November 18, 2012

“If irony is the ethos of our age — and it is — then the hipster is our archetype of ironic living.” And if think pieces on hipster irony are the obsession of our age — and they are — then this New York Times essay is our archetype of infinitely recyclable nothingness.

In this lotioned-up piece “How to Live Without Irony”, Christy Wampole fists forth yet another investigation into the meaning of hipster detachment, coughing out clouds of dust like a serial masturbator on the day’s fifth go-round.

“The hipster haunts every city street and university town,” she reminds us, setting the national media table for a series of hipster ghost trend pieces soon to come. It’s a meaningful analogy, however, since, like ghosts, hipsters are themselves opaque and intangible, so frequently leaned on for cheap folkloric culture scares that they’ve lost all sense of reality-altering import, and they don’t actually exist.

Hipsters, you may be surprised to learn, in the year 2012, are rather fond of nostalgia.

“Manifesting a nostalgia for times he never lived himself, this contemporary urban harlequin,” which, ok, that’s a pretty great phrase, “appropriates outmoded fashions (the mustache, the tiny shorts), mechanisms (fixed-gear bicycles, portable record players) and hobbies (home brewing, playing trombone). He harvests awkwardness and self-consciousness. Before he makes any choice, he has proceeded through several stages of self-scrutiny. The hipster is a scholar of social forms, a student of cool. He studies relentlessly, foraging for what has yet to be found by the mainstream. He is a walking citation; his clothes refer to much more than themselves. He tries to negotiate the age-old problem of individuality, not with concepts, but with material things.”

All of which is very well said, no doubt, and probably accurate, and yet still utterly pointless in the saying so. To borrow from Wampole’s description of meta-advertising, a piece like this “pre-emptively acknowledges its own failure to accomplish anything meaningful.” And, perhaps more to the point,  “No attack can be set against it, as it has already conquered itself.”

Elsewhere, we’re alerted to the existence of Instagram:

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.

Perhaps not. I do remember having read this exact same premise on at least two dozen occasions over the past few years though. I guess you could say I liked think pieces on what it means to be an ironic internet age consumer back before everyone else was writing them.

Her next point, on the other hand, is well-observed and probably can’t be stated enough. Among the social muscles we’ve fast-track atrophied in the digital moment she includes “the art of conversation, the art of looking at people, the art of being seen, the art of being present,” which makes me wonder how she knew I was reading her article, writing a blog response, watching football and grunting assent to vague human shapes attempting conversation across the room while I check Twitter. “Inwardness and narcissism now hold sway,” she writes. Thank you, I am pretty funny, it’s nice of you Bullett readers to notice. (RELATED: Here’s a picture of me in an American flag wolf shirt with the sleeves cut off where I look really good.)

What follows next is the type of hand-wavium decade retrospection so incomplete I’d be surprised to read it in millennial trapper keeper scratch pad Thought Catalog, and yet she and I are the same age. “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.” That’s a pretty blatant misreading of the 90s, not to mention disrespectful to tens of thousands of proto-irony think pieces on Weezer’s “Buddy Holly” and Pulp Fiction that gave their lives so we could blog today.

Irony, she goes on, represents our aversion to risk. Like, say, writing an article no one has read before?

“As a function of fear and pre-emptive shame, ironic living bespeaks cultural numbness, resignation and defeat.” True, perhaps, but no so much as having to read about it and punch up irritated bloggy reaction posts on the concept every couple of months for the rest of our lives.

All is not lost, hipster douches, for she concludes with some suggestions for trimming our metaphorical mustaches, most of which are actually pretty good suggestions in general. It amounts to this: stop doing things that you don’t actually like, and stop using hyperbole and derision as the default reaction to everything you encounter. I think I’ll start by not reading think pieces on hipsters anymore, even ones that, like this one, if I’m being honest, aren’t really all as bad as I pretended they were so people on the internet would know I was cool.

Follow Luke O’Neil on Twitter.

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