My friend and colleague Dan Rothschild often argues that irony is not ironic. It’s now the de-facto standard.
The line between sincerity and irony, at least for a certain segment of the Gen X and Gen Y set (read: hipsters and fellow travelers), has more or less disappeared. . . .
Because I have broken down the wall between sincere me and ironic me, I can like shows like Glee — which is silly, predictable, and as camp as a row of tents — and silly Europop and 80’s power ballads — without secreting them away as what we previously would have called “guilty pleasures.” The same goes for 30 Rock, another show conceived and executed with a Jimmy Fallon-esque degree of self-awareness. And my two Twitter respondents can think I like the show either ironically or sincerely, depending on how they choose to interpret it.
The result is an increased freedom to like what we want, regardless of social norms or fads — and an increased willingness to share our tastes with the world. The shield of irony allows us to expose our real likes and dislikes; people who question our tastes can write it off as irony. What’s fun is fun, whether it’s trendy or culturally significant or otherwise. The irony shield allows us to embrace anything and everything that we find fun, other people’s opinions be damned.
I am, unfortunately, a fellow traveler with hipsters. I loathe their very existence. Critical analysis of hipsters is pretty entertaining, but the most offensive thing about the hipster jena se qua is how it reduces everything to a personal signifier of coolness. Hipsters annex everything they touch into into a new part of themselves, robbing it of an independent existence or meaning beyond how ‘cool’ it is. They celebrate the self at the expense of all else; coolness as the only measure of worth. As a cultural movement, it is derivative, shallow, aggressively narcissistic, and embarrassingly banal.
Our own Mr. Fantastic is quite often mistaken for a hipster. On the surface there are many similarities. He likes music and art to a similar degree, he owns many vintage t-shirts, and he wears skinny jeans. He even rides a bike. But he isn’t a hipster.
– He wears skinny jeans because he is, in fact, skinny. He isn’t a fat guy with an unkempt beard crammed into his girlfriend’s jeans. He wears jeans appropriate in size and cut to his body.
– Vintage t-shirts are cool. Hipsters nailed it. Even a broken clock forged by a rape-demon in hell is right twice a day.
– Music and art are not merely vehicles of cool. That may be their least useful aspect. They are, instead, pathways for creatively conveying meaning, for recognizing and applauding our shared unspoken humanity. Using these forms primarily to justify your own existence is offensively myopic.
– His bike is not a fixie. It’s a bike that is useful for moving one cheaply and efficiently from place to place, and not primarily as a fashion statement.
Mr. Fantastic is no hipster, because he genuinely enjoys these things. He respects music and art and bikes and photography in and of themselves, not for their value as some gaudy apparel. He finds pleasure in them from their own nature, not because of how it reflects on him.
One of the reasons I’m a libertarian is that the world is infinitely rich and complex. There’s all kinds of threads of meaning winding through even the most basic events or decisions. Hipsters’ refusal to see beyond their own self-image deeply offends me.