A new café opened next door to me that seemed to have dropped from space, built from an alien's notes about the tastes of the so-called 'creative class.' Every bartender had the same handlebar mustache. Tchotchkes vaguely reminiscent of the late 19th century and framed Victorian silhouettes were scattered along the wall. None of this was particularly unusual for Brooklyn, but the consistency and uniformity of it all seemed strange. "That's because this place isn't real," my friend said. As if it were a theme park restaurant whose theme we've begun to build our lives around -- an intense commitment to this particular performance.
Something changed when young people traded their sneakers for leather oxfords, old jeans for pleated slacks, and neon hoodies for navy-blue blazers.
When century-old brands redesigned their websites to look old-timey.
When everyone became obsessed with the-perfect-fucking-cocktail.
When people conspicuously displayed their love for the feel of a real book in your hands, man.
There may have been a point when the resurgence of boat shoes and typewriters were an ironic nod to the past, but something happens when you do something enough: before you know it, you sincerely enjoy what you are doing. YOLO!
Christy Wampole's New York Times piece How to Live without Irony is adorable in her seven-years-too-late assessment of the Youth of Today, claiming the eponymous hipster is lost in the throes of irony, as if it's still 2006 and we're all wearing ironic vintage tees. If people are still as addicted to irony as she says we are, then we must have an incredible commitment to the joke. The trends she chose to ignore -- dudes brewing kombucha in their basement, chicks with chicken coops on apartment roofs, couples pickling beets in their studio, militant home-brewers galore -- are perfectly sincere in their pursuits. Irony isn't dead, but it's not an all-encompassing hipster worldview; sometimes pickles just taste good.
The resurgence of butter churning, darning reclaimed socks, mustache wax and writing on paper does come with its own set of problems: the self-proclaimed 'writer' who, instead of writing, posts an Instagram of their $45 Moleskine notebook and fountain pen upon a reclaimed wooden table. The bar staff that all wears suspenders, in spite of having no uniform. The marginally employed 23-year-old who throws "underground society" parties for other 23-year-olds, and has its own hashtag.
Unlike the people who first used the simple objects that people now covet, we are, ironically, using the digital media in order to share their 'simplicity' with the world. Authenticity isn't the goal, if you define authenticity as living a life that reflects your values. The aesthetic of authenticity, of some far-off time when people had a meaningful connection to the objects they used, is now the name of the game. Is that so bad?
Cut back to 10 years ago when the working-class aesthetic was co-opted and worn ironically by wealthy, mostly white young people. Trucker hats and a sketchy-looking mustache mocked conventional ideals of style. There was a rejection of excess and sincerity and an embrace of cynicism, irony, and thrift. That VICE brand of ironic living began to fade as people got older and found something new to fetishize: old, difficult objects -- even if an easier, cheaper tool would get the same results. But the cultural capital in hipster trends never lost its value. It's as if the distaste for common digital paraphernalia has manifested into an intense love for its exact analog opposite. It seems that people haven't grown pretentious about the things they do as much as they've found joy in the pretension itself.
There is cultural capital to gain from the hipster aesthetic: young, broke liberal arts majors offered little to the world except for their taste in clothes and music. Tastes evolved, young people used their cultural capital to gain real capital, and their look became mainstream. Now, your outfit may suggest irony (LOL I'm wearing my dad's stuffy old yacht club blazer to the yacht club, HOW IRONIC!) but the Invisible Hand tied those Bourgeois boat shoes! Those pleats are so ironic that they became authentic all over again! At some point, your ironic mustache became sincere. Like the hippie parents who ended up voting for Reagan, we may have come full circle: from mocking the bourgeoisie to being it.
There was more to the turn-of-the-century lifestyle than pastoral images, folk music and farm-to-table dining after all; it was also the heyday of the capitalist bourgeoisie. Bourgeois life revolved around conspicuous consumption and conspicuous leisure -- not much different from now, except that they managed to do it all without Instagram. Today, our penchant for irony wears away with every picture of brunch that we amass.
I think I want my irony back.
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