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Hipsters, irony, and lazy cultural critique


Since I’ve been cluttering up Erik’s facebook page with my thoughts on this dismal exercise in hipster-bashing, I thought I might as well blog it.

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.

What I categorically reject is that this has anything meaningful relationship with the aesthetic preferences of alleged “hipsters.”  This piece, rather than taking aim at substantive, concrete examples of excessive, depoliticizing irony, chooses focus on the relatively innocuous aesthetic markers of alleged ‘hipsterdom’. Perhaps because I spent over a decade of young adulthood in a notoriously ‘hipster’ city, I know these people, these wearers of trucker hats and lovers of kitsch, as friends and students. And what’s obvious to me is that lots of people whose aesthetic tastes, in dress, taste in inexpensive gifts, and facial hair, are every bit as capable of appropriate and necessary sincerity and commitment as anyone else. Indeed, in general the dread “hipster” of essays like this always feel like absurd abstraction to me, drawn more from stereotypical characters from popular culture than actual people. The alleged meaning associated with personal style here diverges so greatly from my lived experience that shines a light on the overreach in the essay, the effort to make a bunch of loosely or unrelated phenomena fit together seamlessly, in a way that serves the author’s agenda.

This moment rather nicely captures the absurdity (and, frankly, offensive stereotyping) of the project:

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?

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.

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