How to Live Without Irony

By Christy Wampole

If irony is the ethos of our age — and it is — then the hipster is our archetype of ironic living.

The hipster haunts every city street and university town. Manifesting a nostalgia for times he never lived himself, this contemporary urban harlequin 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.

He is an easy target for mockery. However, scoffing at the hipster is only a diluted form of his own affliction. He is merely a symptom and the most extreme manifestation of ironic living. 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.

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Hipsters: The New New Puritanism?

Came across this on reddit:

“The hipster phenomenon has been regarded with, among other things, amusement, derision, and confusion by those outside the hipster subculture. Several websites (most particularly metafilter) disdain the use of the term itself, saying that it most commonly is used to mean “young affluent white people who I consider beneath me,” and generally lacks definition or any real reason for the profound dislike of hipsters emerging whenever the term is used.

In trying to pinpoint the defining traits of hipsters, I have come to a conclusion: hipsters are simply a new manifestation (brought to you by contemporary economic conditions, among other things) of Neo-Puritanism.

Hipsters pursue aesthetics in a way demanding work. They want to listen to obscure bands for obscurity’s sake (one of the most consistently documented features of hipster culture), and as soon as bands become popular, they lose their luster/appeal — though some still retain fondness for difficult to obtain early work. In other words, for it to be hipster-approved, you have to have worked to listen. If it’s on the radio, it came to you too easily. If a band is popular, you didn’t have to work to find them and appreciate them. The more obscure the band, the more you had to work and the more impressed other hipsters are.

When hipsters like more plebian things, they’re one of two things typically: they’re liked “ironically,” or they’re “guilty pleasures.” These two constructs each reinforce the idea of hipster as neo-Puritan. Ironic enjoyment of lowbrow culture shows that one isn’t simply enjoying things for the sake of enjoyment, they are working hard to appreciate it on a wholly different level. Guilty pleasures take an end-run around the work requirement for appropriate hipster enjoyment: you can enjoy it, but you need to feel appropriately guilty for doing so.

The same follows for other aesthetic traits, as well: while purchasing expensive stuff from Urban Outfitters may be considered okay, it’s poseur-ish. The real hipster works for his/her faded retro furniture and distressed clothing by shopping extensively at thrift stores. Unique vintage finds show that you not only have an eye for style, it shows you worked hard to find a store and perused poorly organized racks until they found something perfect.

Previous iterations of neo-Puritan thought in the United States have manifested as the Baby Boomer hardcore work ethic and intense dislike of people perceived as “lazy,” including many Gen Xers. Until the hipster phenomenon, neo-Puritans often focused their work drive on career goals. However, jobs have been notably scarce and adolescence has been prolonged among Millenials due to economic problems. Combined with aesthetic preferences increasingly connoting group membership and socioeconomic status, hipsters have transferred their neo-Puritan ethic into the pursuit of aesthetics.”