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Confronting Irony
November 18, 2012 9:34 PM   Subscribe

As a function of fear and pre-emptive shame, ironic living bespeaks cultural numbness, resignation and defeat. If life has become merely a clutter of kitsch objects, an endless series of sarcastic jokes and pop references, a competition to see who can care the least (or, at minimum, a performance of such a competition), it seems we’ve made a collective misstep. Could this be the cause of our emptiness and existential malaise? Or a symptom? - How to Live Without Irony
posted by beisny (161 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
Just wait until they have kids. Kids are a great cure for irony (them and old age).
posted by oddman at 9:39 PM on November 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


Whatever.
posted by stbalbach at 9:40 PM on November 18, 2012 [14 favorites]




Affected irony for those who lack experience, perspective, and sophistication.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 9:43 PM on November 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


We really need a hipster typology guide for us regular peeps though. So we can, say, quickly separate out the useful kinds that are good to keep and have around (e.g. for artisan sausages, beers, pickles, doodads) from the noxious ironic-racist Awl-reading ones.
posted by Bwithh at 9:48 PM on November 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


"Carried over time, [irony] is the voice of the trapped who have come to enjoy their cage." —Lewis Hyde
posted by dephlogisticated at 9:50 PM on November 18, 2012 [25 favorites]


I find the surest cure for the ironic lifestyle is enthusiastic involvement.

At this point in life, I've learned that anyone who has enthusiasm about something is someone who should be listened to. Even if they are enthusiastic about something which I have an anti-connection with, there's something to be learned from them when it comes to involvement and commitment. I may not pick up their enthusiasm, but gems they share will help me understand my own enthusiasms all the better.

Sadly, that is a thing which is widely mocked by the ironic.
posted by hippybear at 9:51 PM on November 18, 2012 [39 favorites]


I had emptiness and malaise before I even knew what irony was but then I am french and grew up in the suburbs.
posted by srboisvert at 9:51 PM on November 18, 2012 [13 favorites]


The Howl of this movement is Neal Pollack's new memoir

I knew it was a scam.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:51 PM on November 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


We seem to be reaching peak hipster here over the past week and I'm not sure why. Anyway, here's the rant I wrote earlier about this article:

Most people I know navigate this hall of mirrors we call life with a mixture of irony, sincerity, vulnerability and defensiveness. This is not bad. Navigating postmodern confusion and hyperconnected hyperawareness isn't easy. We can never go back to when things were "simple," if they ever were simple. Irony is a viable form of defense, and you're no better than any of us if the particular pose you want to adopt is "everyone should just be really sincere all the time forever." Once you obsess over sincerity, then you start obsessing over authenticity and then we're back to that same pandora's box where people are trying to latch onto something 'honest' and 'true' and just ending up more artificial. In contrast, many of us have simply realized that the authenticity game is hopeless, and maybe the only true sincerity is acknowledging the constructed, appropriating nature of all identity.

In the end, the dichotomies set up by endless articles like these are a bit strange. The important thing is to use your heart and your mind when it matters, to be an open, thoughtful, aware, creative, concerned citizen of the world. If that's you, then it ultimately doesn't matter whether you own a t-shirt with an ironic pop culture reference.
posted by naju at 9:55 PM on November 18, 2012 [88 favorites]


I was sincere before it was cool.
posted by chimaera at 10:00 PM on November 18, 2012 [7 favorites]


The important thing is to use your heart and your mind when it matters, to be an open, thoughtful, aware, creative, concerned citizen of the world. If that's you, then it ultimately doesn't matter whether you own a t-shirt with an ironic pop culture reference.

I'd go further and say, if that's you, then the pop culture reference is something which is sincerely chosen, and while it may appear to be ironic to the world at large, it actually reflects something meaningful.

If you're prone to buying shirts only because they are ironic, then chances are that the description of the person which naju writes doesn't actually describe you. If you're buying shirts because there's a resonance which you seek to embody in the world around you and you're aware of potential irony in the eye of the viewer but you know the truth behind your choices, then you're doing a t-shirt choice version of genderfuck and it's not ironic, it's sincere.
posted by hippybear at 10:01 PM on November 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


Irony is not the ethos of our age. It's not an ethos, really: it's entirely about poses and expectations, so it's an aesthetic if it's anything, and even then it's just one of many.
posted by clockzero at 10:02 PM on November 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Where can we find other examples of nonironic living? What does it look like? Nonironic models include very young children, elderly people, deeply religious people, people with severe mental or physical disabilities, people who have suffered, and those from economically or politically challenged places where seriousness is the governing state of mind.

And dictators too. Sort of amazing to me that she negatively contrasts this false sense of certainty among the deluded with a lacking sincerity among the hipster, concluding the former to be better off, and the latter somehow missing the point.
posted by Brian B. at 10:02 PM on November 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


My thinking about this was crystallized by this piece at Lawyers, Guns, & Money. The author had this to say in response:
It’s not that there’s nothing to the critique of excessive irony; irony certainly can be a deadening, depoliticizing pose that inhibits a kind of sincere commitment among citizens that democratic politics relies on. And while the two are distinct problems, there’s a potential connection between excessive irony and both sides do it-ism, although such a stance can also be arrived at via a certain kind of banal excessive sincerity. Irony can, of course, have democratic value as well, but it’s depoliticizing potential isn’t an unreasonable target.
And
If you’re wondering how she arrived at the conclusion that an appreciation of kitsch aesthetics and a particular sense of humor means there’s nothing else whatsoever to your life, I’m afraid you won’t find much guidance in the preceding paragraphs. What she offers here is a sophisticated version of a particularly toxic high school mentality–how other people dress, their aesthetic tastes, their style of humor, and so on offer a deep insight into what’s wrong with them.
Which pretty much perfectly sums up my feelings about it. There are problems with approaching everything through a shield of irony if that's your only way of interacting with the world, but this article is just generic hipster-bashing, with all the lazy stupidity that expression entails. "Hipster" is a meaningless word at this point, although I don't know if it ever had a meaning to begin with. It's become a catch-all for anyone a particular writer or speaker dislikes, if it was ever anything else to begin with.
posted by protocoach at 10:03 PM on November 18, 2012 [19 favorites]


What reductive horseshit. Firstly because critical disengagement from a world gone mad is a perfectly sane response and secondly because unlike Gen X and those oh-so-fucking-sincere Boomers before them these kids swim in an ocean of constant data so a curatorial, magpie-like sensibility toward a much more accessible cultural inventory is a reasonable response.

Those Kids Today will be just fine. At least they're making stuff. We just sat on our asses and wrote bad poetry.

On preview: yeah, what naju said
posted by BitterOldPunk at 10:06 PM on November 18, 2012 [21 favorites]


I thought we where the unironic, Earnest, and BIG ON GROUPS generation?
posted by The Whelk at 10:11 PM on November 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


I can't read anything "lifestyle" from the NYT without turning my Irony Level up to 11. It's the only way to suppress the gag reflex.
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:11 PM on November 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Am I old-fashioned for being sarcastic more than ironic?
posted by GuyZero at 10:11 PM on November 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


There is no such thing as being ironic. It is just something losers say about cooler people when they resent them.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:17 PM on November 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


9/11 couldn't kill irony. What makes the New York Times think that they can do any better?
posted by Apocryphon at 10:20 PM on November 18, 2012


these kids swim in an ocean of constant data

An ocean of what kind of data? Self-referential comments and likes? Self-portraits posted and mailed? They choose to walk with their heads at a forty-five degree angle staring into that abyss. What are they looking for? Do they know? It's all affectation, ironic or otherwise. We used to just stare at the TV at home. Now the TV is with us all the time wherever we go. And we are all on this TV, watching our own channel. TV used to be a window. Now it's become a mirror. With advertising. There is no real irony. It's just a product. The issue isn't just sincerity. It's also authenticity.
posted by njohnson23 at 10:25 PM on November 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


We used to just stare at the TV at home. Now the TV is with us all the time wherever we go.

Imagine a world with mass literacy but not mass media. Oh sure there were radios and newspapers, but there wasn't irony everywhere until the beatniks started.
posted by Apocryphon at 10:27 PM on November 18, 2012


People actually live ironically, rather than just affecting it here and there? That's actually quite shocking to me. I love life. It's really fabulous. I'm not the most earnest person you'll ever meet, but I sure as hell can't walk past a forest after a heavy rain and not stop, inhale deeply, and think "this is fan-fucking-tastic, life." Even as a typically cranky teen.
posted by davejay at 10:29 PM on November 18, 2012 [7 favorites]


Ironic detachment is so 20 years ago, hedonistic nihilism is so ten years ago, we're all about the bowties and engaged, over-enthusiastic doo-gooderism and unembarrassed seal-like clapping for things.
posted by The Whelk at 10:29 PM on November 18, 2012 [18 favorites]


People actually live ironically,

No. Of course not. No one has ever lived in a way described in a NYT Style article.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:32 PM on November 18, 2012 [7 favorites]


People actually live ironically, rather than just affecting it here and there? That's actually quite shocking to me.

This was pretty much one of the themes of The French Lieutenant's Woman and other modern Victorian tales, a life lived as parody and performance, a have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too oh "oh aren't we so awful but we know how awful we are wink wink" is totally and completely poisonous.
posted by The Whelk at 10:32 PM on November 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


All I see here is "I am a professor of French who lives in Brooklyn and I hate my students and my neighbors woe is lovely authentic me."
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:35 PM on November 18, 2012 [14 favorites]


Oh and insofar as this mentality ever existed at all, it was much much more a hallmark of '90s "alternative" then 2010s "hipster-ism." So yeah, I'm glad you finally got around to watching "Reality Bites" but, no. Fail. You have nothing of merit to say.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:35 PM on November 18, 2012


RE: Reality Bites "Dear 1994, EVERYTHING IS WORSE NOW."
posted by The Whelk at 10:38 PM on November 18, 2012


As a person raised on sincerity, knowing no other way to operate at all really, this article still offended me on some visceral level that I can't quite place. Maybe it's the strawmen she's building, the generalizations, I don't know. I mean I agree with the thesis here, but I also embody exactly what she's claiming we should aspire to. The concept of ironic detachment from the world literally never occured to me as a mode in which it would ever be wise to operate other than when I've been burned for my openness. That's a price I've not always wanted to pay, but overall I'm fine with it. As part of the generation she's calling out, maybe I'm angry at being an outlier. Most everyone I am close to acts like this and it's immensely frustrating. Or maybe I'm just jealous because I never was able to cultivate that healthy distance from things. Really, I probably am too far on the opposite end of the spectrum. I also resent her singling out folks with disabilities as some kind of totem of sincerity, mostly because I happen to be disabled. But that's one generalization among many. Really, she could have made her point in far fewer words, or even better, through her actions. It's a waste of newsprint to build this nebulous non-person just to say let's be a little more real.
posted by Ephelump Jockey at 10:41 PM on November 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


This lady is 35, so maybe we should applaud her precocity in entering the "you kids get off my lawn" stage so early?
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:42 PM on November 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


hippybear: At this point in life, I've learned that anyone who has enthusiasm about something is someone who should be listened to.

What if I'm being enthusiastically ironic?
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:45 PM on November 18, 2012


THAT SOUNDS EXHAUSTING
posted by The Whelk at 10:45 PM on November 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


In my experience, NYT trend pieces are both generally apparently sincere and to my taste hard to take seriously.
posted by mwhybark at 10:47 PM on November 18, 2012


Ask yourself: Do I communicate primarily through inside jokes and pop culture references?

Metafilter: communicating primarily through inside jokes and pop culture references.
posted by telstar at 10:47 PM on November 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


"While we have gained some skill sets (multitasking, technological savvy), other skills have suffered: the art of conversation, the art of looking at people, the art of being seen, the art of being present. Our conduct is no longer governed by subtlety, finesse, grace and attention, all qualities more esteemed in earlier decades. Inwardness and narcissism now hold sway."

This paragraph contains the most middlebrow horse manure I've seen in years. This sort of twaddle - "Ah! But we live in such ironic times!" - drove Nabokov to write Glory out of spite.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 10:48 PM on November 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


Inwardness and narcissism now hold sway.

Most certainly going to the wrong parties I think.
posted by The Whelk at 10:51 PM on November 18, 2012


Something about this article seemed to be missing the point in a way that I couldn't put my finger on and, as far as I could see, hadn't yet been struck upon in the comments. For the life of me I couldn't figure out what it was and decided to give up and go to bed after checking my facebook.

I hate my facebook. It's not because it makes me into a product but it is largely what allows facebook to make its users into a product. Even if I try my damnedest not to put any info about myself onto any social networking site I will fail if I wish to utilize those sites in a way that benefits me. I am forced (whether it be through messages or simply "liking" something that someone has posted on my wall to ensure them, as quickly as possible that I recognize their attempt to make me smile with this or that internet doo-dad). I am forced to put some part of me out there. A part of me that is, in one way or another, representative and real in some quantifiable sense. I liked that post, that is ME pictured at the top of the page.

Point being, this article seems to be aiming too broadly in search of a cause of "ironic living". It seems to me that affecting a style and cheekily dodging sincerity is practiced for the same reason that James Bond and Davie Bowie did those things decades ago. Knowing the "real" me should take time, as should knowing the "real" you. People are complex and getting to know them should, as a rule, be something that requires an investment and a certain amount of earnest desire to engage. If you're a fictional pop icon it behooves you to cover up your lack of personality with kitsch and knowing winks. If you're a pop-star, forever in the public eye, it behooves you to hide behind personae less every eye in the universe peers, effortlessly, through TV screens and directly into whatever it is that makes you who you are.

When some small part of us is always floating out in public it makes it just that little bit easier for someone to "know" us. To begin to access the complexities that each person is composed of. An affectation may be a way of counteracting that ease, of rebalancing the work a person has to put in before they can begin to understand you on a desired level. I don't think it's a way of keeping thoughtful societal engagement out. I think it's a way of keeping casual observers out.
posted by sendai sleep master at 10:57 PM on November 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


No. Of course not. No one has ever lived in a way described in a NYT Style article.


Well, There is this guy.

He even states that he lives in the cool part of town, be he himself isn't cool.
posted by alex_skazat at 11:13 PM on November 18, 2012


I'm trying to think of the super Earnest Do-Gooer Millennial Playlist, I've got this, this, this, and this But I feel Like I'm missing stuff.
posted by The Whelk at 11:21 PM on November 18, 2012


At this point in life, I've learned that anyone who has enthusiasm about something is someone who should be listened to.

So wrong it hurts so good.

I find it terribly ironic this post lives 3 spots above a (very sincere) post about David Foster Wallace. OOPS.

shield of irony

Irony is a humorous literary device in which there's an overt incongruity, right, e.g. the boy in high school who drove like a maniac won't let his teenage daughter drive at night = ironic. How can you use irony as a shield.

Aren't we talking about "sarcasm" here, not irony?

Kids are a great cure for irony (them and old age).

Oh you can't sell me that snake oil. I made my 3 y.o a little T-shirt that says "40 but with the body of a 39 year-old." Now THAT's irony.

it is my firm conviction that this mode of living is not viable

Show me a mode of living that IS viable.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:23 PM on November 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


oh wait this the direct opposite of irony.
posted by The Whelk at 11:28 PM on November 18, 2012


Wow, this is really terrible, from the blanket citation of "people who have suffered" as unironic (gallows humor, anyone?) to the idea that a right-thinking person would wear clothes that "refer only to themselves." (Newsflash: this is impossible.) And I think the writer is writing more about the specific things she hates about herself than about anything actually observable in youth culture -- the presents thing, for example, which is pretty above and beyond. Even the hipsteriest people I know generally try to give their friends presents they think they'd like.

Also, everything she says about hipsters has been true since forever -- they loved consciously ridiculous fads at the court of Louis XIV. There's just more to choose from now.

Anyhow, this is particularly hilarious in the light of the last decade or so's explosion of feminist/antiracist/queer blogging on the very internet that's supposedly robbing us of our sincerity. I mean, who does she think are writing those things? "Very young children"?
posted by ostro at 11:31 PM on November 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm not saying that the author's band is the most pretentious thing I've heard lately, but...
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:32 PM on November 18, 2012


a Bay Area cerebral rock band formed in 2008 by Robert Pogue Harrison and Dan Edelstein, both professors of literature at Stanford University.

I DON'T WANT TO GO TO THIS PARTY.
posted by The Whelk at 11:34 PM on November 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ironic behavior is, at its best, a self-confrontation. It's an admittance that you're self-aware enough to feel bad, or at the least uncomfortable, about your own actions.

Sometimes that irony can be really frustrating. Ironic racism? Cool, you get that racism sucks, but you're still being racist. Yet even that sort of irony can be a powerful force for consideration: take shows like Louie and Girls, whose characters say awful things which are at once hilarious and thought-provoking. Irony can make us question ourselves, while simultaneously comforting us by saying, "It's okay, we think shitty things too. Doesn't make them less shitty and you shouldn't feel good about that behavior, but you're not an inherently bad person for having bad characteristics." In fact, that irony is a pretty central force in any kind of narrative art, from literature to film to stand-up comedy.

Certain people use irony as a justification for doing wretched things, and that in itself is wretched, not to mention annoying. It's not like doing wretched things is ever excusable, and it's irritating that people try to excuse their behavior rather than own up to it.

But using irony to justify your questionable taste in things is totally okay and fuck anyone who says otherwise. If I like Justin Bieber (or Rebecca Black who I like much more) then there's nothing wrong with my fondness for him, and if there's a certain irony to my listening to a song as stupid as "Baby" on repeat, then that's even more fun! Something interesting about knowing I should dislike a song yet liking it anyway, right? And who suffers? People who can't stand the thought that Justin Bieber is more popular than, say, free jazz? Aren't people just as annoyed when you play them Peter Brotzmann against their will? Aren't they just as likely to think you're putting on airs?

Fuck this "New Sincerity" bullshit – the sheer self-reflectiveness of the term is more frustratingly ironic than ten scotchka-fueled viewings of The Room. The insistence on ALL SINCERITY ALL THE TIME is so much more disingenuous than even my insecurest teenage friends who are perpetually ironic to hide from the fact that they're completely scared of everything. It ignores the paradoxes and conundrums that define the entirety of human existence. Take your bright, perky, sincere people who talk about making the world a better place and put them in a dark corner so we don't have to look at them.

I say this, by the way, as a fairly perky enthusiastic irritant myself. I'm not burnt out on hopes and dreams and feelings and emotions – on the contrary, I enjoy growing tenderer and more hopeful every year, more excited about being alive, all that cliche bullshit nonsense that nobody should ever say out loud because the self-reflexivity completely undermines the point. I give a shit about so many things, feel passionately about a bunch of causes which I'll talk about without cynicism or an ironic twist in my voice. Yet I love irony, I love things even as I'm aware that there's a certain irony to my loving them. I love crappy book series from when I was in middle school. I love TV that's so bad it becomes beautiful again. I think that roses grow from shit and I don't even mind the shit from which no roses grow ever.

This drive to live more sincerely, more authentically, is a return to the 50s-and-80s bullshit of carefully defined personas and carefully prescribed social behaviors. It's so much more harmful than idiocy or irritation could ever possibly be, because it encourages people to avoid accepting and confronting parts of themselves. You don't drive others to authenticity by shaming them for doing the things they like. You accomplish the exact fucking opposite.

The tension between irony and sincerity, the recognition of the paradox between behavior and intention, belief and reality, is pretty fundamental to what makes us grow as people. People without a sense of irony legitimately scare me. And all the people complaining about this and that aspect of "ironic lifestyles" aren't complaining about irony, they're complaining about Loud People, or Garrish Fashion, or That One Kind Of Music. Might as well flat-out say what you hate, and accept the irony that you probably embody some of the thing that you hate more than you wish you did, and start wondering about the implications of that irony. Sincerity vs. irony is as much an us-versus-them paradigm as any other; it's funny that the people championing "sincerity" are guilty of precisely that which they think is so harmful.

(Funny isn't the right word exactly. But you and I know what the right word is without my having to say it. Also, for fuck's sake, how are we still discussing this in 2012.)
posted by Rory Marinich at 11:34 PM on November 18, 2012 [9 favorites]


Born in 1977, at the tail end of Generation X, I came of age in the 1990s, a decade that, bracketed neatly by two architectural crumblings — of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the Twin Towers in 2001 — now seems relatively irony-free. The grunge movement was serious in its aesthetics and its attitude, with a combative stance against authority, which the punk movement had also embraced. In my perhaps over-nostalgic memory, feminism reached an unprecedented peak, environmentalist concerns gained widespread attention, questions of race were more openly addressed: all of these stirrings contained within them the same electricity and euphoria touching generations that witness a centennial or millennial changeover.
translated: Kids these days just don't value the things I did in the manner I did, which, by virtue of us valuing them in a certain manner, have shown themselves to be the most important ever, which we of course valued appropriately.

This is very standard "we did it better in my era" stuff.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:37 PM on November 18, 2012 [7 favorites]


I'm not saying that the author's band is the most pretentious thing I've heard lately, but...

oh my fuck if every member of the decemberists had a mustachio'd evil twin it would be this band
posted by Rory Marinich at 11:42 PM on November 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


i'm in my 20s and i'm done with smugness and sarcasm but then again i don't really have the social class standing or money for it to benefit me

also mocking this person's band and their clothing and stuff is probably not the best way to look like you have a counterpoint
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 11:45 PM on November 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


At this point in life, I've learned that anyone who has enthusiasm about something is someone who should be listened to.

Sorry for the Godwin, but no. It's more complicated than that.

Case in point, Kurt Cobain's suicide. Man so "for real" he blew his own head off. Meanwhile, Tom Jones had a huge hit.

Irony isn't the problem. Irony is a symptom of trying to stay at least half-sane in the current apocalypse culture. You want me to live without irony? Start by banning all advertising claims that can't stand up to scientific rigor. Ain't gonna happen.

Which isn't to say EVERYTHING is bullshit, because it isn't. Again, it's more complicated than that ... or what naju said.
posted by philip-random at 11:54 PM on November 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


While I agree with the idea that irony as a mainstream worldview is on the whole destructive for society, I fail to see why an appreciation of homebrewing or modern fashion is a bad thing. Want to ride a fixed-gear bike because you think it looks cool? Go for it dude. No one is stopping you (except the guy who wrote this article, apparently).

I don't live in New York or anything, but I have met people that could be called hipsters - and they are just snobby elitist douchebags by any other name. Those people have always been around. It's really nothing new.

But then again, I have met other people who could be considered hipsters and they are just young people that have modern tastes. Nothing wrong with that.
posted by o310362 at 11:55 PM on November 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


oh my fuck if every member of the decemberists had a mustachio'd evil twin it would be this band

I read that comic, it was drawn by the mustachio'd evil twin of Bryan Lee O'Malley.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:06 AM on November 19, 2012


I'm not saying that the author's band is the most pretentious thing I've heard lately, but...

needs more cowbell
posted by philip-random at 12:09 AM on November 19, 2012


All Cretans are Ironists. I am not a Cretan. Therefore, I can say, completely without irony, that this was posted on another SLNYTSunday. Or with, all things considered.
posted by y2karl at 12:33 AM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I just - if you need someone to tell you how to live without irony, I'm guessing you have some other pretty big issues that you might want to look at.
Which, ok it's a conceit - this fictional person she is speaking to whose life is loved only ironically - but I'm not always a hundred percent sure she sees it that way, if maybe she doesn't she actually is writing to a person who actually is living life ironically. Which (ironically living) is about the saddest fucking thing I can imagine.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:48 AM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Another one of these??

My new theory is this: that what she calls irony are things she literally does not get. Things that have at their core a sincere impulse but that, because they are expressed through pop culture and through references to and styles of other times, she sees only as ironic. She's out of the loop!

There's always a serious problem in these pieces with the definition of irony. I see a conflation of "ironic" with "self conscious." She clearly misses some imagined authentic time in her past (or the imagined authenticity of children or the unprivileged. ugh). All she sees now are people who think too much, who SEE too much. But that cat is out of that bag — we will from here on out see too much and think too much. We can't help but get that our identities are constructed and that context matters. That when we say that word here it means something different than when we say it there.

For a while that self-awareness was expressed primarily through irony. We liked bad things but only because they were bad. We didn't really like them.

That got old, though. That was ironic living and it was vacuous.

These days the pop culture we used to appreciate only ironically lives comfortably alongside our desert island discs on our iPods and Spotify playlists. We get that it's manufactured, that it's not authentic, but goddamn when Kenny G comes in at 3:47 in Last Friday Night it just sounds SO GOOD.

I think we have moved past "ironic living." We have discovered a love of life and of expression that does not rely on long-dead ideas of authenticity, but rather comes alive through our self awareness, through our references and our winky jokes and pop-culture t-shirts.

TL;DR

Show me an "ironic pop-culture t-shirt" and I'll show you someone who truly loves what's represented on same.
posted by wemayfreeze at 1:10 AM on November 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


Actually that Kenny G moment in Last Friday Night is a a great example to unpack. Complete self-awareness — they could've gone for some session sax player or Sexy Sax Man or anything. Choosing Kenny G (and of course him agreeing) signals their (and his) awareness of the … questionable … recent history of the saxophone in pop music. Acknowledging the context allows them to transcend it and incorporate the sax into a totally visceral, killer pop tune.

There is self awareness here, but I challenge you to find irony. My love of the song — and that moment in the song — is wholly unironic. It's a great moment! It's a great song.
posted by wemayfreeze at 1:23 AM on November 19, 2012


Yeah, I don't think that the criticisms of the author's dress/band/age/etc are really that useful, especially given that she spends a fair bit of time talking about her own tendency to give 'ironic gifts'. I'd rather have an article like this written by someone who's 35 than 65, if only because the younger person might be more familiar with the subject, but I'm sure Metafilter would hate them both equally.

Anyway. I'm curious why we've seen an upsurge in articles about irony, hipsters, and authenticism. I wonder if we're undergoing a post-election comedown where passions and sincerity are inevitably less present. Or maybe it's just a larger sense of lingering guilt - we're more aware than ever that things are bad in the world, and that irony (IMO, 'silliness' seems like a more honest and revealing term, both for the subject and the speaker) may be a way of avoiding our perceived lack of agency and understanding of how to tackle these very real problems.

Or maybe it's just random chance and people just had a lot of these articles saved up.
posted by adrianhon at 1:43 AM on November 19, 2012


I, too, exhibit ironic tendencies. For example, I find it difficult to give sincere gifts. Instead, I often give what in the past would have been accepted only at a White Elephant gift exchange: a kitschy painting from a thrift store, a coffee mug with flashy images of “Texas, the Lone Star State,” plastic Mexican wrestler figures. Good for a chuckle in the moment, but worth little in the long term.

Weird. Some of my most beloved possessions are slightly ridiculous gifts. A huge theme mug. A figure from a Japanese vending machine. A jokey book about Cthulhu. Yeah, there is a wink in all of them, but there is also a record of friendship and an acknowledgement of taste. The feelings encoded in these mildly ridiculous things are as true as those buried in that first edition of Proust, or whatever.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:48 AM on November 19, 2012


Irony is cheap.

I can laugh at hipsters as much as the next person, and yes, Dr Freud, we can have a long discussion about irony as a protective mask or a gilded cage some other time.

By seeking out what is uncool and unloved and unnoticed and refashioning it as a statement of intent, hipsters are using what their time and lack responsibilities to convention to their advantage.

Irony is cheap. The things hipsters covet are out of the mainstream. In virtue of that they are cheaper. This is why stupid haircuts and facial hair make such a big showing: they are, all things being relative, cheap. The moment things are picked up by early adopters, they appreciate in value. See: Williamsburg, fixed wheel bikes, tight fitting brown trousers etc etc.

Yes, there are "hipsters" who live in loft apartments and drive Macbooks. But are they hipsters or just wearing the window dressing of one? We use the term to describe all manner of tribes, and people of all ages. This is a mistake. These people are not hipsters.

The old joke about the hipster goes like this: why did the hipster burn his mouth? Because he was eating pizza long before it was cool. At the risk of invoking the no true hipster rule I would argue that true hipsterism is borne of economic necessity. It requires you to drop what becomes mainstream because the mainstream is expensive. It is a young man, or woman's game. We see peak hipster now because we are past midway of a large and unpleasant recession that has destroyed the short term economic prospects of millions of young men and women. Irony is a response to necessity. Embrace this tatty, unfashionable shit as if you love it.

I would argue that being a hipster is exhausting, and that in order to keep playing the game you have to drop what you love long before it becomes mainstream. Walk away. Sell high, buy low. If you can't do that, or don't need to do that then you will become like the rest of us: still kidding ourselves we're not getting old and boring while our music tastes calcify and we secretly wonder how the kids of today can dress like that.
posted by MuffinMan at 2:12 AM on November 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


Oh and insofar as this mentality ever existed at all, it was much much more a hallmark of '90s "alternative" then 2010s "hipster-ism."

Indeed. Some might even say that "What's the frequency, Kenneth?" was their benzedrine.
posted by dephlogisticated at 2:12 AM on November 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


still kidding ourselves we're not getting old and boring while our music tastes calcify and we secretly wonder how the kids of today can dress like that.

Personally, I am waiting for the coming fad in Non-Euclidean clothing* when we old people can wonder openly how can the kids of today dress like that? Those skinny pants? They are so skinny that they are single sided! And that outfit? It's an obtuse skirt, but it acts like a cute dress!

*And, oh, those times are coming; it has been written in the forbidden pages of the Necroyouthcultureicon!
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:55 AM on November 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Okay, but look at bronies.
The thing there is, these are men who like a tv show for young girls. On first glance you'd think "Oh, they're ironically enjoying this thing", but that's not the case. The thing is, it's genuinely a pretty funny and well written show.*
Bronies are aware of this, and are also aware of how it looks so you get this self-conciousness that says, yes we like this, and yes, we know that it is not for us that on the surface looks like irony, but actually isn't.

I'm not sure there is a better example of how genuine liking of a thing can look ironic, but genuinely isn't.



* not a brony, but I did watch a bunch of MLP:FiM to see why the brony love, and yes, turns out it's pretty ok.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 3:01 AM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have to admit, I'm a little baffled by the use of irony in the article's description. What she seems to mean by it is sort of a detachment combined with humor - I suppose giving a gift that you don't really like to show you like someone could be ironic? - but about the kitchiest thing I own is my Freud Action Figure, and you can pry him from my cold dead fingers; the friend who got him for me (and I wish to the gods he'd been able to find Jung, too) showed just how much he knew about me by knowing that analytical psych + action figure = Very Happy Deo. Kitchy, yes, but a kitch that would only work due to someone really knowing me, and thus there's no irony in it at all - it is exactly what it says.

I can't help but think of my favorite play by Wilde, An Ideal Husband, where the protagonist spends most of it talking about how he doesn't work a jot or care about anything while frantically bouncing around trying to help the people he loves (a delicate bit of dramatic irony, if ever there was) and wonder if this is the position being expressed less adeptly in the article; that the writer wishes for the courage to give up the pretense of not caring; lacking her dramatic actions, though, I can't tell if her statements are ironic or accurate.

I don't know... I feel like I'm missing a piece somehow. I adore irony and satire, but I frankly don't see them much in popular culture. I see a certain amount of affected cool, and a whole lot of "if we lie enough it becomes true, right?" and a lot of "if you care too much that means you're WRONG" but not much irony. Irony requires a shared knowledge of what is true, and I think we're lacking that outside of small groups. I can be ironic with my officemates, but our gallows humor (yay social work) won't stand up much outside of the door because there isn't the shared references - it would quickly become offensive, not funny.

I will admit that only a handful of my clients can manage irony, though; if there's one place to be scrupulously accurate and honest, its with people who struggle with identifying shared reality. I'm at about my most sarcastic with one of my clients, though, who has had a passel and more of suffering, so I don't think her thesis that suffering and mental illness = so earnest and pure holds up very well to reality.
posted by Deoridhe at 3:41 AM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Save your sincere, non-ironic enthusiasm for a sing-along at a Christian summer camp.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 4:36 AM on November 19, 2012


Re: bronies: MY 5-year old boy loves MLP:FiM. He watches it on TV, on youtube, on my iPad, etc. The other day we were talking about his friend's birthday party, so I asked if maybe we should get him a MLP-themed present. He answered: 'no, he doesn't like My Little Pony, he's a boy'.
I don't think he was being ironic.
posted by signal at 4:38 AM on November 19, 2012


Irony requires a shared knowledge of what is true

that is the most benevolent way possible to put it
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 4:38 AM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


This article is fantastic, but I wish she had fleshed out her examples a little more fully. For example, she cites the grunge movement as "serious in its aesthetics and attitude." To really drive this home, she should have explored how the biggest song of that movement, Smells Like Teen Spirit, celebrates the vitality of youth without the slightest hint of ironic posturing. Or how the video for that song exalts the ultimate expression of naive enthusiasm, cheerleading, without mocking it in any way.

Later, she cites the New Sincerity movement, including Wes Anderson, as an attempt to escape the ironic paradigm. Unfortunately, she doesn't take the time to explain how Anderson is able to make, for example, an entire movie that is an homage to Jacques Cousteau, that is entirely free of kitsch.

I think there is some terrific original thinking in the piece, and we should all be more aware of how external appearance is key to understanding a person's attitude towards life, their ethos, in fact, their soul. I just wish she had unpacked some of the specific examples that would have shown this to be incontrovertibly true.
posted by snofoam at 4:50 AM on November 19, 2012 [22 favorites]


Control-F "Kierkegaard" reveals no matches.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:01 AM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


If irony is the ethos of our age — and it is...

Am I a truly gifted writer who is the first to come up with this bullshit? Yes I am.
posted by orme at 5:16 AM on November 19, 2012


I got bored reading this when I realized it was just a highbrow "kids these days" rant.
posted by rosa at 5:20 AM on November 19, 2012


Bra-vo, snofoam.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 5:25 AM on November 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I can't wait to find out what "we" think next!
posted by thelonius at 5:30 AM on November 19, 2012


hippybear: At this point in life, I've learned that anyone who has enthusiasm about something is someone who should be listened to.

What if I'm being enthusiastically ironic?


Well, of course I think Steve Martin is worth listening to....
posted by hippybear at 5:50 AM on November 19, 2012


I think I'm having the same reaction to this article that a bunch of people here had to the article by the religious young lady who just figured out why being pro-life is bad: Good for the author for coming to this realization and and writing it down, but it sounds like this is only a revelation to the author after being the worst example thereof.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 6:36 AM on November 19, 2012


It seems like she has a lot more problems with people being silly than she does with irony. When I think of irony as a cultural move, I think of people effectively pretending to enjoy or care about things when they don't really, as a joke. It's a way of doing something (often, but not intrinsically, silly), while winking at the fact that you're actually too good for it. To use an example from my own life (so I'm not projecting on to other people), in college my (now) wife and I threw an 18th birthday party for the Olsen twins. It was mostly in an ironic mode, neither one of cared about the Olsen twins or their birthday, but some people did, and we threw a party that was, to some extent, making fun of those people.

For all her complaints about people dressing in costumes* and posting silly videos on Youtube, I think that people actually enjoy those things. The guy in his 20s who dresses in spats does so because he likes how they look. You can think he looks like an idiot (Lord knows, I do), but he's not doing to make a joke about how people dressed in the Jazz Age. The only difference between this and any other faddishness in how young people dressed is that people draw on broader sources to determine what they like. In specific instances there might be a complaint about cultural appropriation (since so much of what she calls ironic culture is about borrowing), but young people borrowing fashions from other cultures is a tale at least as old as that time the Romans all grew beards, and it's not inherently ironic.

I have the same reaction to complaints about silly Youtube videos; people actually like silliness. It's not like there's anyone out there thinking Ha! Isn't it funny how people think I find cats in boxes cute? They actually find silly videos of cats in boxes adorable.

Her real issue seems to be that costumes and silly videos and watching old cartoons aren't serious enough (presumably unlike French literature). That seems to be more about a generational disconnect (which she's honestly a little young to be on the old side of) with younger generations finding plenty of meaning and otherwise serious content in overtly frivolous things. I guess you could see irony in the "let's have a philosophical conversation about R. Kelly" mode that's popular (at least in my house), but I think it's only there if you start out with the assumption that R. Kelly isn't worth having a serious conversation about, which isn't everyone's presumption.

*Around Halloween, my wife and I were at a local coffee shop/bar/diner/hipster spawning ground, the waiter was dressed in what we were 95% sure was a costume, but we couldn't be sure because "looking like Jimmy Hendrix" would be an unusual, but not unexpected mode of dress. My wife finally asked him and he answer was basically "yeah, but I had all this stuff in my closet anyway."
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:42 AM on November 19, 2012


Americans born in the 1980s and 1990s — members of Generation Y, or Millennials — particularly middle-class Caucasians, irony is the primary mode with which daily life is dealt.

OK, wait a second.

Why does the "hipster/irony" window keep shifting? I graduated from high school in 1987, and it wasn't long before these charges started being levelled at my generation. I identify with the term 'hipster' because it was first used about people my age. In fact, the first time I heard it in major media it was used to describe Kramer from Seinfeld as a 'hipster doofus' - and that was in 1993. Jedediah Purdy was making the rounds about his anti-irony book in 1999. There wasn't a current word for this sort of posturing in 1986 when Late Night with David Letterman was actually hip and this was their stock in trade, as this 1986 article, which I remember reading and admiring at the time, relates. And it's all basically an extension of Sontag's Notes on Camp from 1964. And I wouldn't be surprised to see it traced further back.

Irony, in its detachment and implied critique, is part of cool, and cool is an American cultural stance with deep deep roots. I agree that ironic behavior and expression is probably having excesses at this moment, and that when it is so ascendant it precludes sincerity it becomes a problem of discourse in the culture. All the accusations about what's wrong with being constantly ironic are true.

At the same time, I don't see the need to tie this critique all up in such a confused manner with mustaches and bicycles. Let's look at it for what it is: as an intellectual habit, it's not about fashion, and as someone with a sincere love for vintage shit and bicycles, I know that being drawn to that stuff is not always a product of irony. Let's look at the intellectual impact, and judge that by its fruits. I think that the clothing and style stuff has become a big red herring, and distracted people from the fact that ironic distance is now a major American characteristic, even at the same time that it covers up our continuing lazy big sloppy embrace of everything regardless, and that it has been for decades at least.
posted by Miko at 6:46 AM on November 19, 2012 [8 favorites]


Was JUST about to accuse this woman's opinions of being blatantly stolen from Jedediah Purdy ca. 1999 - Miko beat me to it. I also think the author's conflation of "hipster" and "irony" is lazy and ignores the sincere elements if hipsterdom and in general the complex relationship between hipsters and the quest for authenticity. Also, I am so fucking sick of talking about hipsters.
posted by naoko at 7:17 AM on November 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


the complex relationship between hipsters and the quest for authenticity

A good point, all that is really interesting.

I forgot to link the Kramer "hipster doofus" clip. I suspect this is a gif somewhere but couldn't find one. It should be.

Oh, here's something from the "camp/irony" interregnum - 1992 notes on "Cheese":
Hence, the bizarre popularity on college campuses today of television reruns of "Gilligan's Island" and "The Brady Bunch." The latter, a cloying, gooily sentimental sitcom from the early 1970's, has even spawned a stage show called "The Real Live Brady Bunch" (in which actors perform the original television scripts) that has enjoyed long runs in several cities and a book called "Growing Up Brady" (a Harper Perennial book by Barry Williams, who played Greg on the original television show) that has been on the New York Times paperback best-seller list for 12 weeks.

Other 70's phenomena that you thought -- or wished -- were dead and gone forever have also staged comebacks. The musical groups the B-52's and Deee-lite affect the kitschy leopard skin and leather outfits of the 70's while singing about hot pants and U.F.O.'s. And comedians like Barry Sobel use "The Brady Bunch," "The Flintstones" and "Hollywood Squares" as touchstones for their acts. Discos and leisure suits are enjoying a renaissance in Los Angeles; Karen Carpenter theme parties and lava lamp parties have become a college fad, and platform shoes and fishnet stockings have resurfaced on fashion designers' runways.
posted by Miko at 7:20 AM on November 19, 2012


Should all forms of irony be verboten, though? Is the poetic justice variation on irony bad for society and should it be expunged from our literature? Is self-deprecating irony, like pretending to be a bumbling idiot who doesn't understand how to read a simple map when you clearly do to get a laugh out of your kid, eroding the foundations of society?

Why don't we make some finer grained distinctions here. Isn't what we're really talking about not irony, but Kitsch, or maybe something like "reflexive mockery," or even disassociation?

It seems to me lazily overgeneralizing about things and ignoring nuance is as much to blame as "irony" for bringing us down.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:22 AM on November 19, 2012


I have an old zine somewhere (possibly it was Bunnyhop) in which Lisa Suckdog wrote a much more sincere and engaged version of this article wherein she basically talked about how she felt like she'd surrounded herself with hideous thriftstore art and done her hair in ways she hated and spent time in places she didn't like purely to prove some kind of point about ugliness and immiseration and she was going to stop doing that now, thank you. I think that was probably published in 1997 or 1998. I was kind of surprised to read it, as I'd always found her work genuinely repulsive and transgressive, and was surprised (maybe even a little relieved) that she yearned for, like, a tasty meal and a reasonably appealing haircut.

I think this is very much an "I am in my late twenties or early/mid thirties" article, precisely because that's when youngish bohemian types get some distance on their own early twenties and can see how easy it was to waste time being anxious and insincere and style-conscious in a pointless way. I think there's a certain percentage of young educated middle class bohemian types who really don't find themselves until around thirty, and a lot of those people spent their twenties being pretty miserable and worrying about performing bohemianism correctly. That was certainly the case for me - I had an unusually isolated, peculiar and (in a moderate way) painful and destructive upbringing and I really did not enjoy the punk rock/art scene I was part of in my twenties - I was so anxious and emotionally crippled that the best I could do was try to figure out what I "should" be doing. So when I look back, all I see is a kind of ironic/phony way of life - that's what I was living when I wasn't collapsed in misery. But that doesn't mean that plenty of my emotionally healthier peers weren't getting a perfectly sincere kick out of coffee and zines and shows and flannel and so on.

One thing I've definitely learned as I've gotten older: people lie far less than you'd think, and are far less insincere. Oh, everyone lies a bit about why they can't come to dinner or how their romantic life is, but as a broad generality, people who say they like bicycles at least think they like bicycles. It's possible that they only like bicycles because that's what their peers like, or they think it proves some kind of point, but they aren't just pretending to like bicycles because it is, in some loose sense of the term, "ironic".
posted by Frowner at 7:31 AM on November 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is clearly a diatribe against the fashions associated with hipsterism. How is a fixed-gear bicycle even ironic? It's not like riding a bike with a gigantic front wheel and tiny rear wheel from the 1800s. I'm not part of the fixed-gear bike culture, but I don't understand why these bikes are being construed as ironic.

Also, how does one dress in a way that will be construed as authentic by the author? Should I be purely utilitarian, seeking low-cost apparel based on comfort and usefulness? How can I do that without her assuming that I am deliberately expressing an "anti-style" viewpoint? Should I keep up with the popular fashions of my time and demographic (unless, of course, the popular fashion is "ironic" in some way)? What parts of my wardrobe are NOT "costume-like," especially compared to the "most pure nonironic models in life" that we see in nature?

In addition to using a very questionable and superficial set of irony-signifiers, she fails to show that irony is something to be avoided. Inside jokes and pop-culture references reinforce bonds between social groups and I'm sure we've been doing the equivalents since we started using language. How does the ability to appreciate (delicious) irony preclude enjoying life in ways that are non-ironic? Should we hate Mark Twain?

She seems to imply a series of fallacies that joie de vivre (say, wearing a flamboyant article of clothing) is the equivalent of silliness (a pejorative term to describe the same act), then signifies irony (the assumption that it was done to subvert the prevailing fashion) and then cynicism (the jaded negativity that prevents someone from appreciating the joys of contemporary fashion). She basically has taken superficial elements that she associates with hipsterism and concluded that they are evidence of terminal cynicism.
posted by snofoam at 7:35 AM on November 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


To her credit, though, her bitterness about things other people seem to enjoy seems sincere.
posted by snofoam at 7:39 AM on November 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


If there's anything I learned from the 90s, it's that virtually no one in America (Alanis Morissette obviously not excepted) actually seems to know what "irony" means anymore. Which makes me sad, as the ability to recognize and parse irony has historically been considered a key marker of human mental development.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:43 AM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


People actually live ironically, rather than just affecting it here and there?

20 Percent Of Area Man's Income Spent Ironically.
posted by acb at 7:56 AM on November 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also, when Beck's Mutations came out, I honestly believed that it was the opening salvo in a new romanticism that would follow postmodernism. Of course, I was young and naive. I don't think I could have predicted that mocking hipsterism would become a prevailing form of cynicism.
posted by snofoam at 7:57 AM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


If there's anything I learned from the 90s, it's that virtually no one in America (Alanis Morissette obviously not excepted) actually seems to know what "irony" means anymore.


It's when the actual meaning is the complete opposite from the literal meaning.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:03 AM on November 19, 2012


Seriously , Sidhedevil is totally right. This article is 100% "Get off my lawn."

It's a shame because there is an interesting conversation that could be had about the nature of creative definition of self given sheer weight of history we bear. Ironically recomposing the past seems like as good a tool as any to express difference while simultaneously conveying understanding of the past.
posted by ethansr at 8:06 AM on November 19, 2012


I think she makes some valid points about irony being an easy form of pre-emptive self-defense, and a lot of the tossed-off snark here just plays into that. Some of it is way off the mark, too -- I don't see anything about homebrewing or playing the trombone that makes them inherently ironic. Carrying around a trombone that you can't play, maybe, but I don't know that there are a lot of people doing that. I think it'd be difficult to actually play the trombone ironically, because learning to play it necessitates commitment. The ukulele would be much easier to play ironically.

This got me thinking that, along the same lines, physical fitness is inherently anti-irony. I think the aesthetics of hipsterism is often about projecting a sort of unintentionality, which again can be a defense mechanism, like the ironic gift-giving she mentions. And when applied to personal style, we often see signifiers of ugliness -- second-hand, ill-fitting clothes, "outmoded" hairstyles, etc., being re-purposed in an attractive light. But of course, the people wearing these things were never trying to be attractive, so there's no way they can fail. Likewise, the stereotypical skinny frame of a hipster, like the tight clothing which draws attention to it, seems intended to seem unintentional. It doesn't say "I'm careful about my diet," it says "I just ended up this way by accident because I couldn't afford or be bothered to eat." A physique developed intentionally during leisure time is scoffed at because it's seen as lacking the authenticity of one built from a daily life of manual labor -- but of course, hipsters generally aren't doing manual labor, either.

An active, sustained effort to develop one's physical capacity can't be ironic. A hipster can dress up in workout clothes that signify vintage-ness or sex appeal or machismo (Olde Tyme strongmen, Richard Simmons, bodybuilding t-shirts) to highlight the humorous contrast between the message of the clothing and the body wearing it, but that contrast would be lost if the body were actually athletic. The author says that plants and animals can have no irony, and hard physical training necessarily removes us from the realm of intellectuals and post-modernism and reminds us of the reality that the human is an animal. There is much kitsch that can be associated with sport and physical culture of various eras, but ultimately the body is ancient and timeless. There is no way to ironically lift 500 lbs. from the floor.

In other words, I could be a hipster if it weren't for my hypertrophied quads.
posted by ludwig_van at 8:07 AM on November 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


This thread seems as good as any to put this, so here:

I am sick to death of irony. If such a thing were possible, I would murder this concept in the face. I would shoot it twice, in the head, at close range, with a shotgun, then I would reload my weapon and shoot it again, just to be sure.

I am tired of ironic headwear: trucker hats, fedoras, trilbys, and those stupid fucking knitted or crocheted things that have cat ears or resemble a sock monkey.

I am tired of the ironic consumption of music, television, film, literature, and Pabst Blue Ribbon.

I am tired of people saying things like "I was into X before X was cool", or "I'm into Y, you've probably never heard of them," even if they say it as a joke. Especially if they say it as a joke.

I am tired, tired, tired of all the markers and signifiers of hipsters, the word 'hipster', and people saying that the word 'hipster' is meaningless.

What I would not give for the return of a little sincerity to this culture. Not authenticity, sincerity. Saying what you mean, and meaning what you say. That's all. No lies, no bullshit, no self-defensive posturing and distancing, just a little honesty, and a little commitment to whatever. Why is that so hard, now?
posted by KHAAAN! at 8:22 AM on November 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


"Furthermore, the nostalgia cycles have become so short that we even try to inject the present moment with sentimentality, for example, by using certain digital filters to 'pre-wash' photos with an aura of historicity. Nostalgia needs time. One cannot accelerate meaningful remembrance."

The belief that culture doesn't proceed straightforwardly, but spirals inward upon itself, and will soon end: Cataclism.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 8:22 AM on November 19, 2012


I read this in the Times over the weekend. I was ironically unimpressed.

My overall takeaway was that in 2012 it is possible to get hired to write a section lead article in the NYT on a irony as a dominant social mode, as a contribution to a series of "philosophy" pieces, without ever using--or apparently having ever heard of--the term "postmodernism."
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:23 AM on November 19, 2012


And I thought David Brooks was the worst thing in the New York Times.
posted by octobersurprise at 8:24 AM on November 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I am tired of ironic headwear: trucker hats, fedoras, trilbys, and those stupid fucking knitted or crocheted things that have cat ears or resemble a sock monkey.

I am tired of the ironic consumption of music, television, film, literature, and Pabst Blue Ribbon.


Can you explain why you perceive these things to be ironic? For example, I seldom drink PBR, but if I do it's because it's cheap and not terrible. I regularly drink Natty Boh, which fills a similar cultural space, but I do that because it's cheap and good for the price, and I like it. I don't see what's ironic about that. I don't like it enough to buy a t-shirt advertising the fact, but I know people who love cheap beer enough to do that and they're not being ironic, they just really love Miller High Life or whatever.

Similarly, I don't wear any of those hats, and some of them I actively hate, but I hate them because I think they're ugly or out of place, not because I think they're ironic. Honestly, the fedora people seem mostly sincere in their desire for people to think of them at the type of person who wears a fedora. I guess I'm missing what you're seeing that makes you say "this guy's watching Ninja Turtles, must be ironic." I'm guessing he actually does like ninja turtles.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:31 AM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Another aspect of irony as pre-emptive self-defense via non-commitment that occurs to me is a particular fuzzy, washed-out, echo-y aesthetic that's been very popular with a certain segment of music listeners in recent years. It's certainly not totally new -- My Bloody Valentine started in the '80s, and had forebears of their own -- but the latest successful wave of it in the realm of indie-pop/rock struck me as particularly superficial. Burying everything under a layer of noise, like insta-gramming every photo, seems like a way to signify depth, meaning, authenticity, weight, etc., without having to earn any of those things. The listener is given the impression that there's something to dig for under those layers, some obfuscated gem of truth, but often it seems that impression is all that's there.

Just coming out and saying what you mean to say, simply and directly, unobscured by filters and noise, is a lot scarier and more difficult.
posted by ludwig_van at 8:33 AM on November 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


In Japan, during the Edo period, there was an entire school of red lacquer-wear that was intentionally worn to display the black undercoating, in imitation of much older red lacquer-wear that had been worn down over time.

None of this is in any way new or unique to hipsters.



And no, she needs to get off my lawn.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:37 AM on November 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Another aspect of irony as pre-emptive self-defense via non-commitment that occurs to me is a particular fuzzy, washed-out, echo-y aesthetic that's been very popular with a certain segment of music listeners in recent years. It's certainly not totally new -- My Bloody Valentine started in the '80s, and had forebears of their own -- but the latest successful wave of it in the realm of indie-pop/rock struck me as particularly superficial. Burying everything under a layer of noise, like insta-gramming every photo, seems like a way to signify depth, meaning, authenticity, weight, etc., without having to earn any of those things. The listener is given the impression that there's something to dig for under those layers, some obfuscated gem of truth, but often it seems that impression is all that's there.


That sounds to me like a variation of Searle's Chinese Room fallacy, only rather than appealing to the anthropocentric prejudice that “don't be ridiculous, the whole room full of papers can't understand Chinese”, it appeals to a similar prejudice that the totality of the layers and the interplay between them cannot constitute a musical/aesthetic element in themselves.
posted by acb at 8:37 AM on November 19, 2012


It's possible to ignore hipsters and live a happy and fulfilled life. She should try that.
posted by tommasz at 8:40 AM on November 19, 2012


What I would not give for the return of a little sincerity to this culture. Not authenticity, sincerety. Saying what you mean, and meaning what you say. That's all. No lies, no bullshit, no self-defensive posturing and distancing, just a little honesty, and a little commitment to whatever. Why is that so hard, now?

You're not alone, and it has been suggested by commentators that this is a dominant strain with post-hipster era Millennials. In September, a Slate column went so far as to despair of it, and call for a return of sarcasm. Here's an (ASU) student newspaper article from last month on the hybrid of 'The New Sincerity' and 'YOLO.' Of course, that could be a wildly premature reification of generational identity resulting from earlier and wider exposure through social media etc--the same changes that supposedly create the urge for greater sincerity and lead to oversharing and so forth. Captured early enough in its genesis, youth culture of any generation is going to come across as naively earnest on some level, whether courting disaffection or sincerity. So it will be interesting to see how that inclination develops.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:45 AM on November 19, 2012


acb, I'm not saying that lo-fi/reverb/noise is not a valid aesthetic or that it can't be used in the service of good art. I'm saying that I think there's been a recent trend, somewhat analogous to the popularity of instagramming alluded to by the author of the FPP, of using that aesthetic in the service of commercially-successful-despite-being-bad art, and I'm speculating that that's because of the way it can allow an artist to give the impression that he's doing/saying more than he really is. I think it can be, but is not inherently, an easy way of suggesting depth and meaning where there is little.
posted by ludwig_van at 8:48 AM on November 19, 2012


It's possible to ignore hipsters and live a happy and fulfilled life.

Not only that but better: it's possible to ignore the self-obsessed and obnoxious components of hipster culture while enjoying the products and services that they help sustain, or re-create a market for, and so live a happier and more fulfilled life.

Hopefully they won't stop supporting small, traditional artisans, producers etc. once they get tired of ironic t-shirts, (hopefully) get better jobs, generally get older and confront not being cool anymore and so forth.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:53 AM on November 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think it can be, but is not inherently, an easy way of suggesting depth and meaning where there is little.

One could just as easily turn this argument around, and make a case that stripped-down recordings where each instrument is unadorned by processing are an easy way of suggesting, let's say, venerable heritage or old-timey authenticity or gravitas.
posted by acb at 8:54 AM on November 19, 2012


acb, that isn't a dichotomy I intended to suggest, and I'm certainly not proclaiming the superiority of stripped-down, unprocessed recordings. But I'm not interested in arguing about it, so I will leave it there.
posted by ludwig_van at 8:58 AM on November 19, 2012


It's when the actual meaning is the complete opposite from the literal meaning.

Most of the time, but not always. See also "poetic justice" (when, say, some story about an evil CEO who spent his life denying sick leave requests to his employees ends with his catching a fatal bug from an employee who came into the office sick).

And there are different modes in which irony is used. It's not always cynical to be ironic, because one common use of irony is to be self-deprecating (as for example, when someone jokes about what a dummy they are when everyone knows they aren't a dummy at all).

People often like to say "that's sarcasm, not irony," but that's kind of silly, because really sarcasm is just a special case of irony. Satire is a literary form dating back to antiquity that makes use of lots of irony to lampoon something. Are Aristophanes, Twain and Swift to blame for the contemporary American cultural decline? No they are not.

The point is, it's not "irony" that's at the root cause of these complaints. From what I can tell, it's something more like disaffected cynicism, or even more accurately, pathological disassociation.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:00 AM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


What is the purpose of sincerity? What weight does it offer to an incorrect or wrongheaded opinion? When I think of the most sincere people I know, I think of conservative Republicans, fundamentalist Christians, and that weird breed of businesspeople who have "drunk the kool-aid" and stand pat with the corporate line. None of these people are people I respect or wish to emulate. What is it about "sincerity" that seems so important?
posted by sonic meat machine at 9:01 AM on November 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


One could just as easily turn this argument around, and make a case that stripped-down recordings where each instrument is unadorned by processing are an easy way of suggesting, let's say, venerable heritage or old-timey authenticity or gravitas.

viz. The Trinity Session:

The Trinity Session is a 1988 album by Cowboy Junkies, their second album.
The music was recorded at Toronto, Ontario's Church of the Holy Trinity on November 27, 1987, with the band circled around a single microphone.


One of my favorite albums.
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:01 AM on November 19, 2012


I am sick to death of irony. If such a thing were possible, I would murder this concept in the face. I would shoot it twice, in the head, at close range, with a shotgun, then I would reload my weapon and shoot it again, just to be sure.

You are not sick to death of irony, as none of those things you describe are irony.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:01 AM on November 19, 2012


What is the purpose of sincerity?

I'm very sincere, and believe the purpose of actual sincerity is self-evident, yet I am neither a Republican nor do I ever fail to make use of irony as a literary device when given the chance.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:03 AM on November 19, 2012


the best part of the article is where she says that the only truly unironic people consist of very young children, holy rollers, the senile and... Hitler.

i thought the whole piece was ironic.
posted by ennui.bz at 9:05 AM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


saulgoodman - that's just the thing, though. Sincerity is a spectrum. Nobody is living a life of pure irony; they would vanish up their own sarcasm. People who are only sincere are probably living the most "authentically," and yet they are usually really scary to be around. I'm not saying that I am never sincere—in my work and my personal life I am a very sincere person—but that doesn't also mean I can't laugh at (rather than buy into) the company's "initiative to reduce meetings" (announced in a meeting).

Irony is a valuable and non-optional part of a vibrant intellectual life.
posted by sonic meat machine at 9:08 AM on November 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I am tired of the ironic consumption of music, television, film, literature, and Pabst Blue Ribbon.

What's so great about this manifesto is that it's written by someone named after an internet joke of the 00's that references a 1982 movie that relied on characters from a 1960's TV show.
posted by octobersurprise at 9:08 AM on November 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


Irony is a valuable and non-optional part of a vibrant intellectual life.

I completely agree. And it is literally true that, in the past, the development of a sense of irony has been viewed as a crucial step in higher human mental development, so to see modern intellectuals like Purdy and the author indiscriminately waging campaigns against irony is more than a little disconcerting. I think what's actually worrying them is something deeper of which the reflexive use/overuse of irony is only one possible (and convenient) symptom.

And pop-culture references aren't irony either; they're allusions. Are allusions evil, too? Will any literary devices survive the purge? What's next? Metaphor is the root of all evil?
posted by saulgoodman at 9:18 AM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


What I wrote was not intended as a 'manifesto'. I just wanted to say some things that have been on my mind for a while. Period.

I picked my screen name because I like Star Trek. Star Trek II is my favorite film of that series, and Khan was my favorite character from that film. You want to be smug and sneer at this old Trekkie for sincerely liking something, go right ahead.
posted by KHAAAN! at 9:22 AM on November 19, 2012


Honestly, I think all of this "I hate the ironic hipsters" business is motivated by fear - fear that someone might "see through" your own pretenses; fear that someone is having a better time than you; fear that you have invested your feelings (your sincerity!) into something that someone, somewhere might view as rather small and pathetic.

The thing is, a lot of people are all cathected onto this hipster thing - it isn't just "eh, people listening to Justin Bieber 'ironically' while wearing cat-ear hats - whatever", it's "I hate those people listening to Justin Bieber while wearing cat-ear hats". And that suggests that something more is going on than mere aesthetic choice.

I wonder - in my own case, I'm often threatened when someone else "acts like they are so special". This is distinct from "being annoyed because I am inconvenienced when someone does something thoughtless or self-absorbed". If someone is strolling down the street listening to her iPod while wearing a trucker hat and she steps in front of my bike against the light and I have to swerve, I'm annoyed for a couple of blocks. But that's different from the emotional investment when I or someone else goes off about how someone "thinks she's so special".

I feel like this is much more about how I feel very small, how I feel like if I claim to be "special" in any way or even valuable as a regular human being, I'll be smacked down. It's the feeling that "hipsters" are "getting away with" the kind of fun, indulgence, ease, or just self-acceptance that I would like to have but don't/dare not.

I think a lot of people don't like hipsters because they'd like to be hipsters - or like to be what they think hipsters are - and it's easier to hate "hipsters" than it is to accept the various possibilities that have been fairly or unfairly foreclosed in your own life.

I think it has a lot to do with how stupid and unfulfilling a lot of standard American-life things are. Seriously, if you could bike around all the time, wear precisely what you pleased and make your living doing something kind of intricate and fun - making necklaces, selling home-made sriracha, whatever - wouldn't you want to? If you could have a playful sensibility - and I think hipster "irony" is one way of doing this - wouldn't you?

And I think the stupidity and unfulfillingness of a lot of American life things is wrong, intricately bound up in contemporary capitalism, racism, inequality. Dealing with that either politically or emotionally is very hard - much better to say that the few people who do get to do pretty much what they want in life should not because they are "spoiled" and "ironic".
posted by Frowner at 9:25 AM on November 19, 2012 [8 favorites]


saulgoodman - I think that the problem is one that's been around for a while, but which isn't necessarily something that urban intellectuals are going to be able to spot: modern urban life is not a particularly positive environment for human self-actualization. In response to over-stimulation, we react with detachment. A form of low-level shock, almost. We become less "engaged" with the world around us because we must, because the world around us is filled with more information than we can process in detail.

Earlier this year I visited New York, doing the tourist thing and, to my surprise, found myself completely overwhelmed. I've previously traveled to other large cities, including (comparably sized) Saigon, and wasn't so affected—but Manhattan felt like an assault on my senses, completely out of scale with my previous experiences. I wonder, if I actually lived there (as opposed to 85th largest city in the U.S.), whether I would retreat into a shell of irony much as the "hipsters" have.

I offer no solution, of course; with the population growing as it is and urbanization patterns as they are I expect this to continue until we have a few more Manhattans in the U.S. I merely offer it as an observation.
posted by sonic meat machine at 9:29 AM on November 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think hipsters get a bad rap. Everyone assumes they only seek out antiques, etc., ironically, but a lot of them I know actually sincerely despise consumer culture/planned obsolescence/mass production and like to surround themselves with older, higher-quality items because they sincerely believe older things are higher quality and more stylish than the crap we consume now. (I've personally never been able to keep up with all the thrift-shopping, local grocery shopping, etc., and probably don't qualify as a hipster, but it seems to me the insincerity is often projected by others onto my friends and acquaintances who do...)
posted by saulgoodman at 9:30 AM on November 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


drjimmy11: "People actually live ironically,

No. Of course not. No one has ever lived in a way described in a NYT Style article.
"

Ironic, innit.
posted by symbioid at 9:45 AM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think a lot of people don't like hipsters because they'd like to be hipsters - or like to be what they think hipsters are - and it's easier to hate "hipsters" than it is to accept the various possibilities that have been fairly or unfairly foreclosed in your own life.

In the case of geeky or dorky people (like myself) I've wondered if some of the annoyance with hipsters is related to the 'fake geek girl' thing discussed here recently (excepting the overtone of misogyny)--resentment of popularization and mining or appropriation of one's subculture, here hipsters 'colonizing' the rewarding parts of geek/dork/nerd culture while still being part of the trendy crowd, or something like that. And I can imagine a lot of various usually-obscure subcultures having a similarly bemused reaction to being adopted by hipsters who may not be entirely Serious about Their Thing.
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:45 AM on November 19, 2012


You want to be smug and sneer at this old Trekkie for sincerely liking something, go right ahead.

There's no sneering, Wrath of Khan is my favorite Trek movie, too. But it's worth noting that you didn't choose "Khan," or "Khan Noonien Singh," you chose "KHAAAN!" That's not just an internet joke anyone nerdy enough to know who Khan is has probably encountered, it was already a pretty hilarious piece of scene-chewing back in 1982. My point is that A) in the 21st century, even someone who longs for sincerity tends to consume media in a consciously referential way and B) that it's possible to approach cultural productions in such a way and still have genuine affection for them at the same time.
posted by octobersurprise at 9:46 AM on November 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Show me an "ironic pop-culture t-shirt" and I'll show you someone who truly loves what's represented on same.

Well ... I have a lot of $1 T-shirt that I choose mostly for aesthetic reasons, and I rarely care what the subject matter is, e.g. several NASCAR shirts.

I would discourage thinking that people actually support the brands on the T-shirts they wear. I don't know how many Darrell Waltrip fans have come up to me when I have my Tide shirt on (especially, duh, when I'm in the US South), and I have to tell them I don't like Waltrip or NASCAR. I just like the color ORANGE. I also have several liquor-branded T-shirts featuring liquors for which I have little or no affinity. I mostly like the logos and colors.

Anyone who wears an Old Navy branded T-shirt MUST be doing so ironically. They MUST. LALALALALALALALALALALALALALALA.

I think hipsters get a bad rap. Everyone assumes they only seek out antiques, etc., ironically, but a lot of them I know actually sincerely despise consumer culture/planned obsolescence/mass production and like to surround themselves with older, higher-quality items because they sincerely believe older things are higher quality and more stylish than the crap we consume now.

Oh no. I'm in it for the pure kitsch. I'm not a hipster, but I aspire to be one someday. Why not? They are in the know.

I don't even know what this is about anymore: conscious referentialism? sarcasm? cynicism? or irony?

No one has ever lived in a way described in a NYT Style article."

Ironic, innit.


Perfect final thread comment.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:51 AM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


What is the purpose of sincerity?

I'm very sincere, and believe the purpose of actual sincerity is self-evident, yet I am neither a Republican nor do I ever fail to make use of irony as a literary device when given the chance.


Well, let's spell it out more honestly. To me, the purpose of sincerity is to establish a contract with your community/friends that you mean what you say, so that honest and positive communication and interaction can occur. It is a form of external honesty.

I don't think sincerity precludes sarcasm, irony, or snarkiness etc. As long as your indicators are consistent (i.e. people can tell which mode you using), I think it's fine to use many different modes of communication. We all contain multitudes.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:57 AM on November 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


Honestly, I think all of this "I hate the ironic hipsters" business is motivated by fear

See: "mimetic desire."
posted by mrgrimm at 9:59 AM on November 19, 2012


Hopefully, at this very moment, someone passing her in the hall at Princeton is telling her, "Oh my god, I love that blouse! The way you're playing with the stereotype of a young academic is so subtle and amusing."
posted by snofoam at 10:20 AM on November 19, 2012


Hipsterism: Look deep in the gearbox of these changing times, there is something revolving, turning, very very quickly, spewing out history and images and bits of the past or new ideas of old ideas, plastered onto every surface. The fucking rub: (caveat: to a young person, creating a self out of their environment and their invironment) to embrace impermaneance, surfaces, disposability, facility, etc IS AN AUTHENTIC RESPONSE to this oversaturated cultural environment. That is not an ironic response, irony is something very different. We may 'kids these days' such a response, but hey, they are the kids these days, that is what they get to do.
posted by notesondismantling at 10:21 AM on November 19, 2012



Oh and insofar as this mentality ever existed at all, it was much much more a hallmark of '90s "alternative" then 2010s "hipster-ism."


I've hinted at it already but it bears repeating. I've long connected Kurt Cobain's 1994 suicide (closely preceded by River Phoenix's drug fuckup demise) with an end to what I call "for real" (and thus, the whole grunge thing). Because, culturally, these two tragedies finally clarified the stakes. You want to be so fucking authentic you're beyond fucking reproach? You better fucking stop fucking breathing.

And meanwhile, the thing that was fresh and erupting in the zeitgeist (and even a little fun for a while) was the so-called cocktail revival thing -- smoking cigars, drinking complicated drinks, wearing vaguely sleazy yet suave (always pronounced "sssWave") outfits, listening to old Frank Sinatra and Amazing Bongo Band records. Hell, it was even cool to dig Neil Diamond's music again, and how is that not simultaneously both ironic and sincere, not to mention god damned beautiful at times?

Getting back to the article ... I can't help but think Christy Wampole just wants modern life to be less complicated than it is. She wants us (strangers to her) to just trust her implicitly when she gets all serious/sincere/earnest with her art etc. But therein lieth the problem (mentioned already in this thread) -- the genii is out of the bottle in that regard, the culture has seen where such unquestioned, unfiltered seriousness gets us ... and it's not a pretty (or even living) place.

This doesn't mean, stop taking anything seriously. It does mean, expect thoughtful, smart, sincere fellow humans to doubt your authenticity when you do. It's kind of their job.

Youth Against Fascism and all that.
posted by philip-random at 10:25 AM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was in 8th grade, and it was one of the first warm days of spring. Across the street was my neighbor, a brilliant professor, watering his plants in the silliest looking cutoffs and t-shirt imaginable. Despite being a cynical adolescent, I couldn't even muster a snarky thought in response. He just seemed at peace, free of the restlessness that would lead someone to consider how silly they might look. I thought that becoming a dorky-ass dad someday might be kind of great.

And now, it seems like the media and ostensibly credible publications like NYT are conspiring to keep this restlessness in my life. Even if the content is pro-sincerity, merely presenting it as an issue worthy of discussion feels like an invitation to prolong anxiety that people used to let go of in their 30s.
posted by yorick at 10:40 AM on November 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


In general, I'm with you here philip-random, but I never really thought Cobain was all that "for real," though. "Smells like Teen Spirit" was about as cynical and ironic (in the literary sense of the word) a song as you could ask for ("She's overboard and self-assured/Oh, no, I know a dirty word... Here we are now; entertain us. I feel stupid and contagious..."). I'd say the genuinely "For Real" stuff didn't even start again until Neutral Milk Hotel, and Mangum's still alive and kicking so far (fingers crossed).
posted by saulgoodman at 10:43 AM on November 19, 2012


So basically, we should all become Evangelicals and vote Republican. Fuck that noise.
posted by happyroach at 10:48 AM on November 19, 2012


Kurt Cobain wasn't too sincere for silly outfits - this one I think wouldn't look to out of place in some hipster settings today. Sure, you could probably argue that it's an important commentary on gender performance, blahblah (plus a Holden Caulfield people-shooting hat) but it's still, y'know, costume-like. I am baffled by the author's assertion that the 90s were so different.
posted by naoko at 10:59 AM on November 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Of course there is such a thing as a hipster. Hipsters affect whatever the fad is at the time. 20 years ago it was wearing flannel shirts and braided belts and listening to Soundgarden. Ten years ago it was a "mid-century" aesthetic and Thievery Corporation. Right now I guess it's clothes and facial hair styles popular a century ago and the kind of music they like at Ramen Music. Ten years from now it'll be something different. That's just how it goes.

Being hip, as in being in touch with current trends in fashion and music, has been a thing for almost a century in America. (e.g. Flappers, Bobby-soxers.) The term "hipster" itself referring to people who follow trends has been around since the '40s.

The so-called ironic mode of living however, is something that doesn't actually exist. I agree with Miko that this is just "being cool" which is merely an extension of being hip.
posted by ob1quixote at 11:38 AM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


>> Just wait until they have kids. Kids are a great cure for irony (them and old age).

I'm still up for a night spent on the couch having a chuckle at, say, Road House, but yeah...gradually throughout my '30s I generally lost interest in maintaining ironic poses. Part of the reason for this, I think, is that as I've gotten older I've learned to respect how god damn difficult it is to become really good at something, even if it's something I don't personally care for.

The first time I watched The Filth and the Fury (in 2000, when I was 27) I wrinkled my nose at all the '70s-era British entertainment the director intercut with footage of punk bands as an example of what they were rebelling against. The second time I watched it (last year), I couldn't help but notice that some of the performers (like this guy) are actually quite skilled. Look at his movements and footwork and think about all the practice and training that must have gone into his act. Is it corny? As the day is long! Would I want to watch an entire performance of it? Probably not! Am I interested in dumping on it simply because it's not my cup of tea? No, I am not.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:41 AM on November 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


unembarrassed seal-like clapping for things.

What are you trying to say?
posted by arcticseal at 11:52 AM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hipsters affect whatever the fad is at the time. 20 years ago it was wearing flannel shirts and braided belts and listening to Soundgarden. Ten years ago it was a "mid-century" aesthetic and Thievery Corporation.

55 years ago it was all about cock and endless balls.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:05 PM on November 19, 2012


Wizard People, Dear Reader ... ironic?

If that's wrong, I don't want to be right.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:19 PM on November 19, 2012


Of course there is such a thing as a hipster. Hipsters affect whatever the fad is at the time.

But which fad? Twenty years ago, were you a hipster because you wore flannel and listened to Soundgarden or because you wore cardigans and collected Sarah records or because you wore Docs and listened to Minor Threat or because you wore glitter and listened to DJ Keoki or because you wore cowboy boots and line-danced to "Achey-Breakey Heart"?

Thinking about this dislike of the spectral hipster, I'm reminded of the distrust earlier generations had for the bohemian class. What's interesting, though, is that where earlier bohemians were frequently reviled for living in poverty, the spectre of today's hipster is disliked for seeming to pretend to poverty. Either way, if you believe what you read in the press, it looks like the hipster is the only one left living up to her job of épater-ing le bourgeois.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:28 PM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Card Cheat: Johnny Lyndon is not saying he was rebelling against those guys, he's saying he was part of a music hall tradition of sorts there. He's being sincere! (He was rebelling against art rock, mentioned earlier. OTOH, I'd seen him mention Richard Burton in some movie--anyone remember?--as an inspiration, so maybe he's making some of this up after the fact, or doesn't remember or isn't aware of what started or came from where.)
posted by raysmj at 12:40 PM on November 19, 2012


where earlier bohemians were frequently reviled for living in poverty, the spectre of today's hipster is disliked for seeming to pretend to poverty

I see the same as true of the bohemians of the 50s, 60s, and 70s. And probably the 1920s. They were regarded as people who had other choices and opportunities, and chose to live as if they were poor. They were in many cases cash-poor. But that's quite a different thing from being poor in cultural capital.
posted by Miko at 1:20 PM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


> The Card Cheat: Johnny Lyndon is not saying he was rebelling against those guys, he's saying he was part of a music hall tradition of sorts there. He's being sincere! (He was rebelling against art rock...

Well, that's interesting...I just called that clip up without listening to it, but the way I remembered the film being edited was strictly old/uncool vs. new/cool.

The funny thing, though, about him saying that he was rebelling against art rock is that I've read interviews where he claimed to be a fan of Neu! and Can, both of whom were pretty "arty" (as were PiL, for that matter).
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:10 PM on November 19, 2012


I see the same as true of the bohemians of the 50s, 60s, and 70s. And probably the 1920s. They were regarded as people who had other choices and opportunities, and chose to live as if they were poor. They were in many cases cash-poor. But that's quite a different thing from being poor in cultural capital.

This is sort of what the "Joanie Phoanie" thing was about, no?
posted by naoko at 2:35 PM on November 19, 2012


Card Cheat: Hahaha. Maybe it depends on the week or time of day he's asked about things. (I suppose I just looked at it, and the previous thing I saw with Richard Burton or whoever--could've sworn it, was a quote from a big PBS history of rock 'n' roll a few years back, done by the late music writer Robert Palmer--as an acknowledgement that, yes, the Sex Pistols were show biz kids, in their own way.)
posted by raysmj at 2:41 PM on November 19, 2012


I have always liked this rundown of the state of irony by Zoe Williams in the Guardian.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 12:17 AM on November 20, 2012


Man, I wish I knew enough German to know the slang term for the Bohemians in Weimar Germany, as a lot of the same criticisms got leveled at them.
posted by klangklangston at 12:27 PM on November 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Is Our Retro Obsession Ruining Everything?, Lisa Hix, Collectors Weekly, 19 November 2012
In his seventh book “Retromania,” British-born rock critic and music memorabilia collector Simon Reynolds asserts that there’s never “been a society so obsessed with the cultural artifacts of its own immediate past” as ours. Of course, collectors have always been fascinated with antiques and objects from history. But now web archives like YouTube, Wikipedia, and Tumblr have made it possible for anyone to get lost reliving the pop culture landscape of their childhood. At the same time, smartphone apps like Instagram and Hipstamatic let us turn any new photo into a faded Polaroid relic from the ’70s or ’80s. Reynolds, who’s been a music journalist for 28 years now, is alarmed that modern musicians are obsessed with period re-creation and applying the sonic equivalent of Instagram filters to their albums rather than creating anything new.
posted by ob1quixote at 1:59 PM on November 20, 2012


Retromania's a great book.
posted by The Card Cheat at 5:21 PM on November 20, 2012


The concept of retro mania running in collector's weekly is very delicious since collector culture and retro fetishes ruining everything is a main fixture if The Man In The High Castle.
posted by The Whelk at 5:37 PM on November 20, 2012


Despite my critique of the FPP article, I agree there's a problem. And the retro-obsession/relative absence of real cultural innovation is part of it. The disassociation and aloofness we often seem to bring into our interpersonal relationships is too. I just wish we wouldn't lump all of that together and call it "irony" because that's not what it is. And because it seems to me that the imprecise, over-facile use of the language we use to represent abstractions is also a real (and maybe even bigger) problem in our culture these days.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:05 PM on November 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Despite my critique of the FPP article, I agree there's a problem. And the retro-obsession/relative absence of real cultural innovation is part of it. The disassociation and aloofness we often seem to bring into our interpersonal relationships is too. I just wish we wouldn't lump all of that together and call it "irony" because that's not what it is. And because it seems to me that the imprecise, over-facile use of the language we use to represent abstractions is also a real (and maybe even bigger) problem in our culture these days.

It's the invocation of symbols without us remembering what those symbols represent. A "dogma of consumerism", in a sense. Every thought, message, ideal, and statement gets pushed at us a thousand million billion times, and ultimately all the details, all the important parts, are worn away until what remains is the shallow universality that means jack shit on its own.

We flock to eras that speak to us without understanding what those eras mean. It's not just the hipsters and their retro 80s/90s obsession. It's the rock kids aping "classic rock" that used to mean more than a sound. It's romances that go through all the motions but are scared of the frightening love that birthed those motions in the first place. It's talking the talk but not walking etc. And it's a culture that's so hyperactive, so bombarded with stuff, that you can go twenty years before you realize that there IS something more to life, because nobody is telling you otherwise.

I still have friends who are just, like, incapable of sitting down and digesting a thought without trying to respond knee-jerkishly to dismiss it. Who'll only listen to what you're saying until they understand the gist of it, the important themes and sentiments, and then they ignore everything else, reduce you down to some simplified core that they've already formed an opinion on, and respond with whatever snarky dismissal they've been laboring on. That's how you learn to talk when you grow up reading and listening to scripts that've been shortened down to a minute and a half so we can get to the next action sequence, the next sex scene, the next slapstick portion. When your culture consists of soundbites and experts who try to condense decades of studying into a five-second pithy explanation.

I don't want to call that "hipster", because "hipster" as a concept is exactly part of what's wrong. When culture moves in fast forward kids grow up forgetting how to be anything other than fast. And incidentally, I'm not convinced that this isn't a self-correcting problem. I feel we're over a peak and now young people are growing more concerned with the shallowness of the symbols they've digested. But it's still a problem, and it has nothing to do with irony, and the fix isn't "sincerity" as an empty gesture. People who use Twilight sincerely as a model for their relationships still have a problem. The fix is an awareness of the unspoken, sensual, wordless aspect of ourselves, the part that can't ever be fully expressed and which is therefore vitally important to try expressing. You can't just dismiss that part because it's hard and expect it to disappear. Then you're completely ill-equipped to deal with the many problems that part of you delights in causing.
posted by Rory Marinich at 7:06 AM on November 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


In fact, if anything I think hipster-ness is a REACTION to that central problem, not the problem itself.
posted by Rory Marinich at 7:07 AM on November 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


The fix is an awareness of the unspoken, sensual, wordless aspect of ourselves, the part that can't ever be fully expressed and which is therefore vitally important to try expressing. You can't just dismiss that part because it's hard and expect it to disappear. Then you're completely ill-equipped to deal with the many problems that part of you delights in causing.

Not intending glibness here, but this is where psychedelics help. I was looking back through some old (thirty plus years old) notebooks the other day. It was a time when I was dropping a lot of acid, shrooms etc. It was amazing how often I'd come to the conclusion that " ... words ultimately fail." As they must. If you're not often finding yourself at that sort of vanishing point, you're not trying hard enough, you're not living hard enough.
posted by philip-random at 8:58 AM on November 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


The Atlantic - Sincerity, Not Irony, Is Our Age's Ethos: "A recent hipster-hating New York Times column got this pop-cultural moment exactly backwards."
It's obviously difficult—and arguably impossible—to define the ethos of an age. But that doesn't excuse Christy Wampole for missing the mark so dramatically. She let her distaste of hipsters—of which she makes no secret—blind her to the larger culture in which they exist. Those hipsters, with their funny facial hair and too-tight T-shirts, will grow out of the hipster phase and realize that their stable upbringing, college education, and life-long consumption of popular culture informed by the New Sincerity has made them well-adjusted and productive members of society. Maybe they'll even join us in scrutinizing the behavior of the next generation of hipsters. As for that next generation, I know that there's a good chance its members could shift back toward the ironic detachment that Wampole thinks she sees today. But let's at least recognize and enjoy this New Sincerity moment while it lasts.
posted by flex at 9:07 AM on November 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


flex, I liked that article much more than the one linked in the OP. Blake's dictum against generalizations still holds.

Still, my eyes narrowed as I read it. Defining the ethos of an era, particularly one still underway, is a mug's game. Those who attempt it don't even miss the trees for the forest, because they can't leave the forest to get a good look. It's too big even to explore. If, after a long walk, they see mostly elms, then they decide that the forest is an elm forest, even if there were far more maples and birches just out of their way. They may not even be able to identify the local flora, and they just say, "Look here! Trees!"

And I just don't know what Mr. Fitzgerald considers sincere.

Respected literary authors like Jonathan Franzen, Zadie Smith, and Michael Chabon write sincere, popular books with a strong sense of morality.

And the strong sense of morality is the worst part of their books. When he says "sincerity," does he mean "moralism"?

All across the pop culture spectrum, the emphasis on sincerity and authenticity that has arisen has made it un-ironically cool to care about spirituality, family, neighbors, the environment, and the country.

Apparently so. Is it insincere not to want a family? Is it inauthentic to care little for God or country? Why does caring about these things make someone sincere? If it's the caring only, then why orbit these subjects so closely in the rest of the piece?

It looks to me as though Mr. Fitzgerald has a book to sell and a pose to go with it.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 11:11 AM on November 21, 2012


I don't have a ton to add to the conversation (I missed this post on the blue but have read the articles and reactions elsewhere), and maybe it's my own poorly-chosen information diet, but it seems like every screed that rails against this article is obsessed with the term "hipster" and does nothing to address the meat of the article (the danger of excessive irony). I realize that she paints with a broad brush in the first few paragraphs, and I honestly read those and considered writing one of those screeds. But instead, I decided to read the whole thing, calmed down a bit, but I don't get the impression that other bloggers did that.

But yeah, this is the only online user-generated discussion forum I frequent that didn't completely devolve into "ZOMG HIPSTERS" immediately. (so thanks to you all and to the mods)
posted by antonymous at 2:41 PM on November 21, 2012


I still maintain it's not "excessive irony" that's the problem, but something deeper and more psychologically complex that the author conflates with "excessive irony" in a way that does a disservice to the problem (and to the sense of irony as an essential, healthy component of human cultural life and higher mental functioning). It's like saying someone who's bleeding to death has a problem with "excessive bleeding," while ignoring that the blood is merely the product of a serious wound and not a wound in itself.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:34 PM on November 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I just heard the author interviewed on NPR last night. I'm sure I would like her in person, but... She cited "that's what she said" jokes as a sign of our ironic and insincere culture. Really? No. Those are not ironic. Those are immature. And hilarious, at times. But no.
posted by maryr at 5:02 PM on December 1, 2012


Every period has been inhabited by those with a poverty of optimism, an alienation of their imagination from the zeitgeist of their times and an implicit fear and rejection of the now. The arbitrary periods of the 1980s/1990s that current "hipsters" ironically re-enact were replete with, at the time, clades of mainly youthful subcultures identifying strongly with clothing and fads of previous periods and thus easily recognisable and amenable to pre-packaged discussion tropes by the dominant media hierarchies of their time that enhanced their then-visibility but diminishes their current visibility. Our current hipsters too shall pass, their current ersatz ubiquity fleeting, easily forgot and destined to be discarded because, almost by definition, they stand outside what shall be commodified in two or three periods hence as *this period*. Who now remembers the 1980s Teds?
posted by meehawl at 5:12 PM on December 1, 2012


But sometimes optimism is a way easier sell than other times. In 1967, you didn't get much attention if you were young, dressed primarily in black, skulking in a corner, cultivating your depression. In 1987, there were clubs you could go to so you wouldn't have to do this alone. Seriously, optimism was a desperately hard sell in 1980s -- certainly anything approaching genuine. You had to be U2 with God almighty at your back to pull that off ... and even they wore black, waved a white flag of surrender, sang about apocalypse.

And then just as the decade was about to turn, things were suddenly coming up roses (the Stoned kind) and ecstatic -- no doubt drug related.

My point -- every period is not the same. The same moods are not prevalent. Different conformities rise and fall in direct relation to what's going on in the now (which is, of course, always to some degree in direct counterpoint/deflection to what was previously going on). The zeitgeist is not consistent. That's why it gets its own word.
posted by philip-random at 11:16 AM on December 2, 2012


On History And Irony
First, what the history of technology might have taught Wampole: The ascription of social values on the basis of material possessions is inadvisable at best. Historians of technology (and cultural historians) have long known that even a mass-produced object (“the fixed gear bicycle, the portable record player”) has multiple and layered meanings for those who choose to purchase it, or to whom life circumstances have brought that object. Why assume as Wampole does that any vintage mug purchased from a thrift store as a gift reflects its buyer’s insincerity and “existential malaise,” rather than a knowledgeable appreciation for the history of industrial design? For the varieties of vernacular expression in a capitalist culture?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:45 PM on December 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


... but it's so much easier to just generalize. and not just in terms of making your argument, but also getting it published in the New York Times with a tight little headline.
posted by philip-random at 5:09 PM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Slate: Authentocracy in America
I’m sure you’ve seen such pieces before: Paeans to honest dealing, encomia to loving the ones you’re with, to turning off your cellphone when you go a-mapling in Vermont. No sound is sweeter than the bark of a fox on a chilly morning while you drink that cup of Earl Grey, peering out of your bay window, etc.
I’ve heard foxes bark. What interests me more is why people keep writing these things. I’m subscribed to this mailing list, the Listserve, where once a day a person is selected at random to write whatever they want and send it to the rest of the list, its membership now numbering in the tens of thousands. And nearly every one of these emails ends up with someone telling a bunch of strangers to live, dammit. To love openly and dance like no one’s watching.
I’ve come to resent the Listserve. What’s with this innate assumption that everyone is living in some repressed nightmare? This urge to punish a mass of strangers with bromides that would test the patience even of the editor-in-chief of a fridge magnet company? From whence comes this desperate human urge to advise?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:43 AM on December 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


The issue is not just that we live in a branded world and crave the authentic, but that the nature of the "authentic" has become as fluid and reactive as the world of advertising itself.

As someone who's always loved disco, bubblegum pop, and indian pizza, I've never had much concern about authenticity. It drives some people bonkers. Yes, I will take ice in my cocktail. I don't get it. I enjoyed that article. Thanks.

one that makes sense within a cultural and economic context of recognizable and predetermined texts and values

I think about this issue regarding my young daughters oh so very much. It's enough to make you wanna homeschool/no school. Then, of course, you start to wonder how great your "predetermined text and values" are ... and maybe it's not so bad to expose your spawn to the grossly commercialized world at large. ;)

Nice links, tmotat. Thx. I think Slaton's really hits it for me in her response:

Projection abounds in the piece. What Wampole assumes to be clothing chosen by its wearer to be “deliberately ugly” may not in fact seem ugly to its owner; she declares it ugly and projects that judgment back onto the person she condemns for making that judgment. Similarly, individuals’ values regarding cost, spending and sustainability are rendered moot in Wampole’s selective interpretation of her subjects’ motives. Please, Dr. Wampole: see Susan Strasser on the diverse cultural meanings of household re-use

Exactly. How can she be so certain of motive, and how can she believe that the spectrum of motives is so small. Projection is the right word. Or another ugly P--provincialism.
posted by mrgrimm at 8:47 AM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


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