Hipsters bashing hipsters: using irony to veil fear of judgment
“So ironic it’s not; so unironic, it is.” This was a line from a YouTube video that recently found its way into my inbox. In less than a day that video had been saved for me on del.icio.us twice, instant messaged to me, and referred to in casual conversation.
The video in question is called the “Hipster Olympics”. Set in Williamsburg, a neighborhood in Brooklyn known by the indie crowd as ground zero for hipsters, “Olympics” features a collection of emaciated, sun-fearing 20-somethings sporting solid-colored American Apparel clothes, tight pants, ironic T-shirts, and oversized sunglasses. The hipsters are competing in events like the MySpace Photo Shoot and the Music Collection Bragathon.
The “Hipster Olympics” is part of a new genre of humor bashing the creature called the hipster. Hipsters like indie rock, wear American Apparel striped dresses with white belts, supertight jeans, oversized sunglasses, mid-calf length spandex leggings, and flat shoes. They read Pitchfork, smoke Camel or Parliament lights, and spend their free time taking glamor shots for their MySpace pages. The hipster value system is based around being judgmental of music and art, wholly concerned with name-dropping and being up on the very latest underground band that you haven’t heard of yet. And, perhaps above all, hipsters value irony.
Hipster-bashing humor has lately grown in popularity all over the Internet. www.theonion.com recently ran an article about Pitchfork giving music itself a 6.0 out of ten rating. YouTube is full of videos of hipsters trying to pretend that they aren’t hipsters. A Google search of the word “hipster” reveals the prevalence of the stereotype; The Hipster Handbook has even been published and reviewed by The New York Times.
The major consumers of this kind of humor are the hipsters themselves, in the kind of ironic display that characterizes the hipster persona. This is the demographic that spawned the ironic T-shirt and likes to dress in fashions that are deliberately unstylish or downright unflattering.
Hipster irony is predicated on the fear that if you take a stand and claim to actually like something, you are opening yourself up to criticism by those who do not. The work-around is to only like things ironically, to never actually come out in support of anything. Even the music is in constant flux; hardcore dedication to a band lasts only as long as the band fails to be popular and well known in mass media, or until the next unheard-of sensation floats into view on Pitchfork’s front page.
But the hipster self-bashing is where it has really gone too far. Hipsters are so hip they refuse even to be hipsters; it’s a term that nobody embraces, and that nobody will admit to. The reason videos like the “Hipster Olympics” have such a high view count is that those of us who listen to indie rock are perpetually afraid of being labeled hipsters ourselves. Like jealous girlfriends who point out the flaws of every woman around us, we jump on the opportunity to make fun of hipsters. We turn our noses up at their vapid narcissism and then go preen in front of our mirrors, fix our oversized sunglasses, and arrange the ash trays on our coffee tables for our next black-and-white photography projects. We laugh at the irony of the situation, hiding our deep-seated fear of being judged by other people for being as vapid and narcissistic as we really are.
I think it’s time to cut the crap and own up to it. It’s time we just stand up for things that we like. I listen to Andrew Bird and sometimes I spend hours putting on makeup just to take a Facebook picture. Mid-calf length lycra pants are a godsend to me, because I like to wear skirts but I also ride a bike. I like a whole genre of music and I like having opinions about it that I can’t really back up with musical knowledge. But dang it, the music is good, my fashion sense works, and my pictures look all right.
The take-home point is that it’s okay to have opinions about things, and there is no point in worrying about being wrong. No opinions are right. No music is unequivocally good. That’s the way it’s supposed to be, too. Art is art because it’s subjective and people react to it in different ways. It’s not necessary to rely on irony to validate your opinions, because they’re just your opinions. If you’re going to be a hipster, be proud.