing, no? Especially now they’re getting so crowded.

Every few years, usually after some gruesome collision reportedly caused by an older driver, sections of the media launch a BAN OLDER DRIVERS NOW! campaign. Polls are conducted in which, unsurprisingly, most people who are not themselves older drivers say that people who are older drivers should have compulsory re-tests when they turn 70, and every three years after.

Currently, drivers over 70 have to renew their license every three years, but there is no medical or driving test. They only have to declare that they are fit to drive, and that they meet the minimum eyesight standards. There is also no upper age limit for driving. In 2015 there were 230 UK licence holders over the age of 100.

Earlier this year Prince Philip, aged 94, drove the President of the United States and the First Lady, along with the Queen of England, in his Range Rover. Though admittedly it was only 400 yards and on private – or rather, Royal – land.

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Older drivers are certainly becoming more noticeable. As the number of younger drivers is falling, the number of older drivers on our roads is rapidly rising. In 1975 only 15% of over-70s had a licence. By 2010 the figure had risen to nearly 60%. Over the next 20 years the number of male drivers over 70 is predicted to double, while the number of women drivers will treble. By 2030 90% of men over 70 will be behind the wheel. By 2035 there will be c.21M older drivers on our roads.

This seems like a terrifying statistic. Until you realise that despite the tragic stories you’ve read about in the papers – often involving a confused pensioner driving the wrong way down a dual carriageway – older drivers are not necessarily more dangerous drivers just because they’re older.

In actual, statistical fact older drivers are no more likely to be involved in collisions than other drivers.

Research by the RAC Foundation suggests drivers aged 75 and over make up 6% of all licence holders but account for just 4.3% of all deaths and serious injuries. By contrast, drivers aged 16-20 make up just 2.5% of all drivers but 13% of those killed and seriously injured.

Older drivers are less inclined to speed, or take risks – or be distracted by gadgets. Many older drivers avoid driving at night, in the rain or on motorways. Just 7% of over 65s admitted to using a mobile phone while driving, compared to 21% of drivers in general. Only one in 10 over-65s said they had looked for something in the glovebox while moving, compared with twice as many drivers of all ages.

Older drivers are also more likely to have an eye test once a year than the rest of the driving population.

Perhaps most counterintuitively of all, older drivers are half as likely to have memory lapses while driving – the ‘how did I get here’ syndrome – than younger drivers. (Though perhaps older drivers felt less free to admit such lapses than younger ones.)

The RAC did however find that some drivers over the age of 70 struggle at high-speed junctions, high-speed roundabouts and slip roads – locations where drivers are required to look around quickly and make quick decisions. Another study by Swansea University, published in September this year, confirmed these findings.

The Swansea University study also found that older women are more likely to have small accidents when doing tight manoeuvres. Older people are also more likely to be involved in accidents involving other older drivers, suggesting they make similar errors.

Forcing older drivers to get re-tested has been tried in Australia and Denmark without improving results.

Educating older drivers about new risks they may face and encouraging them to refresh old skills and developing new ones, rather than singling them out and subjecting them alone to compulsory re-tests, is generally accepted as the best way forwards. Though perhaps as the road safety charity Brake have suggested, a compulsory eyesight test when reapplying for your licence – regardless of age – would be sensible.

The older you get the more your independence and social life tends to depend on your car, if you have one. It’s something you can rely on when everything else is failing. Men in their 70s make more trips as drivers than do men in their late teens and 20s.

Of course, this may mean that some older drivers refuse to voluntarily give up their licence – even when they really should.

But it also means that younger licence holders should be less keen to deprive older drivers of theirs simply because they’re older – and show some consideration to more mature road users slowing them down.

Particularly since one day that crumbly old bastard dawdling in front will be them.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents has a website for older drivers to help them assess how their driving is changing, where to find a local driving assessment or refresher training – as well as how to take the decision to stop driving.

 

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Joe Orton’s Wallpaper: The Visa Affair by Jake Arnott

Joe Orton has been pricking up my ears lately.

On a recent visit to London, thanks to the randomised wonder of ‘dating apps’ – or online cottaging – I found myself, as you do, visiting someone I didn’t know terribly well but wanted to get to know much better. He happened to live very close to Noel Road, Islington. This is the road where, at No.25, the 1960s queer playwright and keen old skool pre-internet cottager Joe Orton famously lived – and died, fifty years ago next year – in a bedsit with his rather less successful, less attractive, less popular, but possibly more talented, older partner and co-conspirator, the would-be novelist and dodgy toupee enthusiast Kenneth Halliwell.

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Having walked the length of it on the way to my ‘meet’, and past No.25 with its plaque, I can report that Noel Road is no definitely longer the slightly slummy street of rooming houses it was in Orton’s time. Full of new Porsche’s and Jaguars, the street’s rooming houses seem to have mostly been turned back into very wealthy, if rather lonely family homes. With no doubt the very latest in Wallpaper magazine interior design and decor.

But I expect none of them have anything like the seriously classy wallpaper that Joe and Kenneth had in their bedsit flat at 25 Noel Road. Apparently angered by the ‘rubbish novels and books’ – and perhaps by the poor quality of the general culture they found themselves sentenced to in late 50s early 60s Britain – they used plates culled from books purloined from Islington Central Library to cover the dingy walls of their 16 x 12 room.

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Public-spirited vandals, they selflessly improved the dust-jackets of some of the dusty books with their own collages – replacing them on the library shelves, Orton sometimes observing at a distance people’s reaction to their irreverent sabotage: ‘I used to stand in the corners after I’d smuggled the doctored books back into the library and then watch people read them. It was very fun, very interesting.’

Queen's Favourite

John Betjeman as Tattooed Man

The art deviant odd couple eventually had their collars felt by Lilly Law and were sentenced in 1962 to six months imprisonment – a harsh tariff for first offenders which Orton put down to the fact that the judge had realised ‘we were queers’. The case made the national press, with Orton’s working class family in Leicester only hearing about it after reading a report in the Daily Mirror: ‘Our Joe’s been nicked!’ exclaimed Mr Orton to Mrs Orton. The custodial sentence, served in separate prisons, seems to have broken Halliwell, who tried to commit suicide, but was the making of Orton who emerged determined to shock more than just a few fortunate readers at Islington Central Library.

In a sense, their criminal collage was the only joint work which was a ‘success’, or at least reached a wider audience. It was also Orton’s first, minor taste of notoriety, before his first play ‘Entertaining Mr Sloane’ became a huge hit and scandal three years later in 1964, with its dramatic ‘collage’ of British hypocrisies. It was also Halliwell’s last. Not counting his posthumous fame for murdering Orton by attacking his celebrity head with a hammer in 1967 in a drug-fuelled, possibly jealous and/or paranoid state – splattering his brains all over the collage-covered walls.

Last Sunday BBC Radio 3 also pricked up my ears, airing ‘The Visa Affair’ (which you can listen to for the next month) – a fine adaptation by the novelist Jake Arnott of a previously ‘lost’ and incomplete work of Orton’s about his Byzantine attempts in 1965 to obtain a visa to visit the US to oversee the Broadway translation/production of ‘Mr Sloane’.

The prison sentence he’d served for the collages, together with the nature of the crime itself – denoting, in disapproving American official eyes, ‘moral turpitude’ – meant he had to go through a series of darkly comic interviews with US bureaucrats and doctors at the US Embassy in London, which as Arnott points out in his introduction to his adaptation, closely resembles the kind of officious absurdities his own plays lampooned.

This is much more than just an adaptation, however. Partly because, as Arnott explains in his introduction to the play, ‘The Visa Affair’ was incomplete, and partly because it could not, pre decriminalisation of male homosexuality (which happened in the UK in July 1967 – the month before Orton’s death) ever be really completed. Orton could not be ‘completely’ honest with either the US Embassy or the British public about the real nature of the ‘conspiracy’ between him and Halliwell and the motivation for their cultural sabotage.

Hence Arnott adds scenes set in the infamous tiny bedsit that deftly and touchingly explore Orton and Halliwell’s conspiratorial (“‘breath together’ – that’s what ‘conspire’ means”) relationship, how Halliwell cultivated and tutored Orton’s talent, and their shared darkly comic – ‘camp’, if you will – sense of humour. Anatomising their ‘crime of passion’.

Although I very much enjoyed the film version of Alan Bennett’s play ‘Prick Up Your Ears’ when it was released in 1987, I think Arnott captures something much more convincingly intimate. As well as a boyish vulnerability in Orton that Oldman’s swaggering, slightly renty portrayal obscures with bravura. Sexy bravura to be sure, but perhaps bravura all the same.

Arnott’s ‘The Visa Affair’ achieves something remarkable: it lets you glimpse what Joe might have seen in his bald, impossible, unpopular and ultimately murderous ‘flatmate’.

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Burst your bubble

Man Down – Defining Deflated & Liberated Masculinity

by Mark Simpson

‘What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an Angel! in apprehension how like a god!… And yet to me, what is this quintessence of dust?’ – Hamlet

There has been a lot of soul-searching about what it means to ‘be a man’ nowadays. Because no one really knows the answer. Defining ‘man’ and ‘masculine’ in a world in which phallic certainties have dramatically deflated like a dirigible disaster is an endless and probably pointless task. It is the philosopher’s stone of marketing. The quintessence of dust.

Coach, a weekly free UK men’s fitness/lifestyle magazine produced by Dennis publishing (also behind the stalwart spornosexual monthly Men’s Fitness), recently produced some research on the elusive nature of the modern male that defined him by un-defining him. It claimed to show that the ‘alpha male’ stereotype is largely a thing of the past, replaced by an ‘alta male’ who is less interested in money and career than in a healthy work/life balance, self-improvement and personal relationships – ‘higher’ things.

Most of all, he prefers to follow his own lights, rather than compare himself to traditional models of masculinity which are now seen as largely obsolete. Modern man is defined, in other words, by his lack of definition.

Last month I was invited by Coach to appear on a panel in Soho, London discussing the findings. As I said at the time, what most interested me about the research was that, in addition to proving me, in my humble opinion, completely and absolutely right about everything – which is always gratifying – it seemed to finally dispel the over-hyped, almost hysterical, notion that men are undergoing a ‘crisis of masculinity’. Though I’m sure many of the people in crisis about this ‘crisis’ will continue to have a cow about it.

Masculinity has always been in crisis. This has been its ‘natural’, anxious, paranoid, Hamletian state. It’s why it always had something to prove. But probably less so now than ever before.

As I’ve argued for some time, instead of a crisis, what we’re really going through is a revolution. A revolution against mostly restrictive, repressive ideas of what being a man is. A metrosexual revolution – or ‘male lib’. In fact, this revolution has been going on for the last few decades and for most of the younger generation its achievements are largely taken for granted.

Hence the Coach found that: ‘Friendliness, intelligence, being funny, caring are all attributes man wants to be seen possessing – in contrast with toughness and strength of the man of yesteryear.’

This is underlined by how ‘masculine’ is the No.2 quality today’s men attribute to ‘man of yesteryear’ (48%) – but doesn’t make it into the top 12 attributes he likes others to see in him (23%).

This sentiment is loudly echoed in a recent YouGov survey (cited in the Coach research) that found only 2% of 18-24 year olds see themselves as ‘completely masculine’ – compared with 56% of 65+ men.

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A whopping 47% (the largest segment) see themselves as 2s on a scale of 0-6, where 0 = completely masculine 6 = completely feminine, while a sizeable 17% see themselves as 3s, i.e. somewhere in the middle. (This is similar to a previous YouGov survey on sexuality which found that most young people in the UK now consider themselves something other than ‘100% heterosexual’.)

For comparison, 14% of 18-24 women see themselves as ‘completely feminine’, which is seven times as many men of the same age who see themselves as completely masculine. While 12% see themselves as 3s.

The remarkably low figures for young men seeing themselves as ‘masculine’ may be influenced by the way that masculinity has had a bad press lately – and indeed the majority of 18-24 men have a negative impression of masculinity, with 42% perceiving it negatively compared to 39% positively. Interestingly, 18-24 women mostly don’t share young men’s critical view of masculinity and are as positive about it as young men are negative (42% positive to 27% negative). In this regard, young men seem to be more ‘feminist’ than young women.

By the way, YouGov’s figures for the US show that American men are much more likely than UK ones to think of themselves as ‘completely masculine’, 42% overall compared to 28%. As I’ve pointed out before, despite being very much involved in its creation, the US has been resistant to metrosexuality and the revolution it represents – or at least terribly conflicted about it. The US is of course the home of ‘manning up’, bearism, ‘bro-nuts‘, and IT professionals who think they’re lumberjacks.

Back in the effete UK, while discussing its findings on men’s attitudes towards masculinity, the Coach report concludes: ‘But even though man is more comfortable with who he is on the inside, there’s a struggle to define ‘masculinity’. (61% find it ‘hard to define exactly what masculinity means’.)

I think this statement is phrased wrongly. There’s no ‘but’ about it. And not much of a ‘struggle’. I don’t think many if not most young men can be bothered. Which is a good thing. It’s precisely because masculinity can’t be easily defined nowadays that men have much more freedom than their forefathers – and can thus be ‘more comfortable with who he is on the inside’. In the past, really only a couple of decades ago, everyone knew what being a man was – and what a ‘regular bloke’ looked like. And who wasn’t.

Although trad masculinity had many admirable qualities, such as self-sacrifice, stoicism and DIY – they were largely based on repudiation. Most of trad masculinity was defined by what men were not – not soft, not tender, not nurturing, not passive, not feminine, not good with colours, not gay. As a result, most young men today don’t ‘struggle’ to define masculinity – rather, they get on with living their lives how they want to live them.

Finally, a slightly tedious word about demographics. The Coach research was based on a focus group of 21 men aged between 22-59 in London, and a survey of 1000 men and women across Britain. Although the focus group apparently included many men originally from around the UK (and some who still lived outside London), it’s probably true that the research – like the magazine itself – had a metropolitan bias.

It also seems to have had, unsurprisingly, a middle class one – 79% of the respondents were ABC1 (compared to c.54% nationally according to 2015 figures). However, I don’t think this invalidates their findings, especially since the aspects of their research which most interested me seem to be backed up by the more demographically representative YouGov research – which when you drill down into their C2DE/ABC1 breakdown, mostly shows no great differences between them in regard to attitudes towards masculinity.

It’s one of the hallmarks of the metrosexual revolution that it cuts across all classes, with working class men often on the coalface of change.

The Men’s Health Power Bottom Workout

I think I mentioned before how important a well-rounded, firm, ‘objectified’ butt was to spornosexuals. That it’s about tits and arse.

Here’s a chap from Men’s Health eagerly demonstrating 39 ‘butt building exercises’.

I’m guessing the 40th is the one suggested by all the others.

Getting Naked For Signore Spacey

Can’t say that Kevin Spacey  has quite the same effect on me as he appears to have on this Italian act called Gabriele. But I’m very glad he did.

The Hollywood actor was a guest recently on Italian talent show Amici di Maria De Filippi. And what talent they have in Italia! That very shy lad in white, who keeps licking his fingers and playing with his own endowments, is a veritable masterpiece.

(As ever when watching footage of armies of naked young men offering us their perfect pecs, packets and buttocks on prime-time it’s important to remember that male objectification doesn’t exist and in fact is impossible.)

For some reason, the Italian TV clip minded me of this ageless moment from a few years back where another group of shirtless young men entertained another famous older man in Rome: