The Irony of the Ironic: Hipsters Don't Understand Irony
Not too long ago, I was at show and the opening act was an incredibly horrible hipster band. Western button down shirts, big Harry Caray glasses, porn star mustaches, the whole shebang. I would try to look up exactly what band it was, but I'm afraid even touching upon that horribleness again will send me into a spiral that I will never be able to recover from. They had sort of a throwback 80's synth sound (which as a child of the 80's I have no problem in and of itself – I will be wanging the proverbial chung tonight), but it sounded like this was the first time they ever performed together or picked up their respective instruments. The thing that really stuck with me though is that I couldn't figure out if this band just happened to be hipsters and happened to be awful or if they were intentionally trying to be awful. As in being awful was a personal choice and some statement they were trying to make. Their awfulness was some sort of grand ironic statement: they're here, they're terrible, get used to it. Which begs the question: do hipsters understand irony?
Most of hipster culture is built upon a thick layer of the kitsch. Kitsch meaning to find beauty, value, and art in seemingly worthless or tasteless objects. They are going to surround themselves by a series of things or objects or concepts that everyday people tossed aside and will defend these discarded pop items with somber intensity. The problem is just because something—a shirt, a song, a hairstyle—is horrible doesn't mean it's kitsch. The hipster problem is perhaps a complete misunderstanding of the term ironic. It's the mindset that says bad = good. In the hipster world, if something sucks it is ironic because they believe themselves to not suck. Which formulates to something along the lines of:
Sucks = Cool if Cool ≠ Sucks
This is the principle behind a non-cowboy wearing a cowboy shirt at concerts playing what can only be described as uncountry music.
However, as you can see, this is not quite right. Irony is when the surface meaning and the underlying meaning of what is said are not the same creating an incongruity between what might be expected and what actually occurs. There's a contextuality to irony that Hipsters seem to ignore. Two major events in the past 20 years have aided in this misconception. The problem perhaps first developed with Alanis Morissette in her song “Ironic” (which is actually ironically titled because nothing in the song is ironic). This song established irony for an entire generation of young minds, and established it incorrectly. The song is a list of great ironies, instead of listing ironic instances, Alanis simply lists things that are bad. Let's look at the song: It's a black fly in your Chardonnay. It's like rain on your wedding day. It's a free ride when you've already paid. All of which are bad, none of them being actually ironic. This will eventually lead to the hipster mind associating irony with bad. However, it is not the object itself being bad which makes it ironic, but your relationship with the object. So, rain on your wedding day is not ironic, rain on your wedding day and you're marrying a weather man, slightly ironic. Similarly, that cowboy shirt is only ironic if you're standing next to a shirtless cowboy. Irony is more about personal relationships and underlining context than mass compilation of dissimilar possessions or ideas; hipsters have become little more than pop culture hoarders.
The other major footnote in the hipsters misunderstanding of irony is from Ethan Hawke in Reality Bites. Ethan Hawke is the poster boy for indie douches everywhere and indie girls who can't understand that a guy's total indifference is not deep and secret longing. It's just indifference. But back to Hawke and irony. When asked to define irony, he famously states, “It’s when the actual meaning is the complete opposite from the literal meaning.” Which is a good sounding answer. It seems very much correct. But this would mean that all opposites are ironic and doesn't take in the incongruous nature of the situation. Irony has no negative or positive values, and while an ironic relationship can be caused through polar opposition, it is not necessarily the only cause. Hawke ultimately feeds into the this thing sucks/I don't suck philosophy. This isn't irony, but grade school opposite day. And in large part hipsters skate by playing an endless game of opposite day. Dorky is the opposite of cool meaning this cowboy shirt is cool.
All I know is that bars by me are charging 5 bucks Pabst Blue Ribbon and kids are running around with the same glasses as me (but with no lenses), thank you Ethan Hawke and Alanis Morissette.
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