How to Live With Irony

Today, many people sent me an article from the New York Times that deeply annoyed me. I have decided to respond. Your thoughts? Four years ago, I was living in New York. My friends and neighbors worked at farmers' markets and fish stands, made pies from scratch and talked about poetry that most people hadn't heard of. We rode our bikes around the city and met up at independent movies and bought each others' home-brewed beers and t-shirts. I was an active member of an anarchist book club and enjoyed wandering into an old map shop and oogling prints of old cities that I could not afford. We ate a lot of brunch and I remember those mornings as some of the happiest and most sincere of my life.

It is with no shame that I report that, if you were to see us then from a distance, you might say "hipster" and spit on the ground. Let me clarify: I was not, and never will be, ashamed of myself or my friends. I am ashamed of you if you are as quick to make that judgement as it seems so many people are now.

I was highly aware of my position as the most square of that group: dating someone with a corporate job, somehow never being able to dress myself in any other mode than a frumpy camp counselor. I did not intend to be the least hipster of the hipsters, but I was, and happy to be in the company of those smart and kind individuals. We never called ourselves hipsters-- indeed, I have never heard anyone call him or herself that, even as a joke-- but, when I moved to Connecticut, all of a sudden I was the hipster among the squares. Same clothing, same boyfriend, same interests, new environment. Buying locally made goods and having a secondhand bike and not working a corporate job suddenly made me the spokesperson for all people who made the same sorts of choices.

In today's New York Times opinion piece, we the public are treated to yet another takedown of a tiny American subgroup of which no one seems to be a member. A group of people who, apparently, evokes hatred the second that most people lay eyes on them. When did that become ok?

The thing that upsets me about this piece, and all similar pieces that I have read, is that there is no basis in actual reality. The definition of a hipster, as I understand it from all of these kinds of articles, is a person who is so steeped in irony that they they are apparently incapable of feeling human emotions. (A judgement we make because a person is wearing a Little Mermaid t-shirt or something. I'm not quite sure how that leap is made.) But since, of course, all people are actually people inside, no one has actually come forth and claimed they are a hipster.

That person you say "fuck you!" to under your breath as he rode by on his fixie is a real and actual friend of mine who called me in distress because his roommate is possibly dying in the hospital. That girl working for Occupy Wall Street and the farmer's market is a damn nice person who would open her door to any person in a storm. Those people making t-shirts and brewing their own beer really do believe in supporting the local economy. The very quiet girl with the thick glasses may actually look miserable because her father unexpectedly died-- a thing that happens to all people regardless of how they dress or what movies they find funny. I know this sounds like a made-up list, and yes, I know this is the cheesiest way to express what I'm angry about, but I have very specific people in mind-- which that New York Times article does not. It is taking a stereotype and encouraging people to make judgements on others based on the way that they dress, or socialize, or talk about movies.

Listen: we all have a superficial layer. It is a requirement for existing in the social world. For example, this paragraph is total bullshit:

Look at your clothes. What parts of your wardrobe could be described as costume-like, derivative or reminiscent of some specific style archetype (the secretary, the hobo, the flapper, yourself as a child)? In other words, do your clothes refer to something else or only to themselves? Do you attempt to look intentionally nerdy, awkward or ugly? In other words, is your style an anti-style?

To which I ask: do your clothes refer to "corporate executive," "professor," "teacher," or anything else deemed normal? All clothes are a costume. All clothes make a plea to the world to judge us in a certain way. Clothes that say "don't look at me" are still making a statement.

Or this: Do you surround yourself with things you really like or things you like only because they are absurd?

What if I like things that are absurd? Why is that an impossibility? What I like is what I like, no matter if you think I "really" like it or not.

And how about this?

What will future generations make of this rampant sarcasm and unapologetic cultivation of silliness? 

According to this question, humor and joy have no place in a sincere world. But a sense of irony is part of what makes us human. Webster's definition of irony: incongruity between the actual result of a sequence of events and the normal or expected result. The world hasn't lived up to our expectations: that's the whole idea. It's painful. And that pain is funny. And if you don't want silliness to be a part of a complex and funny and at many times emotionally brutal life, good luck to you. You're going to be very lonely in your humorless tower. I certainly don't want to be there.

Here are some things that bring me totally real, non-ironic joy: the over-the-top-ness of Jurassic Park. Some funny t-shirts I have about grammar that a friend gave me. The beautiful tattoos of children's book illustrations a friend has. Eating a meal with my friends on a Sunday morning. Riding a vespa through the open air to a wedding in Connecticut. Listening to NPR while I brush my teeth. All sorts of hipster things. And I will never be ashamed of that, and it doesn't make me any less sincere, or any less of a real person, or have any less of an inner life than you have.

And please, if there is anything more sincere than people trying to make a living off songwriting, or growing their own food, or loving an image or a quotation so much that they put it in ink permanently onto their skin, please let me know.

We are all equally human. Let's treat each other as such. And if you're going to write an article about a subgroup, for god's sake, refer to at least one actual person.