On Hipsters and Projection

Dylan Thomas once wrote that ‘an alcoholic is someone you don’t like who drinks as much as you do’.

Well, I have a similar theory about ‘hipsters’.

I’ve never met anyone who happily self-identifies as a hipster. But we all know one when we see one, don’t we? The carefully manicured beard. The skinny jeans. The artisanal coffee addiction. The general whiff of pretension and – most contemptible of all – trying too hard.

Many of the people I’ve spent time chuckling about the absurdity of hipster culture with are young men, some of whom – like me – have beards. But not ludicrous hipster beards. Many of us wear slim-fitting jeans. But not ludicrous, skinny, hipster jeans. And yes, we like a coffee – no, not a flat white, I actually prefer a cortado these day – but not those ludicrous, super-bespoke, hipster coffees.

Apologies Dylan, but I propose that a hipster is someone you don’t like who also has a beard and slim-fitting jeans and drinks as much coffee as you do.

It’s someone else. Someone who does all the things that you do, but too much, with too much thought and artifice. Someone whose habits, lifestyle choices and attire – when they do them – are not an authentic reflection of their unique tastes and inner lives, but signifiers of an essential superficiality, an absence of identity.

Or at least that’s what I personally project onto people I deem hipsters. You may have a slightly different read. Or maybe it’s not hipsters that draw your scorn. Maybe it’s people who talk too much, or too little. Maybe it’s those borderline-fascist Daily Mail readers. Or even worse those liberal, elitist, snowflake Guardian readers.

‘Projection’ is one of those Freudian theories that has so entirely passed into popular discourse that we don’t even think of it as a theory – it just is. Freud proposed that there are certain thoughts, feelings or impulses that are unacceptable to the conscious mind so, rather than own them, we attribute them to someone else.

Have you ever been going about your business at home, and found yourself being drawn into an argument with your partner that sounds a little like this:

Partner 1: “What’s wrong with you?”

Partner 2: “Nothing. What do you mean?”

Partner 1: “Nothing…you’re just acting weird tonight. You’re being all hostile and weird”.

Partner 2: “No I’m not! What are you saying that for?”

Partner 1: “See? Hostile! Weird!”

Partner 2: “Well, I am feeling hostile and weird now!”

And the rest of the argument takes care of itself.

I have been both of these people. The second person feeling affronted for suddenly being accused of being weird / hostile / distant / distracted / miserable; and the first person, noticing an unpleasant feeling somewhere inside me, noticing someone else who lives in the same physical space and deciding: “Ah…it’s them! They are the issue!”

You can see how this might be problematic.

On a simple day-to-day level this apparently automatic tendency to project onto others the stuff that we can’t be with in ourselves has the capacity to wreak havoc in our relationships. That moment when, rather than accept the fact that we’re holding feelings of resentment and anger towards a colleague, we decide: “She hates me”.

It can turn us into unpleasant, intolerant, judgemental versions of ourselves. That moment when we see someone or something that evokes a deep-seated insecurity we have about ourselves and, rather than notice and embrace that feeling, we instead pour scorn on the stupid person / the loud mouth / the braggart.

The hipster, perhaps.

It can blind us to our own vulnerabilities and shortcomings. That moment when a little voice inside keeps telling you that you’ve ascended to the office of President of the United States on a platform of pathological lying and pandering bullshit and you shut it down by accusing everyone who opposes you of being a proponent of FAKE NEWS.

You know, that moment.

There is a quote that shows up in various different forms, attributed to different people, but the essence is this: we do not see the world as it is; we see it as we are. The world around us, and the people in it, are just mirrors of ourselves.

From this perspective, these moments of projection are opportunities for learning. If we pause and notice that voice inside that says “fucking hipsters”, there is the potential to learn something about ourselves – or the part of ourselves that we might be pushing into the shadows. If we can begin to open up to the aspects of our personality that we may be a little less fond – maybe even scared – of, we can stop that stuff from creeping out and into the relationships with the people closest to us.

If we can open up to the idea that the world we are seeing is a reflection of ourselves, we take one small step closer to seeing it as it actually is.

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