Contemporary hipsterism seems to hog column inches like no other subculture in recent memory. Mainly, it seems, because it’s almost impossible to pin down. It’s a carnivorous, ever-evolving blob of po-mo styles and sensibilities. It’s constantly cutting its hair, growing its hair, engulfing new styles, clothes and bands and spitting out old ones. It’s a rag doll of ‘alternative’ culture, stitched together with irony. And it’s a culture that is defined almost entirely in the negative, as a pejorative – trying to find a self-identifying hipster, even in the depths of Shoreditch, would be a thankless task.
But if there’s anything we can be sure about – other than that hipsters have effectively ruined beards for a generation – it is that hipsterism is definitely, totally sexist. Perhaps even ‘a bit rapey’. At least, that’s the analysis that several feminist bloggers and commentators have come out with in recent weeks, after two of the figureheads of modern-day hipsterism have once again found themselves embroiled in allegations of sexual misconduct.
Dov Charney, the founder and CEO of beloved hipster clothing brand American Apparel, was sacked last week. American Apparel’s board had stuck with Charney throughout various sexual-harassment cases, which were all settled out of court, but Charney finally came unstuck when it was claimed that he used company funds to launch a smear campaign against a former employee who alleged he used her as a ‘sex slave’. Then there is smut-peddler-cum-fashion-photographer Terry Richardson. Past allegations that Richardson coerced models and interns into taking part in pornographic photo shoots were revived when a piece in the New York Times magazine entitled ‘Is Terry Richardson an artist or a predator’ enraged the Twittersphere. The piece explored and questioned some of the claims made about Richardson, enraging braying feminists who saw it as ‘slut-shaming’ and rape apologism. This fuelled the pious outrage aimed at Richardson for the past few months. In March, a petition was launched on Change.org to have high-end fashion brands drop Richardson from their roster.
It’s a pretty dank state of affairs that has brought to the fore the alarmist and counterproductive way in which society responds to sex scandals. The fact that no charges have been brought against either Charney or Richardson hasn’t stopped scores of commentators penning ‘there’s no smoke without fire’ think pieces, glossing over what are always complex and delicate cases with moral indignation. What’s more, the backlash reflects how diluted the categories of sexual assault have become – both sets of allegations amounting to little more than Charney and Richardson cajoling women into having sex with them. If the claims are true, it’s certainly not on; but calling it ‘abuse’ only trivialises genuine assault.
What is most alarming is how quickly the discussion breezed over the particulars of these cases and focused on the work of Charney and Richardson themselves. American Apparel’s raunchy ad campaigns and the gross, over-exposed photos of Richardson being felated by his subjects have been used as evidence against them. Their lurid aesthetic – both, incidentally, look like they are going to a fancy-dress party as a Seventies paedophile – and their personal conduct were seen as mutually reaffirming. As one writer put it: ‘anyone who’s followed Charney’s career will be taking unbridled joy in the fact that’s he’s finally been shown the door’.