Hipsters don’t deserve our derision: Montreal author

Miranda Campbell says we need to gawk less and appreciate what hipsters are actually doing. Photo courtesy of Miranda Campbell

By Alice Reiter

Hipsters can be recognized by many from a mile away. Their skinny jeans, flannel shirts and full beards make spotting them easy, but also make them the target of ridicule in pop culture.

Miranda Campbell, a hipster analyst and member of Dawson’s English department, was a speaker at the Humanities and Public Life Conference.

Her talk, with the short title “Why We Hate Hipsters and Why We Shouldn’t” (which elicited a laugh from the audience) focused on our perception of hipsters as a society and how it is problematic for artists as well.

“When we see hipsters in the news and in headlines, they are portrayed as a threat, as a nuisance or as something to ridicule. Reactions to the hipster range from laughter to violent resentment,” Campbell said.

Her book Out of the Basement (McGill-Queen’s University Press) explores the state of policies surrounding cultural workers and artists. It also profiles artists that might be called ‘lazy hipsters,’ according to Campbell, but are actually contributing to society in valuable ways.

This is contrasted with the popular idea of the hipster: an idle gentrifier with lots of disposable income and no job. Campbell suggested that this person does not exist. Rather, those identified as hipsters are artists who are not cut enough slack by the public and even by governments.

In 2012, a bill was proposed by Montreal MP and former director of the Black Theatre Workshop Tyrone Benskin that would help Canadian artists with what he thought were unjust taxation policies. Essentially, it would recognize the realities of Canadian artists, but it was shot down by the federal government.

“There’s a lack of awareness that young people are making a career with their creative selves, not despite their creative selves,” Campbell said.

But, despite the difficulties that come with being an artist, the field is growing. Campbell’s research indicates that the increase in numbers of artists in Canada since 1989 is much higher than the increase in the overall labour force.

“Studies today have shown that youth think work should be interesting, expressive and self-directed,” she said. “Hipster is a job and it’s on the rise. It’s a job with particular challenges.”

To Campbell, the issues that artists have in supporting themselves should be front page news.

Citing many examples, including a reference to a headline in a Canadian daily newspaper about hipster hairstyles, she explained that the media is saturated with satire about the stereotypical hipster.

“For me this is pressing,” she said. “We’re talking about buns when we really need to be talking about downward mobility in career choices.”

Campbell left the audience with a final call to action. “Instead of gawking at how people present themselves, we need to pay attention to what young people are producing, what they’re creating, what they’re doing.”

Alice Reiter is a first-year journalism student at Dawson College.
Out of the Basement is available at Montreal bookstores

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