Ironic Like

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There’s a sort of disease going round and it is an eternal finger pointing out hipsters; if I waited long enough on a given day I imagine someone would point that finger at me. They’d point that finger at anyone in their twenties and early thirties that I know, really, and I know a lot of those. The reality is that my generation is over-educated and flooded with information and we are, as a result, hugely self-aware. A behaviour that shows distaste for something that is mainstream is just admitting that you read about other stuff existing on the internet. I’m not sure this merits giving us a label other than ‘a large number of educated young people’ that ‘like to find new things’. Thing is, self-aware young people have always been called derogatory labels by society – because the young are always outnumbered by the old, and our new interests alienate the older generation.

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My generation is ever accused of being ironic, awkward, stubborn or contrary – even in the little sliver of the world I live in, where I make and talk about games – to think that a niche game made in the most minimal engine is actually good is to have the severe charge of hipster be presented to you as if you have done something wrong. But those games are just distinct because they are new – they are moving away from the old guard, from the Zeldas and the Call of Duties. They are moving into new territory, and shitting hell it is exciting. Why wouldn’t you want to take a run-up and vault yourself onto the back of that already-moving psychedelic pickup?

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But it’s all a matter of choices, and how many of them there are, and how very aware of them we are. The traditional stereotype of a ‘hipster’ began with young people who liked to shop in thrift stores. It’s a clear sign that the choices presented to us today are so broad that people look for the least trodden path. You are bombarded with sales emails every day from every website you have ever bought something from. You are aware of any number of products, all wide-reaching, that you can buy or be interested in.  You are so overloaded with Things and Stuff that you essentially have to try exceptionally hard to feel that you have an identity any more. Western society is completely obsessed with individualism and how freaking amazing it is, but the irony is that marketing is crushing it. Until recently, if you’re a woman and you’re interested in literature that caters to your crotch you get Fifty Shades of Grey or fuck the fuck off.

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Sometimes it can be a little sad though, because this constant need for identity, a distinct personality that is enriched by a liking of diverse things, gets tired and very solipsistic. Perhaps one of the tragedies of modern young people is that in order to shut off all these avenues of information we actually launch ourselves into a horrible solipsistic hole, where all you can do is take selfies or pick at your Facebook profile or mass unfollow everyone except people who might be useful for your career on Twitter or cut yourself off from loved ones or go on a drug binge or start writing alt-lit. This is when we start to reach for the mainstream again: to have things in common with people, to feel warmth and connection to people who might not give a shit that they have no idea who Chvrches is and wouldn’t be able to tell you the latest meme. That’s where the ‘irony’ young people are so famous for comes from: we have become so self-aware it’s hard not to have an ironic like of almost everything that is popular.

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The conversations around extremely mainstream pop culture objects are so circulated that it’s difficult to be able to say anything new about them, and due to our constant information bombardment from internet culture we know all of these arguments inside out. Take Twilight: it’s something that is massively popular, and yet almost everyone who approaches the books or films agrees that it is fantastically regressive with regard to gender roles, with possible redeeming qualities that it gives prominence to a female voice and desire. Largely men deride it as being terrible – not that it much matters, concerning the fact that its target market, a largely neglected teenage girl demographic, likes it. But the reality is that Twilight books in particular are terrible and are written terribly. Knowing all of this information, however, rather makes me horribly self-aware of where I rest when I say that I was entertained by them. I’d call that an ‘ironic like’: something it so tickles my elders that I am capable of.

But it’s just information that makes me feel this way. It’s the act of actually knowing how the cultural landscape sits that actually makes me behave in this manner. And I don’t think it’s bad, ever, to be intelligent, self-aware, or critical about what culture I consume. My friend Chris Thursten said a few hours ago on Twitter: “Now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to prove all kinds of demographic studies correct by eating takeout and watching House of Cards.” This struck me as apt because it was such a deconstruction of how self-aware we really are. We all consume products, it’s just that many young people are more aware of how much of the time we are pawns of marketing. Doesn’t that just make us astute consumers? Perhaps I should just get back to my ginseng and tweed.

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All of these pictures were borrowed from the EXCELLENT  Hipster The Thick Of It Tumblr which I worship mainly because it immortalises the best lines of the show in some sort of weird sacred way on completely unrelated pictures. Visit it here http://hipsterttoi.tumblr.com/

10 Comments

  1. Jimmy Vark 02/11/2013 / 10:32 am

    Thing is, hipsterism isn’t really anything new here: it’s just the counterculture du jour, like emo before it, like goth before that, and so on. What I think perhaps *is* different (and worrying) is the way hipsterism is such a pure example of these cultures, in that it seems to encompass all deviations from the mainstream *in the eyes of the mainstream itself*. If Proteus had come out a decade ago, for instance, I don’t think there would have been legions of gamers calling it ’emo’.

    P.S. I unironically love Taylor Swift. Fuck the haters.

    • 7kingMeta 02/12/2013 / 5:30 am

      Hold on now! I wouldn’t go so far as to call hipsterism counter-culture du jour, to the contrary!
      The irony of the hipster phenomenon is that it is driven by the absurd idea that you can consume your way into being different.
      There’s a generation of people that is so invested in mainstream (consumer-)culture that they try to diversify themselves from other by outplaying them in the same game:
      ad absurdum the hipster is to consider him- or herself as the elite consumer.

      This expression of self by appropriating consumer goods as to establish an identity isn’t a new phenomenon either, it started several generations ago when the market jumped on the idea of “lifestyles” and started diversifying consumers and begun catering consumer goods to their needs. The underlying idea was that underneath the mundanity of your day-to-day life, you had a unique persona called your true self. Now, using the latest shady methods is statistical science, the market figured out what type of ‘individual’ you were, and then started targeting their adds so they could become exactly that danger-loving person as long as they bought the appropriate snowboarding gear. It was swell and the world had all these new ways to separate people.

      The idea of lifestyles is still present is today’s society but everything is diversified to the point that you might as well target anyone. Anyone can like product X, and in this information age can we rely on computer algorithms to figure out the latest consumption patterns.
      The hard part with hidden algorithm and an abundance of consumer goods is that it has become much harder to be (a) cool (consumer),
      and this is where hipster come in, sort of reinventing the game and staying cool. The problem for them is that everyone else stopped caring in a “c’est en faisant n’importe quoi, qu’on devient n’importe qui ” fashion.
      But hey, if nobody cares, it’s cool not to care about them either, right?

    • 7kingMeta 02/12/2013 / 5:39 am

      Hold on now! I wouldn’t go so far as to call hipsterism counter-culture du jour, to the contrary! The irony of the hipster phenomenon is that it is driven by the absurd idea that you can consume your way into being different.
      There’s a generation of people that is so invested in mainstream (consumer-)culture that they try to diversify themselves from other by outplaying them in the same game:
      ad absurdum the hipster is to consider him- or herself as the elite consumer.

      This expression of self by appropriating consumer goods as to establish an identity isn’t a new phenomenon either, it started several generations ago when the market jumped on the idea of “lifestyles” and started diversifying consumers and begun catering consumer goods to their needs. The underlying idea was that underneath the mundanity of your day-to-day life, you had a unique persona called your true self. Now, using the latest shady methods is statistical science, the market figured out what type of ‘individual’ you were, and then started targeting their adds so they could become exactly that danger-loving person as long as they bought the appropriate snowboarding gear. It was swell and the world had all these new ways to separate people.

      The idea of lifestyles is still present is today’s society but everything is diversified to the point that you might as well target anyone. Anyone can like product X, and in this information age can we rely on computer algorithms to figure out the latest consumption patterns. The hard part with hidden algorithm and an abundance of consumer goods is that it has become much harder to be (a) cool (consumer), and this is where hipster come in, sort of reinventing the game and staying “cool.”
      While everyone else stopped caring in a “c’est en faisant n’importe quoi, qu’on devient n’importe qui ” fashion, anyone who is perceived to be playing the game will get a cynical finger pointed at them and labeled a hipster.

  2. Cara Ellison 02/11/2013 / 10:38 am

    They might have called it punk though. There’s that thing Brendan wants to call Bitpunk – a sort of deliberate regression to retro graphics.

    • Jimmy Vark 02/11/2013 / 10:55 am

      Weeell let’s be careful here, because there’s a big difference between Xpunk and the actual punk culture. Bitpunk does seem an apt moniker for the aesthetic but I never really liked the use of ‘punk’ in these ways myself. But that’s just a semantic quibble of mine I guess.

      • Cara Ellison 02/11/2013 / 10:58 am

        Indeed. In fact, I think that was Anna Anthropy’s argument.

  3. Cara Ellison 02/11/2013 / 10:59 am

    I should stress this was written at midnight on a Sunday and reads like it too. No one would pay me for this shit. It’s not entirely gestated yet…

  4. Tom Hatfield 02/11/2013 / 2:32 pm

    Here’s what I was trying to get at on twitter last night:

    You remember how when we all became teenagers, we stopped doing watching cartoons or playing with toys or doing anything we saw of as ‘kids stuff’, even though we still secretly liked it? We did it because we wanted to be seen as grown up, but when we actually became grown ups, we realised that it meant we could enjoy whatever the hell we wanted, ‘kids stuff’ or not.

    Hipsters for me seem to be stuck in that perpetual teenage phase. They recognise the mainstream and desperately seek to be seen as outside of it, but they have yet to make that extra leap that says, “Hey, it’s okay to like what you like, you don’t have to fit someone else’s idea of your cultural identity”.

    True self awareness to me isn’t ‘ironically liking’ something, that just seems like a cheap cop out. To me it’s about being grown up enough to say “Yeah, I like reading sci-fi and playing football, I own copies of both Citizen Kane and Commando, what’s wrong with that?”

    • Cara Ellison 02/11/2013 / 2:36 pm

      I think what I am really saying with the above is that I don’t actually think ‘hipsters’ exist, just people who have really really disparate likes or search for something different. Even part of the attitude of labelling people ‘hipsters’ is an actual non-acceptance that some people might like other stuff to us. No?

      • Tom Hatfield 02/11/2013 / 3:18 pm

        I think there’s almost certainly some people who actually do reject things purely for being ‘too mainstream’ and like things ironically (although lets be honest, previous generations did that in an even more comically overt fashion). Generally speaking, there’s usually at least a few people who are just as stupid as the jokes make them out to be, the question is how many of them there are.

        I certainly remember identifying ‘hipsters’ before the term even existed (I called them indie kids, and resisted the use of hipster for a long time, due to the beat generation connotations). Although that’s not exactly the ‘official’ narrative, like many greater cultural phenomenons, the version that actually reaches the media is far more London/New York centric.

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