Maria came to the Kremlin demonstration wearing her designer eyeglasses. Does that explain why she protests?

Many commentators have pointed out how after big American news media (many of them regularly accused of liberal bias) refused to report on Occupy Wall Street for several weeks, they then often sought to explain the movement by characterizing activists as privileged, college-educated, don’t-they-have-a-job-somewhere “hipsters.” I see in today’s New York Times that reporters are now turning to this catchphrase to sum up the face of protests in Russia.

Here is the rub for Vladimir V. Putin: The people who stood outside the Kremlin on Saturday, chanting epithets directed at him, are the ones who have prospered greatly during his 12 years in power.

They were well traveled and well mannered; they wore hipster glasses. They were wonky (some held aloft graphs showing statistical deviations that they said proved election fraud). In short, they were young urban professionals, a group that benefited handsomely from Moscow’s skyrocketing real estate market and the trickle-down effect of the nation’s oil wealth.

Maria A. Mikhaylova came to the demonstration in designer eyeglasses and with her hair tied back with a white ribbon, the symbol of the new opposition movement. Ms. Mikhaylova, 35, works in a Moscow bank, and said her goal was not to upend Mr. Putin’s government. “We don’t want any violence,” she said, but rather to compel the political system to take account of the concerns of people like her.
“Boosted by Putin, Russia’s Middle Class Turns on Him” (Andrew E. Kramer and David M. Herszenhorn, New York Times, December 12, 2011)

The NY Times world news gets syndicated across many U.S. news outlets, and this apparently isolated example of hipster reporting has already circulated widely. But of course, the NY Times isn’t alone in using this particular reporting shorthand. A quick Google search on “hipster Putin protest” yielded more examples of Russian protest reporting and analysis using the term.

[Quoting a interview] “The endless number of hysterical hipsters throughout social media kind of “legitimised” my election fraud,” he said. “I was checking the TV and websites and I realised that there is total lawlessness in the whole country. I realised nothing could stop me from stealing votes.”
“Russian Political Strategist Claims to Have Rigged Duma Elections in Vice Interview” (Michael Rundle, Huffinginton Post, December 12, 2011)


Is it the Slavic Spring, the Hipster Rebellion, or the Snow Revolution? Russia’s anti-Kremlin protesters may be united in their determination to press for fair elections but there is no agreement on what the movement should be called.
“A Revolution — but by What Name?” (Tony Halpin, The Times [UK], December 9, 2011) 


When his eyes turned to what passed for leadership on the square in Moscow, Putin no doubt burst out laughing. There was Bozhena Rynska, the Russian Paris Hilton, front and center, emphasizing that these protests were not about substance, not about the country — just about a cadre of communists and nationalists boosted by another group of young hipsters who’d decided that demonstrating was the new black, a funny goof to pass an idle weekend until the next red carpet.
“The Futile Demonstrations in Russia” (Kim Zigfield, December 10, 2011,American Thinker


According to the Financial Times the swarm was cut from an eclectic swathe of Russin society, including fascist flag-bearing nationalists, communists and liberal hipsers, all united in rejecting the Kremlin’s authoritarian model of “managed democracy.”
“Moscow Messiah Feels Heat of Arab Winter” (Michael Hughes,, December 11, 2011) 


[Blogger Alexei] Navalny also strikes a chord with Anton Nikolayev, a left-wing artist and activist. He’s part of the network of Twitter users who are mobilizing support for Navalny in jail.
“Common liberal people are looking to his blog, and they believe him, and he is the only man who can take all the hipsters to go on the street, and he is a very significant figure in this street politic now,” Nikolayev said.
“Kremlin Cracks Down, Arrests Prominent Critic” (NPR, December 8, 2011) 


But the obvious hero of Monday’s protest was Navalny. Through his hugely popular blog, he had called on many of his fans to attend, and when he took the microphone, he had a simple message for the hipster demographic. “They can laugh and call us microbloggers,” he said. “They can call us the hamsters of the Internet. Fine. I am an Internet hamster … But I know they are afraid of us.”
Occupy the Kremlin: Russia’s Election Lets Loose Public Rage (Simon Shuster, Time, December 5, 2011)

The point here isn’t to focus on whether Russia has hipsters, or how many of these Russian hipsters have taken part in protests against Putin’s election fraud, or whether there’s a global wave of hipster protest in modern nations, or whether Marx and his intellectual descendants were wrong to expect revolt to come from the “truly” downtrodden.

It’s simply to notice that the term “hipster”—still questionable if not derogatory among 20- and 30-somethings—has now undeniably slipped its semantic homeland in North America and the UK to become a media red herring of global proportions. As we saw in reporting on Occupy Wall Street, the reference to “hipster” sidesteps serious consideration of the underlying issues in these protests, relegating the political refusals of young people across the world to the lifestyle activity of a status group. So let’s mark today as another milestone in the degeneration of media discourse into what C. Wright Mills called crackpot realism.

Importantly, I think we have some complicity in this. By “we,” I mean the learned or culturally omnivorous participants and spectators in internet chatter, academic debate, and lifestyle marketing that sustains our are-we-or-aren’t-we speculations on the hipster, its aesthetics, and its ranks. This discourse has become so prolific and so kneejerk that it has diminished the quality of our own considerations of real political issues. (All you folks looking for the “soundtrack to #OWS,” this means you, among others.) Let’s turn a page, people. Stop instinctively talking and writing about “what we know,” do some research about some other part of the world—across the planet, or just across town—and start using a genuinely political voice.