I've been meaning to write for a while, but couldn't hold off any longer. I wonder if you'll allow me to offer some constructive criticism. I actually admire you in a strange way. Turning up to work with a handle-bar moustache is genuinely funny. Unlike the sixty-eighters or the punks, you're precisely as subversive as you think you are (answer: ever so slightly subversive). One thing that can always be said for knowing irony is that it is, at the very least, knowing, and for that you deserve credit.
But why not also take a moment to reflect, catch your breath, and perhaps draw a line under the last decade or so? Surely you can't carry on with the trajectory that you're currently on. What started as knowing tributes to various white subcultures has splintered into knowing tributes to various white elite cultures (Barbour jackets and tweed), unknowing tributes to various white cultures (Urban Outfitters), then finally a satire of its own white culture (London Fields, Hackney). Knowing you've reached a dead-end doesn't alter the fact that you've reached a dead-end, and it's not too late to back out. Tony Blair may have had "no reverse gear", but I'm sure that you guys do, even if it is also a fixed gear.
Here's a thought for you to chew on: how we plunder the past for cultural artefacts and lifestyles tells us a great deal about our unarticulated, perhaps unconscious, frustrations and yearnings in the present. The 1960s will continue to offer the hope and iconography for societies that feel themselves to be morally and culturally constrained. For those with untapped desire for sexual, racial, chemical and libidinous self-expression, it is the promises of 1968 that still need to be fulfilled. During the conservative counter-revolutions of the 1980s, when ageing white men were fighting back, channelling a moralistic fear of inner cities and recreational drugs, it was the 1960s that appeared to be in danger and needed reviving.
If there was a perfect icon for the youth who tolerated Margaret Thatcher, it was Shaun Ryder, a drug-addled mess, wearing flares and working class labels, who spoke for ravers and indie kids alike with a weirdly articulate nonsense. Don't tell us how we can and can't enjoy ourselves. But for this injunction to create a youth movement, there need to be authorities trying to tell people how to enjoy themselves in the first place. That many senior Tory politicians were still outwardly homophobic, still believed Nelson Mandela was a terrorist, criminalised certain types of parties, and had honestly never taken cocaine (unlike the current bunch) meant that the baggy-house-rave-indie scene could make an impassioned appeal to the spirit of the '60s, and not come across as a tired pastiche.
We don't need any Shaun Ryders now, or at least we don't feel that we do. While the Thatcherites weren't noticing, we turned into a pretty liberal nation: most of us have taken some recreational drugs, and very few of us care what others get up to in their bedrooms (other than the lurking anxiety that it might be more exciting than what get up to in ours). As Zizek repeats, the pre-1960s moral injunction 'thou shalt!' has been replaced by a neo-liberal hedonistic injunction 'thou may!' To enjoy oneself is now a greater obligation than to obey the rules, meaning we have less need for Shaun Ryders these days.
Experiencing Primal Scream's 20th anniversary tour of Screamadelica this month must be a little like inverted Victoriana. As the famous sample "we wanna be free! We wanna be free... to do what we wanna do!" booms through another O2 academy, thousands of 19-year olds (viewing the event through the viewer of their digital camera, instantly sharing it on facebook) must each be wondering - can you imagine living in a society when you weren't free to do what you wanna do? What must that have been like?
If I were to tell you, my dear hipster, that you represent a post-liberal youth movement, you probably wouldn't have a clue what I meant. You have probably never met anyone who wasn't a liberal. You have scarcely heard of The Daily Mail, for which I envy you. Your idea of a conservative is someone who suggests you wear a bicycle helmet. Your boss doesn't even notice your tatoos, which must register as something of a shame. You are so liberal as to not even know it. So what is it you yearn for? What is your equivalent of the 1960s?
Some have suggested it is the 1950s, which is maybe true to the point of adopting various Beat styles and poses. But really, I suggest, it is the post-punk period of circa 1977-84, the years between The Sex Pistols ripping up the rule book, and The Smiths piecing it back together again. And let me go one further, with a proposition that might (or might not) offend some of you: what you yearn for is the fulfillment of the promises of Thatcherism. What frustrates you about Britain (and, for your American progenitors, New York and California) in the early 21st century is the gap between the rhetoric and the reality of economic freedom. You have been seeking to renew economic liberalism, just as baggy and rave renewed social liberalism.
Your imaginations are fuelled by images of urban abandonment, with all of the entrepreneurial-cultural opportunities that went with it. You fantasise about the cheap rents, disused warehouses, vacated city centres of the late 1970s. When Pete Doherty developed a self-mythologising social scene in his Bethnal Green flat circa 2002, full of art students with guitars and charity-shop suits (after the Strokes had done the same in the Lower East Side), inner city bohemia was just on the edge of affordibility. But you didn't have to be Robert Peston to see which way the economic trends were heading. And the trick for the next decade was to create cocoons of economic freedom, enterprise and free labour, nobly assisted by Myspace, within an economic-urban edifice dominated by capital and rent-seeking. Where the ravers escaped by dropping a pill, you did so by taking the easyjet to Berlin.
If Shaun Ryder was dredging up the ghost of Jim Morrison, you hipsters were hoping to summon Ian Curtis. Actually - no. You were hoping to summon Tony Wilson, founder of Factory in Manchester. Wilson is the real icon of hipsterism, the visionary who saw delapidated factories and bricky backstreets, and re-imagined all of it as a free market in subculture. We know that Thatcher and punk made a similar moral-economic pitch: do-it-yourself, put your back into it, screw the old lefties, screw the New Lefties (when Norman Tebbitt famously ordered the unemployed 'on yer bike', he can scarcely have envisaged the tow-paths of Hackney). As Owen Hattherley's book explains, the Sex Pistols' legendary Manchester Free Trade Hall gig in 1976 was the real turning point for that city, which led via a chain of events (assisted by Wilson and the IRA) to regeneration by Urban Splash and 'canal-side loft-style' living complexes.
The revolution of neo-liberalism was eventually thwarted by it's central flaw: that capital can absent itself from free market competition when it suits it, but labour cannot. An honest version of neo-liberalism (which I am not entirely against) would not tolerate Bob Diamonds and Fred Goodwins stealing from the public purse, simply because 'the market' allows them to do so. It would recognise that accumulations of power within the economy are anathema to free markets, which means that certain forms of capital must be controlled by the public or otherwise kept outside of circulation.
It might also see a revival of some type of labour theory of value, such that individuals were rewarded for their effort, social value and imagination (I'm afraid the word 'creativity' is so implicated in the failed business-oriented neo-liberalism as to now be best left alone). And isn't the labour theory of value what you stand for, hipsters? With your supper clubs, your yukelele-playing, your pop-up knitting shops and your unlikely alliance with the cycle-courier scene, are you not trying to reconnect 'worth' and 'effort', in a way that your grandparents would have recognised, even if your parents (with their over-inflated house prices) do not? To paraphrase Morrissey, 'Smith and Marx are on your side, while Milton Friedman is on their's'.
There is nothing silly about this. You are right in your economic instincts, it's the flippancy that is so hard to stomach. Dressing up like a rural aristocrat is what's silly; joining the Women's Institute for a laugh is silly; plundering the 1950s for iconography, without any criticism of its (social) illiberalism is silly. You are being widely laughed at, not least by each other. Why don't you even care?
There is a critique lurking here, but at the moment it is being expressed in ways that only reinforce the problem. The house my parents bought in Hackney for £40,000 in 1979 goes further up in value, with every moustachioed graphic designer who cycles nonchalantly past on his way to Dalston. But doesn't that also tell you something about the illusions of your nostalgia? My dad isn't Tony Wilson or Iain Sinclair, but a retired civil servant. His contribution to bohemia is using a cafetiere at weekends. But he's the winner from all this, and indeed the initiator, not you. You are valorising self-authored, inner-city, artistic bohemia at precisely the moment in modern industrial history when it has become technically impossible.
So what to do? Where to go next? (And please don't say 'Hackney wick'). You and I are agreed on the need to reinvent economic liberalism, to defend certain rights against capital. But maybe it's time to take a leaf out of Plato's Republic, and kick the poets out of the polis. I'm not sure they're helping (Iain Sinclair can stay on the dodgy grounds that he's a geographer). Artists have had too much access to political debate over the past twenty years, and where have they got us? Tracey Emin threatening to leave Britain if taxes go up. Damian Hirst making his own accumulation of capital into an exhibit. And frankly, hipsters, it's not mathematically possible for all of you to be culturally employed (nor, for that, matter, artistically talented). So lets cut off some dead wood.
Second, stop being so bloody ridiculous. Take yourselves seriously. Read The Wealth of Nations, and then Capital. Once you've discussed these, have a read of Envisioning Real Utopias and, for ways of contributing your innovative 'creative' skills, this Open Book of Social Innovation. You are welcome to reinvent yourselves in doing so. In fact that would be a wonderful outcome.
Third, if you stop being so bloody ridicolous, we will promise to laugh at you less. Things like Park Slope Food Coop are to be applauded. Pentagram is a serious, non-capitalist form of economic organisation. Why must hipsterism be all about consumption and soft acts of 'creativity'? If Hardt and Negri are right about 'immaterial labour' becoming 'hegemonic', the opportunities for new socialist forms of ownership and organisation must be mostly untapped as yet. Innovations in production and ownership will be taken seriously.
Of course there's an argument that you're not politically useful in any way. I disagree, especially as the economic battle lines become more and more generational. I sense a sincere economic critique in this turn towards bohemia, yet one that is currently smothered by aesthetics. Best of luck.