Sunday, May 22, 2011

Hipster crime. Today I was sitting in the window at North and noticed the girl next to me was working on a MacBook that was the spitting image of mine, which was stolen when my house was burgled over Easter! It was even in a red leather case identical to the one I kept my computer in.

"Excuse me, but how long have you had this computer?" I asked.
"About a year," she said.

She let me examine the computer and the case. My computer had a pinkish smudge on the back of the screen where the case had rubbed on it; this computer didn't. My space bar was worn; this one's wasn't. My N key was wearing off; this one's wasn't. So it wasn't my computer.

But being a paranoid sort, I couldn't help wondering: what if she knew she'd only recently bought it from a friend of a friend at the pub, and here she was now, confronted by someone saying they'd had a computer just like it stolen? Would she own up to it? Would she let me check her computer's serial number against my stolen computer? Or would she lie and say, "Oh, I've had this computer for about a year?"

It's a cliché of hipsterism that while it obsessively mines the past, it doesn't want to put that past in context. (Perhaps this is true of people in general, and not just hipsters.) You shop at vintage stores and op-shops, but you don't like to think about who owned, wore and used those things before you. Instead, you empty them of specific meaning, retaining only their use-value to you, now, or their generic value as representative objects of their type.

So, it isn't that silly a possibility that someone might not want to confront the fact that the computer they just got at a bargain price, while 'new' to them, actually has a history that incorporates a crime in which they, as the 'new user', are implicated.

I was also pondering how hipsters are happy to 'steal' and deal in 'stolen' goods without compunction, when those goods are digital music and video files, software, or anything perceived to be in public space without obvious signs of ownership – for example, things abandoned on the street or left behind in cafés, bars, cinemas, etc.

Those piracy ads saying "You wouldn't steal a handbag!" are idiotic because they don't recognise that hipsters steal when it's easy, casual and opportunistic, when there's a culture of peer acceptance rather than peer shame, when the chances of being caught are low, and when they aren't confronted with actually having to dispossess someone else. Perhaps hipsters would steal a handbag… if that bag were sitting on a chair in a bar, and their friends assured them it didn't belong to anybody.

However, I have another theory about hipster crime: that it can be vindictive. Hipsters don't glass each other in pubs for fun, or on thuggish pretexts like "are you looking at me?!!" Only if they have a history of disliking the glassee.

You can get drunk, throw a television and kill your housemate's cat. You can punish your ex-girlfriend by stabbing her fish. You can vengefully snap the spokes on someone's fixie. You can slash your housemate's finger in fury after he tells you to turn down your music, then he calls the cops on you, and when you get back from jail you find someone has ransacked your room and stolen cash and valuables.

But hipster crime can also encompass fraud and confidence crime (see Hipster Grifter), because hipsterism is built on bullshitting. The same skills of written and verbal persuasion, fluid personal identities and job mobility that serve hipsters so well can be put to work scamming people and then skipping town. Hipster communities are also much the same across the world, and are good at assimilating newcomers with shady backstories.

I got to making a mental list of which crimes hipsters would and wouldn't commit. Street muggings: no (too much premeditation; involves confronting the victim). Shoplifting: yes (cool associations with Winona Ryder; nostalgic associations with teen rebellion; righteous feeling that evil corporations deserve to be robbed). Drugs: yes (necessary for partying; scary original sources obscured in long, complex distribution chain). Vandalism: yes (especially in the course of drunken revelry, as 'street art', or in retaliation to a previous grievance). Rape: yes (offence happens in private and victim can be smeared as not 'chilled', a 'crazy bitch' or a 'slut'). Murder: only accidentally or in moment of anger. Gun crime: no (obtaining a gun legally is too much work; getting one illegally is too scary). Knife crime: only accidentally or in moment of anger (carrying blades is 'too ethnic').

Of course this is all just me stewing in my paranoia over my stolen computer, and has no empirical basis whatsoever.

You're so right about the drug taking. The most 'ethical' of vegans (no leather! no fur!) will munch on handfuls of pingers, oblivious to the potential human tragedy ground up in that little tablet.

Another hipster crime is stealing alcohol from bars or smuggling alcohol into bars. Because they're broke. So they drink passion pop and goon.
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