KL’s Soulless Hipsters

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This article is by Lee Lian Kong and was previously published in The Selangor Times as “A Critique on KL: It’s Alive”.

A 20-something year old girl, dressed in the current trendy look (loose patterned blouse, denim shorts, aviators, brown highlighted hair) walks with her DSLR camera in her hands.

She flings it to the sky and the video sweeps into the (as per usual) spectacular aerial view of KL’s cityscape, highway and suburbs.

That’s how the Project Alive website begins. According to its YouTube page description, it aims to highlight a day in the life of “unconventional and forward-thinking individuals”.

Their aim is to show the lively side of KL with all its coolest things to the public eye.

There are fashion designers, singer-songwriters, leather craftmakers, tattoo artists, flea marketers.

Their products include graphic T-shirts, leather accessories, quirky clothes, phone covers, oversized black rimmed glasses without the lens. A fashion designer describes the qualities of one jacket, with treehugger undertones “there’s nothing plastic, no polyester. It’s all natural.”

Subcultures were featured, skateboarders and the rather weather-inappropriate Mods with their scarves and suits cruising KL roads with Vespas.

Of course the beverage of choice for young hipsters are overpriced espresso based coffee complete with latte art.

As such, Artisan Roast café was featured, with a barista making espresso and latte art, while the owner gives us a slogan “Conversation as a reason and coffee as an excuse.”

Nightlife begins at 11.11pm, defined by shisha, nightclubs, dubstep, flaming Lamborghinis, DJs, ecstatic dancers, LED lightshow.

The video ends with cyclists on highways and all these people coming together at a roadside stall for drinks and finishes with these words “Share the passion that makes your city great.”

As a piece of commercial advertisement for a small fraction of KL-ites, it hits all the right “indie” nerves. It’s hip, it’s young, it’s stylish.

For that, kudos to the director and production crew. Let’s give credit where credit is due.

But one thing we cannot commend the video for is its originality. Or the severe lack of it.

To paraphrase Shakespeare, it is a tale told by a hipster, full of style and visuals, signifying nothing.

Well, close to nothing.

Like what half the comments left on its YouTube channel says, the video does represent KL, but just a tiny fraction of it.

There is no fault in showing a minority view of our city. After all, this isn’t a documentary, hence, we can omit the need for a comprehensive view of KL or to show the ‘real’ KL.

The problem with this video is its lack of originality. This culture they expound is one consumed from MTV, not one genuinely conceived from KL.

Children of middle to upper middle class convert their money into “cultural capital” by buying objects or activities of “cool”.

What they show to be cool and is called as progress, is merely the A-grade adoption of a Western-oriented culture with predominantly American and MTV origins.

They like fashion, “alternative” activities i.e. cycling and join the next cool subculture by consuming. What they call unconventional is the wearing of RayBans and skinny jeans like every other young ones do. The depth of these ‘forward-thinking individuals’ goes as deep as opening a coffee shop and a poor fusion of electro musical styles that they call “lapsap” music.

By not owning these cultures and merely adopting it, the activities shown seem synthetic and artificial.

It shows an urban youth that is not really getting the measure of where they were living, having no idea about their community there and forsaking their rich cultural history for the next ‘cool’ imported thing.

Remove the token scene of tudung-ed women and the food, this video can be adapted to just about any other city.

Why adopt someone else’s culture? The leftover of someone else’s dinner is hardly a delicious meal.

Is the video another example of our prolonged post-colonial hang-up, alongside the usual sarong party girls at Changkat Bukit Bintang and the adoption of American accents to be seen as superior?

Yes, we are not excluded from globalization. Nor are we immune to western cultural imperialism.

Yet, the Westernisation of KL is not one done by surrendering, where we abandon all our culture for theirs.

There is a clear, undeniable struggle between preserving our identity amidst the constant bombardment of Western elements.

This may be a weak struggle and all odds seem to be against us. Nevertheless, this struggle is acutely present. This video failed to capture this essential bit of KL in its rush to voluntarily embrace everything Western.

And for that, it strongly hints of a group of urban youth who is not proud of their heritage, bereft of a soul they can call their own.

Lee Lian Kong welcomes all feedback (even from hipsters) to her email at [email protected]

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Posted on 10 August 2012. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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