[Credit: Illusive Photography, December 2011 https://www.flickr.com/photos/alanant/6598996283]

Hipsters, steampunk, retro and the alt-right

Nobody cares for a hipster, though we all have a little hipster in us.

And what is a hipster?

The hipster ironically appropriates fashions, styles, music and literature
from the past.

And running parallel to the hipster are two other trends: steampunk, and retro.

What is notable about these aesthetics from a political perspective is that each is a fetish about the past.

Steampunk revives Victoriana, and pushes it to an even more powerful position than it had in the actual Victorian Age.

The Victorians did not have computers and flying machines, but in a Steampunk universe these machines appear under steam power.

Victorians bestrode the world, but a Steampunk Victorian can consider conquering the universe.

Hipsters have also adopted Victorian styles — notably formidable whiskers on men.

Retro fashions emerged after the 2008 crash, with a nostalgic reflection of
times where consumer goods were scarce.

The period during and after the Second World War is the focus for retro.

This was a time where there was ordered disorder. That is to say the world was in military disorder, but this disorder was facilitated through hierarchical and often authoritarian political structures.

Retro aesthetics look back to a time when the economy was in crisis, but there was a sense that ‘someone’ was in charge.

And for a communist or fascist, well, a new helmsman was about to be in charge.

Politically these trends are reactionary in that they treat with fondness, nostalgia or wonder ages when Europeans enjoyed hegemony over the world.

The aesthetic is both anti-consumerist and nativist. My personal observation is that these aesthetics are rarely adopted by immigrant groups in the United Kingdom.

The success of the “Keep Calm and Carry On” poster after the 2008 crash exemplifies these trends.

The poster was successful because it harked back to a more hierarchical and reassuring age when ‘someone’ was in charge.

That ‘someone’ may have been the old class system, Winston Churchill, the aristocracy or the military — but it was not the invisible, unnamable, computerised financial system that shook the world in 2008.

There were no reassuring elites when the 2008 crash happened, and the democratic politicians were helpless — though they could not say so.

The Keep Calm poster is also quintessentially British, a quality disprivileged in the multicultural, globalised world.

Retro fashions and preoccupations — sewing, home baking — also hark back to the make do and mend ethos of the Great Depression and Second World War.

These aesthetics allow indigenous Western European people to celebrate their heritage in safe way at a time when it is ideologically suspect to praise the era of European imperialism, for the celebration is mediated by irony.

These trends represent a nostalgic longing for a time before multinational capitalism, global consumer aesthetics and mass migration to the West.

It makes sense that Gavin McInnes, a co-founder of hipster touchstone Vice Magazine, is involved in the new dissident right, which divides into the ‘alt-light’ and the ‘alt-right’. The former are civic nationalists, and the latter cleave to an organic nationalism.

For many years observers have noted women in predominantly Muslim societies taking up the veil that their mothers abandoned in favour of a modern and ‘liberated’ look.

In the rise of retro, steampunk and hipsters we see a similar aesthetic revolt against globalised capitalism in the West.

Whether aesthetics drives politics, politics aesthetics or another combination I cannot say.

But the aesthetic trend in the West and the Islamic world is reactionary, and anti-capitalist.