Three questions, open book:
1. Did Hipster Gerry get his money’s worth from the University of Chicago, either $100k in future income or knowledge? No.
2. Did society get their money’s worth in sending him, i.e. by permitting/facilitating the diversion of his intellect into whatever it was he majored in? No.
Neither of those questions have the force to change reality. This one does:
3. Did the University of Chicago get their money’s worth out of him, was $100k worth the dilution to their brand? No.
Universities are going to need to differentiate themselves as something more than a processing plant for future consumers of Chinese textiles, local produce, and California pornography. But that time is a long, long way off. What can universities do in the meantime, to keep up their brand in the face of thousands of product recalls every year?
Time for the go team: The New York Times.
The NYT has an article criticizing hipsters. How much would you pay for such an article? (NB: you paid zero for mine.) That’s a legit question, not “you get what you pay for.” Ten cents? A dollar? Remember that figure, we’ll come back to it.
This is how the article begins:
If irony is the ethos of our age — and it is — then the hipster is our archetype of ironic living.
If your reservoir for archetypes goes back only one generation, you need your eyeball scanned, you’re probably a replicant. Keep that in mind, we’ll come back to it, too.
The ironic frame functions as a shield against criticism. The same goes for ironic living. Irony is the most self-defensive mode, as it allows a person to dodge responsibility for his or her choices, aesthetic and otherwise.
So this is true, but that’s the secondary purpose of irony, not the primary purpose: in exchange for this self-defense, it puts all of the ironist’s energy in the service of the thing it is defending against; that while he affects a distance from “all this”, he participates 100% in it. However much the “not corporate” hip coffeehouse needs the barista’s extensive roasting knowledge or values the ambiance he creates with his MFA and thoughts about 2666, it is way more than the $7/hr no benefits it is paying him, but they got him, making skinny lattes for an organ donor in a light blue North Face coat while he and his Julliard buddy Garf roll their eyes disdainfully when she asks for two Splendas. “You’re saying he’s underpaid?” Yeah, but not the point, the point is why does he accept it? It’s only because he can roll his eyes about how mainstream she is that he stays, it offers him a perch from which he is better than her, while simultaneously and no less ironically, this woman thinks she is better than him because she’s on the correct side of the counter and her husband works on Wall Street. In math terms, the difference between what he is actually worth and the amount he is paid is how much he values feeling superior to MILFs.
Or, if I can be permitted a judicious use of psychoanalytic jargon: it’s the rationalization that allows you to blow a guy you can’t stand, “I hate him but I’m going to make him cum so hard he’ll just want more of me, which will be his punishment.” Let that analogy sink in for a moment. From his perspective, not only did he still get blown, he liked it even more. NB: in this analogy, the guy is capitalism and you’re not.
Christy Wampole is an assistant professor of French at Princeton University, so right away you should be suspicious of her allegiances, so I figured this was just another NYT hit piece for its overeducated and overpaid demo. But then this happened:
[The hipster] is merely a symptom and the most extreme manifestation of ironic living.
Hold on, something is amiss. There’s a gigantic difference between an “archetype” and “merely a symptom”, e.g. one is cause and the other is effect, and for a Professor of Confusing Words it’s a big mistake to make– especially when it’s been reviewed by the editor at the NYT. It’s about as big as missing the primary purpose of irony. Cause, or effect? They are almost opposites, which means she wants them to be the same, which makes this evidence of a defense. So this article isn’t simply “kids today are lazy.” There’s something else happening:
For many Americans born in the 1980s and 1990s — members of Generation Y, or Millennials — particularly middle-class Caucasians, irony is the primary mode with which daily life is dealt. One need only dwell in public space, virtual or concrete, to see how pervasive this phenomenon has become. Advertising, politics, fashion, television: almost every category of contemporary reality exhibits this will to irony.
“Will to irony” may mean she’s an idiot, and if this were true I could happily close my computer and buckle down to another night of alcoholic hallucinosis, but she’s not an idiot, she’s probably smarter than me, which means something far more sinister is going on: conflating the irony of the kids with the irony of the “public space.” Who does she think made the public space? 20 somethings? Who is running the advertising agencies? Who is running for politics? How old is every legit fashion designer? Who is responsible for the human rights violations of the ABC Network? She’s not decrying the hipster generation, she’s describing hers.
Here is a paragraph so preposterous I was sure this was a McSweeny’s gag. But she didn’t mean this to be ironic, which is itself ironic, good luck not laughing:
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. The grunge movement was serious in its aesthetics and its attitude, with a combative stance against authority, which the punk movement had also embraced. In my perhaps over-nostalgic memory, feminism reached an unprecedented peak, environmentalist concerns gained widespread attention, questions of race were more openly addressed……
“Relatively irony-free! Architectural crumblings! Socially conscious! Bosnia Herzigova or whatever!” I realize Aspirational 14% wants their beloved 90s to be about something more than just bicuriosity and JDSU, but I was there, it wasn’t. Anyone who thinks the grunge movement was “serious” and “combative” and who thinks feminism “reached a peak” also thinks The Hunger Games was a step forward for women and 50 Shades is poorly written “but still hot.” Just because you call yourself a progressive or a feminist, doesn’t make it true, your progressive passions may end up setting women back five hundred years– that’s right, 500 years. Even 200 years ago Catherine took power away from her husband and became something great, Walpole’s is the generation that admires Hillary Clinton as a female role model, not because she became Secretary of State, but because she stayed with her husband so that she could become Secretary of State. Read it again if you didn’t get it the first time, it’s important. I forbid you from having daughters. Or oxygen. I know, I know, I don’t have any real power, but maybe someday a man will give me some.
When someone hates something that to outside observers looks exactly like themselves in every way, you should quickly consult a French book to see if they don’t have a word for that phenomenon, and they do, it’s called projection.
Before you nod and use it to hate on her, you should understand what projection is. It sounds like you project unwanted feelings onto another person, which is both wrong and impossible. It’s not an action, it’s a problem of perception. The unwanted feelings don’t make sense coming from someone like you, so you conclude they must be coming from the other person.
To use the frequent example of “homophobia”: a guy feels gay impulses and can’t “handle it” but he doesn’t get rid of them by putting them onto someone else, he confuses them as coming from someone else. He smells gayness, “Where is it coming from? Me? Impossible! Jesus washed my feet. Must be that guy.” Sorry, wildman, whoever smelt it dealt it. Projection is the most primitive of defenses, circa age 2, and the description should make it clear it is a narcissistic defense: one’s perception of the world is inextricably, concretely the result of one’s inner states. There is no “objectivity” possible.
The purpose of projection is not to get rid of the feelings, but to explain their presence, to defend the self against a label: “I’m not gay….. even if I have gay sex once in a while.” The point isn’t to avoid gay sex, the gayness isn’t intolerable to them– e.g. observe the high hat Christians caught in various rest stops across our land– but even thought they’ve committed the act, it doesn’t affect their identity.
My use of gay as an example is unfortunate because half of you will see “gay” as “bad,” but the projected impulse doesn’t have to be “bad”, merely incongruous to the desired identity that you are trying to solidify. If you doubt this, consider the sullen engineering student at a party, “I’m not like these superficial sorority girls with perfect smiles and condomless sex” who then perceives great happiness in these people.
You could be happy, too, dude, if you weren’t so invested in not being happy. If you want a partial understanding of why 19-21 Saudi/Egyptian terrorists could live in America and enjoy our strip clubs but still want to crumble our architecture, there you go.
The article continues with a “nuanced” criticism of irony and the hipster mindset, and then towards the end she tries a reversal, but it’s a trick, not because it’s not genuine, it is, but precisely because it is genuine:
Obviously, hipsters (male or female) produce a distinct irritation in me, one that until recently I could not explain. They provoke me, I realized, because they are, despite the distance from which I observe them, an amplified version of me.
So true; totally wrong. When people “figure themselves out” and then applaud themselves for their “brutal self-honesty”, you can be sure it is further defense. The easiest way for a self-aware person to protect himself is to “figure out” something that is actually correct so that he stops there and doesn’t go any further, which is also the problem with most therapies. “I’m learning a lot about myself and my motivations.” No you’re not. “Figuring yourself out” not only fails, but is the defense itself. Stop doing it.
She thinks she “realizes” hipsters are an amplified version of her, i.e. that she is projecting– which is in fact/duh correct, but never asks the question, “Why am I projecting? What do I benefit from this madness? How does the system benefit?”
There are so many ways, let’s just take one. Is the result of her work product ironic? Yes. Then it’s in the service of the system, while she is able to affect a distance from “all this” she participates 100% in it.
However much the NYT values her PhD, however much they value her intellect and opinions, it’s way more than what they paid her, which is nothing. The question is, why didn’t she demand to be paid? I’m not saying you have to do everything for money, god knows I write a lot of blog and drink very long rums and neither one have delivered profits commensurate with the labor. If she was promoting something of course I’d understand writing for free, but what can she do after writing for the Times except write for the Times again? See also Princeton, where you will pay them more to get the degree that they will then pay you less to use for them, in no other profession is learning how to do something more valuable than actually doing it. Is that ironic? Then she is able to affect a distance from “all this” while she participates 100% in it. Undoubtedly she’s thinking, “well, hell, I got an article in the Times!” as if that has some incalculable value, but that’s the trick. It doesn’t. It’s a scam.
“I’m not a vicious capitalist, I don’t always have to get paid for what I do. I like to participate in the public debate.” I. I. I. Stop it, look around! This isn’t charity, the Times is a billion dollar corporation and Princeton is in actuality a gigantic hedge fund– why are you giving them your work for free? “That’s the system, I can’t change it.” Exactly.
No different than the person who doesn’t ask for a raise because they’re nervous, “should I ask for 5% more?” and they agonize about it for a month, ten months. The point isn’t whether you deserve the extra money, the point is whether you deserve it more than the company, because if you don’t take the extra money home to your kids, the company takes it to theirs. Note that no one ever frames it this way, it is always about “making a case” or “explaining how you can both benefit.” Note also that in most cases the person you’d ask for a raise is a manager, one who has no investment in that money, it doesn’t come out of his pocket. Yet he is the biggest obstacle, he will put sugar in your gas tank to stop you from getting that raise. Is that ironic? Or totally the point?
Glengarry Glen Ross is on Netflix, you should watch it a lot. The easy “critique of capitalism” is that “second prize is a set of steak knives” because that’s how little it costs to motivate you to work harder for them, and if that doesn’t work there’s always “third prize is you’re fired.” But the real wisdom which is not about capitalism but which is about narcissism comes from understanding that first prize isn’t a Cadillac Eldorado, you think Alec Baldwin needs a car? There is no first prize. Real closers don’t want the prize, they want to be the best, that’s why they will practice practice practice and don’t play the lottery. The car is a temptation only for people who do not know their own value, the value of their own work, who won’t lift a finger to advance themselves, who are motivated only by threats or by rewards, who would rather have the appearance of success than actual success. “I got an article in the Times!” celebrates the person whose brain is broken. “Alec Baldwin’s character is a raging narcissist!” Jesus are you stupid, Alec’s name is MacGuffin, that’s why he’s in Act I and never again yet propels the story forward. It is irrelevant whether Alec Baldwin has metal testicles or pathological grandiosity, what matters is that after years of C minus work, what finally gets those dummies fired up is First Prize or Third Prize, left to themselves they meander in mediocrity while deluding themselves that they are more than what they do. “I was number one in ’87!” So was Alf. And the system knows this, which is why it lets Wampole call herself a professor but pays her like a TA—– and she’s upset at hipsters. Is that ironic?
She’s criticizing– sorry, critiquing– hipsters for their defensive posture against society, and for not working, but, look, at least they are not working for free, like a Matrix battery propping up the very system that sucks the life out of them. “Well, it’s cool that I got an article in the Times, maybe I’ll get to write another one.” I know, I know, the temptation of a moment of celebrity was too great to resist, only a fool would pass it up. Meanwhile Princeton is happy to use her to market their anti-hipster brand to the demo that has the money to send their batteries to Princeton one day. However much Princeton values her article to the NYT, it is way more than they… never mind.
The thing is, if I tie her to a chair and shine the heat lamp on her and ask her whose fault “all this” is, she’ll answer the Republicans. Since she’s a nuanced thinker she’ll probably say George Bush. And when she has to get a job at Rutgers because Princeton won’t give her tenure, she’ll blame the tax cuts or “an undercurrent of sexism in academia.” But she will save and save and save to send her own daughters to college one day, hey, if you send them to Rutgers they’ll generously give a 10% employee discount. Sweet!
You gave the system you don’t like a spectacular blowjob, and then try to punish it by making it want you more. From the system’s perspective, not only did it still get blown, it liked it even more. In this analogy, the system is the system and you’re not.