At this point, the New York Times editorial I’m writing about is probably so obscure it might just attract the very people it so proudly simplifies. But if you like reading and stuff, or engaging in cultural conversation or whatever, I would encourage you to check out “How to Live Without Irony,” a piece by Christy Wampole printed on Nov. 18. Or don’t, I mean, whatever.
But upon its publication, the piece sent the nation — or, at the very least, the nation’s Internet comment sections — into a frenzy for the portrait and conclusions Wampole draws about hipsters, as well as the role irony itself plays in America. Long sentences short, she determines both will bring about our doom.
Indeed, the picture she paints of hipsters truly is a menacing one. They sound like some insidious alien breed sweeping into town, “haunt[ing] every city street and university town,” wearing only the most grotesque garb (“the mustache, the tiny shorts”), practicing the most profane of all pastimes (“home brewing, playing trombone”), and all the while deliberately planting socially-repulsive seeds into society (“he [the hipster] harvests awkwardness and self-consciousness”).
All right, I, for one, know literally no one like this. To be fair, I have also never been to Brooklyn, but I cannot help thinking these people exist about equally as much as the relationships I watch on The Bachelor. Perhaps things are different in Princeton, where Wampole is a professor and people are actually just broad stereotypes.
But this disproportionately chilling picture of hipsters is not the only highlight here. At another point in her editorial, Wampole trumpets a four-year-old going about her day as a shining example of life without irony. Any given four-year-old stands as this pure and sincere little person who is actually honest and open, “not particularly conscious of the scrutiny of others,” nor prone to “hide behind indirect language.” This example is pretty stupid, however, because four-year-olds are generally expected to be pretty stupid. And I really do mean that. Get angry. But in all seriousness, who takes their cues on how to lead a life — an adult, complex, modern life — from a four-year-old? I understand the tropes about keeping one’s childlike wonder alive, they are all absolutely lovely, but there are some fairly obvious reasons why a four-year-old should be no one’s role model.
But as it would turn out, preschoolers are just one of the weak examples of “nonironic” life Wampole offers for us. We also have “nature,” (literally, she says “animals and plants,”) along with “fundamentalists,” “dictators,” and “people who move things in the political landscape.” Tempting though they may be, these fine specimens just make me want to hone my acid tongue that much more. I would pick Brooklyn’s most mustachioed over a dictator—or, God forbid, a four-year-old — any day.
Perhaps most affronting to me personally, though, is Wampole’s rather clinical report on the phylum hipsterum is completely and offensively irony-free. She uses the phrase “nonironic living” non-ironically. Nothing makes for a drearier read than someone assessing a quality rooted in humor who isn’t even in on the joke.
Don’t get me wrong, this editorial is not meant to be raving, “How to Live Without Christy Wampole.” She has some valuable thoughts, and does make some spot-on points: when you invest in being ironic, in some ways, you never invest in anything at all, for you never lay claim to anything at all. Very insightful.
People our age can tend to hide behind irony, and that, combined with our reliance on social media and technology, could really hurt our conversational and verbal skills in the future. Absolutely, though that problem could also be modern rather than entirely generational. We may be losing our sense of nostalgia by trying to inject it into the moment, such as with certain sepia or “pre-wash” digital filters. Yeah, I hate Instagram, too.
But, for as annoying as Instagram can be, Wampole’s article still strikes me as bleak, fogeyish, and more than a tad reductionist. Our generation is not a clean-cut — or maybe, handle bar mustached — group of trombone-playing, portable-record-toting hipsters, nor is our culture’s use of irony a universally troubling sign.
At one point, Wampole quavers that “our contemporary ironic mode” has “leaked from the realm of rhetoric into life itself.” Frankly, I hope that’s the case. When used correctly, irony and its cousins, parody and satire, can be incredibly worthwhile, valuable tools: they can illustrate a point or call out pomposity. They can bring out the truth, or, at the very least, a good laugh. With all due respect, Ms. Wampole, the kids are all right, and their jokes are all right.
Now, maybe I’m just vain and hopelessly misguided. Maybe I’ve been bitten by that apathetic bug and am already too shrouded within “the veil of irony” to even see it for myself.
Maybe this editorial is emblematic of the very crisis Wampole alerted us to, and in writing, I’m actually just affirming everything she asserts about our generation. Well, hey, that would be ironic.
Questions? Email Erin at firstname.lastname@example.org.