How Hipsters and Irony Have Ruined Everything

Probable Princeton graduates.
  • Probable Princeton graduates.

Here is something you may or may not know: bloggers love to throw the word “hipster” in a headline because it practically guarantees a bunch of page views. It’s not foolproof—foolproof would be a slideshow of puppies suckling at the teat of a Bengal tiger—but it is pretty damn close. And see what I did there? I just embraced a little thing called irony, with the whole “puppies and Bengal tiger’ shout-out. That’s another thing bloggers love to do, embrace irony. It’s the only thing we like to get very close to, actually, because otherwise we tend not to like to be touched at all. We are, when it comes down to it, a solitary breed. And, unfortunately, it is behavior like ours that is ruining everything. And by everything, I mean modern society as it exists in Princeton, New Jersey, which is, clearly, everything.

In an op-ed in the New York Times, Christy Wampole, assistant professor of French at Princeton University laments the fact that “irony is the ethos of our age” and that the hipster—”our archetype of ironic living”—has proliferated, so that it “haunts every city street and university town.” Personally, I am a bit more worried about Wampole’s rampant alliteration, “hipster haunts” and “scholar of social forms…student of cool” and the fact that she uses the word “ethos” twice (unironically, obviously) than I am about the degradation of society due to hipsters, but those are my own hang-ups, I suppose. I just firmly believe that a professor at an Ivy League university—even if it’s Princeton—ought not to write at the level of a high school senior whose reach school is Tufts. But that’s just me.

Wampole is disgusted with the “hipster culture,” as she sees it, and the tendency within this culture to live “life ironically.” Which, is that a thing? How do you live your whole life ironically? You don’t. No one lives their life ironically. A life full of irony? Sure. But those are two different things—wildly different things. Using irony to get some form of distance from life’s inherent absurdities is not necessarily unhealthy. Of course it would be unhealthy not to take anything seriously, but who does that? Only the most dead-inside, personality disordered individual would do that. Which, we’re not saying Wampole is that, but she does use the word “ethos” a lot and she does teach at Princeton. So.

Around Brooklyn

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  1. November 19th, 2012
    Irony: The ressentiment of our Time?
    By: Esmeralda Smith Romero
    Christy Wampole’s article in the November 17th New York Times Blog “How to Live Without Irony” says that “irony is the primary mode with which daily life is dealt” for many American children of the 80’s and 90’s, particularly for middle-class Caucasians. This presumption arrogantly and small-mindedly assumes the life built on irony to be an American phenomenon. But as most hipsters know (generally through their love of all things esoteric and particularly through their fascination with the Sartorialist, Dwell, Flight of the Concords and the Huffington Post), irony in dress, in speech and in décor is a global phenomenon. Fixed gear bikes, quinoa salad and vintage clothes do not exist solely in Portland and Brooklyn, but rather the various incarnations of irony are manifesting themselves throughout the world in a beautiful tapestry, likely one bought in a small-town market on a recent trip to somewhere exotic. If we use Wampole’s logic about living ironically being simply a reaction to “too much comfort, too much history and too many choices” then we see that hipsters aren’t simply living in the United States, but rather can be found in South Korea, Colombia, the United Arab Emirates and of course that hipster haven, the European Union. Furthermore, it is unfair to say that hipsterism is a middle class phenomenon. In my experience many hipsters work in the retail and service industries, are underemployed or students with student loans.
    According to Wampole, the irony culture has significant political importance because the typical hipster of our time is shirking “responsibility for his or her choices, aesthetic and otherwise. To live ironically is to hide in public.” To claim that hipsters are hiding in public is indeed interesting. Living in Ottawa, Canada, it is easy to attest to the fact that many out-of-the-closet hipsters work for the government during the day, riding their fixed gear bikes to work, eating their quinoa salad at lunch, and most likely wearing vintage dresses and ties that go splendidly with their whimsical socks and tights. In their off time, they play in bands, paint abstract art by throwing paint-filled condoms, watch Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ “Thrift Shop” Song ( on their YouTube app, and go to their friends’ concerts, art shows, and plays: in other words, they invest in their communities. These young people are in fact the very model of citizenship. This is quite the opposite of the picture Wampole is offering us of parasitical hipsters “siphon[ing] energy from the cultural reserves of the community at large.”
    Wampole goes on to make a very Nietzschean argument that “This kind of defensive living works as a pre-emptive surrender and takes the form of reaction rather than action.” Wampole is suggesting that our generation is Nietzsche’s infamous Bad. She would perhaps suggest that instead of harnessing our restless energies to overcome the establishment’s moral monopoly and denounce their supposedly innocuous politics and ethics as Evil, we go thrifting. Wampole commends us for our command of the language of the defeated, the detached, the indifferent, and the superficial. However, as the Occupy movements, the Arab Spring democratic movements and the EU anti-austerity movements throughout the world have shown, young people, many of whom are hipsters, care about the world they live in. Young people are not content with the debts, the pollution and the unemployment they and their global others (in a Levinasian sense) are shouldering. While it can be argued that we are a powerless generation, as we search for stable jobs where no opportunities apparently exist, this can be said of any young generation. It is merely romantic storytelling to argue that young generations past were more activist. Every generation before us has contributed, has written their story, and so we are offering ours. We must answer the question: Is our generation merely re-appropriating the assumptions that have been made of us? Wampole suggests our supposed “belief that this generation has little to offer in terms of culture, that everything has already been done, or that serious commitment to any belief will eventually be subsumed by an opposing belief, rendering the first laughable at best and contemptible at worst.” However, we do act. Every decision to dress ironically is a statement about our society, about who we are as individuals and as a fluid group. While seemingly powerless, we do not feed on ressentiment, we are not envious and covetous. Rather, we want everyone, including ourselves and especially the forgotten 99%, to have a fair share and get a fair shot. We are not hostile out of a sense of inferiority. But, we do protest: we do respectfully say “NO” and “STOP” out of confidence in the strong education we have been given but that has been obscured by artificial wants. We are taking responsibility, not avoiding it, and expecting our elders who hold power and money to follow suit and be brought to account. Rather than fitting a Nietzschean scheme, our current generation fits a poststructuralist model more closely, such as one formed by relations of power, as envisioned by Foucault.
    Is living ironically symptomatic of our generational surrender of the ideal of achievement? Have we taken the existential route of nihilism? In other words, as beautiful as a day can be or as miraculous as our lives may be, is existence, not to mention resistance, futile? I say no. I say that what we have found is belief in social and political ideals of justice and we are trying to live them out in all the small ways. Our ironic t-shirts are not nihilistic: they are riffing on a theme of our being labeled, bought, traded and bartered by pop-culture and pop-politics. For Wampole to be so demeaning of an entire group of harmless people based on what they wear, assuming it to reflect their beliefs, is worrisome and contains a not-so subtle whiff of intolerance. It dangerously essentializes subgroups. We should all have learnt by now that people are multifaceted, that they have beliefs and meaning that extend beyond what we assume about them based on what they wear.
    What of Absurdism? What of Kierkegaard, Camus, Artaud, Beckett, Pinter, Albee, Grass, Kafka, Tzara and all the Dadaists? Is it not fair to posit that like other counter-culture movements ironic hipsters of today are not eluding the absurd, but rather embracing and confronting it in an existential awakening, in an attempt to free themselves. They find personal meaning in life through irony, as silly as it may seem to Ms. Wampole, and rather than simply hope for a better tomorrow they creatively transform and contribute to the world around them.
    To suggest that hipsters are apathetic is one leap, but to assume that that apathy will invite violent fascism or communism is another level of exaggeration, an irresponsible one. “Historically, vacuums eventually have been filled by something — more often than not, a hazardous something.” What is more likely is that we live in a fascist time, where populist propaganda telling us how to dress, how to speak, what to eat, who to love and how to live has bombarded us since we could first watch Care Bears. What we are doing now is resisting it. Wampole is targeting ironic hipsters as societal enemies. Surely it is a stretch to contend that ironic hipsters are really a delinquent subculture insofar as they are dangerously opting out of productive society through their choice of kitschy decorations and socially ‘confused’ dress. The Chicago school and symbolic interactionists everywhere do not have in mind such a frivolous interpretation of the literature. When Subcultural Theory was developed, it was intended to understand the anti-social values and activities of violent youth gangs. They hoped that understanding could lead to intervention that could then lead to criminal deterrence. What about hipster culture needs to be deterred rather than encouraged? It is once again a dangerous accusation that hipsters are a menace to society. It is troublesome to say that their delinquent behaviour of social and political consciousness must be curtailed before they become “adults” who use irony, satire, sarcasm and parody to communicate their resistance to the authority of the status quo. This is a democracy after all, and we are free to express our opinions as we choose, to dress as we please, and, to give those we love the tackiest things we can find at garage sales. Ms. Wampole, these are free countries, so deal with it.
    What is perhaps most offensive about Wampole’s text is her line describing people “eating anti-depressants like they were candy.” She should be more sensitive to people who truly do suffer from mental health disorders, something that has been terribly stigmatized in our society and for which we offer very little help other than overpriced pharmaceuticals. This is a legitimate first world problem.
    Wampole writes, “the ironic clique appears simply too comfortable, too brainlessly compliant. Ironic living is a first-world problem. For the relatively well educated and financially secure, irony functions as a kind of credit card you never have to pay back. [… The hipster] doesn’t own anything he possesses.” Lucky for Wampole, we do live in such an affluent society that people can pursue PhD’s at Ivy League schools where they study the practical and demanding subjects of French and Italian Literature. Rather than using the self-absorbed and self-effacing hashtag of #firstworldproblems, perhaps Wampole could recognize that the first world has problems too. It is not the ideal utopia of progress that past generations of development theorists presented it as. In fact, perhaps hipsters and their irony are not the first world problems, but rather it is the dreary and complacent status quo that we should be worried about. Perhaps people who target activists as enemies from within are truly those worth writing and worrying about. My hope for Ms. Wampole is that she takes some of her own advice and undertake “an honest self-inventory.”
    “One cannot accelerate meaningful remembrance.” Is this true? We live in such a fast paced world of representations filled with meaningful experiences for the perceiver. Is it wrong to cultivate a nostalgic following for shows decades old, songs years old, sayings months old and memes weeks old? The information fatigue that our generation suffers from due to the informational blitzkrieg leads to an ability to filter and synergize more information. Thus, when we do act, it is with strong purpose motivated by greater evidence. As Jean Baudrillard might argue, rather than becoming deluded and seduced by the objects, beliefs and other signifiers we are constantly being sold, we are trying to understand and capture the minutiae of real life in order to take meaningful action, and we are representing that with our own t-shirts.
    Thus, if “[s]omething about the responsibility of choosing a personal, meaningful gift for a friend feels too intimate, too momentous” then by all means, buy our shirts!
    Please find the original article at:…

  2. And your post further proves this fact with your passive aggressive swipe at the author of that article, which I have to say is spot on. Your commentary simply reinforces her point. I lived in Greenpoint for a couple years, so I think I can attest, the atmosphere gets pretty lame after awhile.

  3. Kristin, that was a fun read, I mean that sincerely. Living on Bedford Ave. in the heart of Williamsburg, am I even able to pay a compliment without irony? Nope. That would be boring. But it turns out I am able to distinguish between puffed up, preachy editorials like Wampole’s, and your dose of healthy perspective. Cheers. (a nice end-tag I like to use in my e-mails’n such even though, uh-oh, I’m not really British, nor am I actually performing a toast right now)

  4. We should all eat like hipsters (and I mean that unironically)
    Hipster culinary culture has always been an easy target.
    It can be precious and pretentious with its small-batch alder-smoked Himalayan sea salt caramels and secret coffee handshakes of burr grinders, cuppings, and pour-overs. It is, in turn, both elitist and juvenile; hipper-than-thou but captivated by grilled cheese sandwiches. We can take our potshots (and there are plenty of smug, tedious, and irritating targets), but we also need to acknowledge the worthy substance of hipster foodism.

    As a group, hipsters just might be the most knowledgeable eaters on the planet.
    They have worldly, globalized palates and demonstrate discernment and sophistication in their food choices. They often embrace contrarian diets—vegan and vegetarianism; raw foods; pro-soy; and gluten- or dairy-free—but they can have profound knowledge of the implications and can credibly rationalize these positions.…

  5. been meaning to tell you that the writing in this article is great! I don’t really care much about the subject matter but the article is just great. No even going to read the NYTimes article, no need. another plus for BK magazine.

  6. kristen, esmeralda
    why so caustic? could it be that you positively reek of hipster?
    your critiques are clearly petty gripes. well, at least, they aren’t ironic…or are they?
    i really don’t understand hipsters. ultimately, it seems as though someone is attacking something that you think is a part of your identify. this kind of thing can be hurtful.
    as pervasive as hipsterdom has become, it’s bound to have detractors. rather than respond with vitriol, why not let it slide? there are no doubt groups that you don’t like. be free and enjoy yourself!

  7. alright, esmeralda, i hadn’t fully read your contribution. you’re very well-spoken and clearly very well-read. you make passionate points, but i don’t think anyone is calling for hipsters to be rounded up anywhere. not everyone is like you. some hipsters are the status quo. if this group of potentially forward-thinkers can be mobilized for the good of the people, go for it! make our communities better. just don’t expect to do it without any resistance.

  8. “Perhaps it is a form of maintaining a kind of mental equilibrium to not look at these things straight on all the time. Perhaps it is better to be a little detached, so that when sincerity is necessary, you can be ready to act.”

    Response of Reality. YOU WONT BE.