Haters Gonna Hate


The idea of the "hater" has its roots in hip-hop culture. Being a target for hostility — aka "being hated on" — is transmuted into an emblem of personal success. Boastful rappers see it as inevitable that "haters gonna hate", and take pleasure in either taunting them or brushing off criticism like dirt off their shoulders.

What’s interesting about this insouciant response is that it shifts focus, responsibility and moral culpability from a person being hated back to the person doing the hating. The usual implication is that haters are fuelled by their own jealousies and anxieties, although the Urban Dictionary definition suggests there’s an element of tall poppy syndrome at work — a hater simply "wants to knock somelse [sic]down a notch".

However, two recent streams of "hater culture", which manifest largely through pop cultural mockery, seem to have evaded that spotlight on those doing the hating. These are hipster-hating and bogan-hating.

There’s a pseudonymously authored humour book out right now based on the blog Things Bogans Like. Blog and book set out various pop-cultural phenomena said to be favoured by bogans, from Ed Hardy branded goods to Kings of Leon, as well as behaviours including ruining music festivals and joining moronic Facebook groups.

Meanwhile, hipsters are being hated on at blogs including Look At This F*cking Hipster and Hackney Hipster Hate. They’ve also been mocked in song, whether it’s the jaunty electropop of "Being A Dickhead’s Cool" or the Bedroom Philosopher’s comedic ditty "Northcote (So Hungover)".

While we hate hipsters and bogans for different reasons, the hatreds themselves are essentially quite similar — and similarly misplaced.

A loose definition of the hipster is a youthful figure engaged in the obsessive, often self-deluded, pursuit of inner-city cool. Usually identified with a commodified assemblage of alternative culture, hipsters build a lifestyle around cultivating aesthetic originality and accumulating cultural capital.

A bogan, meanwhile, is an Australian who embarrasses or even alarms the wider Australian community because of behaviour that is unrestrained by propriety, and tastes that are deemed vulgar and undiscerning.

I wrote a master’s thesis about the ideological work that Australian journalism, film and TV do with the figure of the bogan. When I started to become interested in the contemporary phenomenon of hipsterism about five years ago, I was startled by how easily my ideas about bogans could translate to hipsters.

What hipsters and bogans share is that their precise characteristics are both instantly recognisable and instinctively reviled. We all think we know what a hipster and a bogan are, yet we see them as pretty awful people and will strenuously deny being either sort, except in an ironic or nostalgic way.

Things Bogans Like is quite funny and well written, and interviews with the authors reveal them to be articulate, with a parodic sensibility to rival The Chaser (which is not, incidentally, a thing bogans like).

However, the blog is simultaneously kind of appalling, because its studiedly clinical tone is designed to insert a gulf between "the bogan" (always referred to by the pronoun "it") and those who so comprehensively have its measure.

By the same token, the command to "look at this f*cking hipster" directs attention away from the person doing the looking to the person being looked at. Like bogans, hipsters cease to be people, but rather objects of disgusted scrutiny.

Importantly, neither group exists in empirical fact. Something so coherent as a hipster subculture or a bogan class just cannot be reliably described through observation — all the tastes, habits and pop cultural touchstones that are supposed to be quintessential to bogans and hipsters are also embodied, done and consumed by others in the wider community.

This very mutability is a technique of power. Both media commentators and ordinary observers constantly reassert themselves and their worldviews by repeatedly, obsessively attempting to define both hipsters and bogans, once and for all.

The result is an emotionally powerful conviction that we can prove our mastery over someone by knowing them more completely and intimately than they do themselves. But why would we want to show mastery over someone else, and why these people in particular?

I’d argue that bogan-hating comes from a general feeling in this country that Australian national identity is uncertain and fragmented. We can temporarily "fix" our collectively imagined nationhood in place by identifying certain Australians as sources of shame or threat — and then uniting in opposition to them. We also tell stories about bogans in order to reduce our own stake in aspects of Australian life with which we feel uncomfortable.

Hipster-hatred, meanwhile, is a kind of Schadenfreude in which we take pleasure in identifying hipsters’ hypocrisy and self-delusion. First, we delight in the irony that although hipsters strive to be unique, they end up all looking alike, having similar tastes and pursuing the same interests in the same places.

Second, we accuse hipsters of being pretentious poseurs who don’t genuinely like anything, but thoughtlessly scramble to identify with the newest, coolest thing.

Third, we perceive a repugnant gulf between hipsters’ race and class privilege and their apolitical tendency to pastiche and glamorise the cultures of people who are disempowered by race and class.

Both bogan-hating and hipster-hating are balms to the uncertain soul. Bogan-hating reassures the hater of his or her own discernment, erudition and respect for others. Likewise, hipster-hating consoles our anxieties over inadequate cultural capital: hipsters might think they’re better than us, but only we can see how ridiculous they truly look and glimpse the moral vacuum of their souls.

Rather than joining in the obsessive race to "explain" and "understand" these cultural phenomena, I believe it’s far more important to turn the scrutiny back on those who seek such knowledge.

I could elaborate on the precise qualities of both bogans and hipsters that makes them such hate-objects. But, like a hip-hop MC, I’d rather start from the assumption that haters gonna hate… and then ask what’s at stake in the hating.


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