Irony requires an audience. If you listen to Taylor Swift when you’re by yourself, with no one watching you, you’re not doing it ironically. You’re doing it sincerely. This test does not work on the reverse case. If you’re dressed like this in front of your friends, you might be doing it sincerely. We can’t tell.
I think this is what bothers Aaron about hipsters, that everything becomes performance art. While most irony is about humor, the irony of hipsters is all about signaling. When Dan says we don’t know if we’re doing something ironically, I think he’s hinting at how hipsters, especially in their extreme incarnations, seem to have forgotten what it is they are signaling. It’s no longer a smart quip that signals their awareness of the absurdity of modern culture, it’s just signaling about signaling.
Whatever the case, you can’t signal to yourself, and that’s the bright line for irony.
That’s a good test, and good way to think about the problem. Hipsters are signalling without saying anything. The signal and the information are one and the same; by abandoning anything new or creative they’ve collapsed the whole idea that a means of communication is separate or separable from the meaning. There is nothing for them to say, but they’re constantly screaming. They have no identity apart from their signals, so in a real sense they may be signaling to themselves. They are signalling to have a self. There’s no there, there. It’s a crazed attack on the principles of creativity, individuality, achievement, and meaning. Hipsters must die.
Hipsterdom is the first “counterculture” to be born under the advertising industry’s microscope, leaving it open to constant manipulation but also forcing its participants to continually shift their interests and affiliations. Less a subculture, the hipster is a consumer group – using their capital to purchase empty authenticity and rebellion. But the moment a trend, band, sound, style or feeling gains too much exposure, it is suddenly looked upon with disdain. Hipsters cannot afford to maintain any cultural loyalties or affiliations for fear they will lose relevance.
As soon as there is any meaning to convey, as soon as something becomes useful for anything other than mere existence, or achieves any relevance beyond a nihilistic narcissism, it’s not hipster anymore.