I know what you’re thinking: people are still writing anti-hipster articles? Yes, they are. The New York Times has published an op-ed by Christy Wampole, a French professor at Princeton, called “How to Live Without Irony.” The illustration for the article is a young man and woman both wearing, it is implied, ironic Justin Bieber t-shirts (pretty sure my appreciation for the Biebs is post-ironic, but OK).
Wampole sees irony as the ultimate culprit, as much as she detests hipsters. People are living ironically, she claims, which means never taking the risk of wearing, speaking, or doing anything in earnest. We have entered an age of what she calls Deep Irony (I’ll be honest, I immediately thought of Death Grips’ “NO LOVE DEEP WEB” album).
The symptoms of this irony are awkwardness, self-consciousness, “outmoded fashions,” “rampant sarcasm,” “unapologetic cultivation of silliness.” It is a self-defensive mode, Wampole says, because the ironic mode is a shield against any criticism.
Wampole’s damning conclusion: “People may choose to continue hiding behind the ironic mantle, but this choice equals a surrender to commercial and political entities more than happy to act as parents for a self-infantilizing citizenry.”
I’ve never understood why people see hipsters, as they are conventionally defined, as an isolated monstrosity in the history of society. I feel like every social group is somewhat fueled by attempting to fit in and be liked according to the values of that group. If your group’s values are self-consciousness, dandyism, and a certain type of humor, then that will dictate behavior in the group. The same goes for every other group but with different values.
If I was writing a manifesto-esque op-ed calculated to provoke debate, I’d attack Snark. Snark is the great toxic force in modern society, I’d say. To me, snark is much more harmful than irony. Irony is in the name of humor, silliness, and self-awareness, not things I find inherently bad. If you’re being ironic, you’re trying to be liked, you’re trying to fit in to a certain social group. Snark, on the other hand, is in the name of smug superiority. If you’re being snarky, you think you’re better than who or what you speak of. Not only are you not being earnest, but also you’re exuding contempt for everyone and everything around you, which kind of puts the kibosh on meaningful connection with others.
I value earnestness, but I don’t think sincerity is necessary to reach an earnest place. If you earnestly like being ironic and relating to other ironic people, that can be just a different means to earnest connection. Which brings me back to post-irony. I’d like to see a New York Times piece on post-irony, instead.