Manufacturing hipsterism: behind ‘Melbourne Man-gate’

Four months ago I went on my first date with Samuel David(e) Hains, aka the ‘most Melbourne man ever’. If in the early days of our blossoming, largely private infatuation I had been catapulted a month into the future to discover that as a result of a street-fashion column I co-created my crush had ‘gone viral’, I’m not sure I would have believed it.

In case you missed our five seconds of fame, the abridged Sparknotes of the Melbourne Man saga: in a spontaneous attempt to breathe new life into the Age’s ‘Street Seen’ column I interviewed Sam as an exaggerated character who blended his ‘authentic’ personality with that of a slightly deranged alter ego, ‘Davide’. Somehow we captured the cultural zeitgeist, and our entertaining, illegitimate love child clocked up 1800 twitter hits, graced the front page of the Age, and made news around the world.

In the same week in which Davide rose to stardom, two young, Black American men – Alton Sterling and Philando Castile – were killed by police officers in separate incidents, Oscar Pistorious was sentenced to six years in prison for the murder of Reeva Steenkamp, a war veteran fatally shot five police officers in Dallas, and Australia was sans functioning government due to a delayed election result.

Somehow, the world found time to wonder whether the ‘world’s bigger hipster’ was the real deal, or a counterfeit troll. Intoxicated by the opportunity to be publicly funny (and just maybe become a b-grade celebrity in the vein of a forgotten Big Brother contestant) I made a number of questionable decisions for which I take full responsibility. I do not wish to frame Fairfax as the common enemy in some kind of David and Goliath tale. However, the nature of our professional relationship requires clarification. When Melbourne Man-gate broke, I was widely presented as the incompetent, scheming ‘Fairfax journalist’; I may well be incompetent and scheming, but I am by no stretch of the imagination a journalist. Fairfax employed me as a copywriter through a third party to churn out event listings and lifestyle and entertainment articles in response to briefs such as ‘lavish children’s birthday parties’, ‘frozen yoghurt’ and ‘beetroot’ (seriously). I am under no misconception that producing content that exists almost entirely to legitimise advertising makes you a news journalist.

My job was in many ways the holy grail of bread and butter writing gigs: morally inoffensive, well paid, supportive and relaxed work environment, free tickets to media events. More importantly, it provided financial security while I put myself through university and figured out what kind of writer I actually want to be (not one who specialises in fashion vox pops, as it happens). Like many young creatives trying to make it work in a tough economy, I gratefully accepted the pay packet and complimentary champagne and attempted to exercise a level of creativity in return.

The backlash I received for my role in Melbourne Man left me reeling. An internal battle raged between irreverence towards the sheer absurdity of the situation and a concern that perhaps I should have paid more attention in my journalism ethics classes. Either way, that’s a different story and not one that needs more of a public airing. It’s also not necessarily the most interesting part of this twisted tale.

More surprising to me than the media’s creation of a salacious narrative designed to keep the meme alive was the level of hateful vitriol levelled at a clueless but fundamentally harmless young man whose alleged crime against humanity was … wearing his overalls backwards and being a ‘hipster’? A segment intended to do nothing more than provide a harmless lol over a morning coffee was suddenly fuelling venomous aggression with a sinister, homophobic undercurrent. Faceless cyborgs were branding Davide ‘the very definition of a cunt’, ‘#hipsterwanker’, ‘Melbourne hipster scum’, ‘why we need Trump’, someone who ‘deserves to be beaten thoroughly and savagely every single day’, one who ‘must be eradicated’ and the slightly more imaginative ‘pretentious fucking cockwomble of the highest order’. Forget the docks, Davide was advised to ‘draw inspiration from the fact that he has a fucking penis, if it hasn’t already crawled out of his overalls and gone to find a more masculine owner’. In fact, Davide was such a national shame that our war veterans would be turning in their graves: ‘This man is about as far from the trenches of the western front as a man can be. Just think a whole generation died so he could be a cunt’. The upshot? Davide’s capacity to galvanise the common man: ‘cunts like this can unite the world by giving us all something to hate’.

Why did this overall-clad apparition elicit such a thirst for blood? Was it his perceived sincerity combined with an utter lack of self-awareness, his unwitting role as the poster boy for ‘Melbourne hipster’ culture, or that smug little smile and popped hip? While my horror at the hateful trolling was slightly dulled by the knowledge that Davide was not a ‘real’ person, these comments reveal the extent to which anybody who is slightly different can be singled out and made the target du jour, particularly online. While Davide was not an entirely ‘real’ person, he could have been. Sam Hains – a privileged, straight, white man – has the luxury of stepping out of his Davide persona now that he’s tired of the joke; others are unable to remove the cloak of their actual identity.

It feels important to clarify that Davide was brought into this world in fairly meaningless jest, rather than to ‘troll’ the media or make fun of ‘hipsters’, whatever they even are. Davide was a confused, exaggerated pastiche, not some kind of premeditated takedown of youth culture designed to spur on tired conversations between Triple M listeners about baristas who have ‘man buns’ and live in Fitzroy.

While Davide created a division between those who allegedly got the joke and those who did not, as the interviewer I’m not really sure I’m in on it. In the aftermath of this bizarre series of events, bystanders scrambled to assure me that they ‘got it’ and lamented anyone foolish enough to believe that someone would ever be so pretentious or wear such a ridiculous outfit. Real talk: this is an outfit I definitely would – and quite possibly have – worn, although it’s unlikely that the same fashion statement on a young woman would have been so polarising.

Possible defences of artistic license aside, outrage at the alleged fabrication of Davide’s identity raised interesting questions about what differentiates an authentic self from a phoney. Is it the donning of an outlandish item of clothing, or the addition of an extraneous ‘e’ in your middle name? Everyone I have ever interviewed – and perhaps conversed with – has attempted to present a specific version of their true self. Isn’t that a large part of what being a human is all about? I marvel at the media’s willingness to seriously assess Davide’s authenticity based on a five-question vox pop, as if such a format is capable of capturing the entirety of a person. Perhaps the difference here is that the real Sam Hains is enough of a weirdo to spawn an alter ego that captures the collective consciousness. After all, I wasn’t lying when I described Davide as ‘magnetic’ and he IS a jazz kitten. At the end of the day, I’m not sure where the real Sam ends and Davide begins. I don’t think it matters.

Two months on from Davide’s five minutes of fame, the paparazzi have retreated and the spotlight has well and truly dimmed. Where some old hat journos keen to cash in on the ‘viral kids’ suggested Sam and I write a satirical column from the vantage point of Davide, I’m not sure he has anything more to say. It is time to lay our hilarious but demonic little love child to rest. RIP Davide. I never really knew you, yet a little piece of you lives on inside of all of us. The only question that remains is can I still wear my pink beret?

Tara Kenny

Tara Kenny is a Melbourne-based writer and editor with an interest in feminism, social commentary and social justice. She is completing a Master of International Relations at the University of Melbourne and holds a Bachelor of Professional Communications from RMIT. Recently she’s been the online editor of women’s publication and community Ladies of Leisure, co-editing Fat Brad, a cookbook dedicated to the eats of Brad Pitt, and going viral.

More by Tara Kenny ›

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  1. This article’s, “I don’t think it matters,” was revealing. Likewise was the counterpoint this invited to the third paragraph. I bought that particular edition of the Age here in Adelaide when I saw the story on the front page. My reasons for doing so were firstly, I contribute words to the Macquarie dictionary and believed the article was a primary source, secondly, I write for a living and I perceived the article was a sociological document worth reading. I am also aware who the responsible, socially aware, journalists in Australia are. I took a chance on the above writer as one of them and am now astonished and dismayed at the result. I understand that hipster culture (like the Beats, closer to my generation) is mocked by mainstream media for reasons we can only surmise. No need for writers who strive for social authenticity to twist themselves into a moral pretzel like the ‘creator’ of Davide has.

    1. Front and center on the front page of The Age right now:
      “The shocking truth Kim Kardashian haters should hear”
      “How do I stop my eyes from watering when I chop onions?”
      “Looking to get a fit bit? This may not be for you”
      “”Sorry, I lost your dog” and other petsitting disasters”

      So yeah know exactly what you mean about the topnotch journalism in Australia. I too am dismayed that some kids made up a fashion column, bringing the whole field into disrepute.

      #ImwithTara #wearoverallsbackwards

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