Thanks to a recent conversation on Facebook with my friend Dustin and his friend Casey, I have been thinking about irony and authenticity a lot. Here are some of the contributing factors to my thoughts about these topics.
1. “How to Live Without Irony” by Christy Wampole, New York Times, November 17, 2012. Dustin linked to this on Facebook, which led to a long conversation about why hipsters are annoying, but ultimately not the root of all of our cultural communication problems (chief among them, our inability to be sincere and cloaking ourselves in several layers of winking irony, much of which has lost any semblance of a real origination point), which was suggested by Wampole. I found her argument reductive, incomplete, and ultimately misdirected. But in the spirit underlying it, there’s a grain of truth.
2. I recently discovered I share a birthday with Honey Boo Boo. Great.
3. I’m not happy about it, but I got sucked into another season of the Real World, Road Rules Challenge. The athleticism on this show is captivating, which ultimately is why I dig it. I could give a shit less about watching people in their 20s drunkenly debase themselves on camera as their relationship dynamics shift and sway over the course of a season.
Anyway, on this most recent season, during commercial breaks MTV pimped the shit out of their new show “Buckwild” which seems like it could be alternately called “West Virginia Redneck Bacchanal.” With “Jersey Shore” (a show of which I have seen half of one episode) ending, MTV clearly needed a new underexplored subculture to garishly put on display. Who better to thoughtlessly parade themselves in front of a glib public for certain ridicule and derision than hicks, right?
4. Hoarders, Breaking Amish, Toddlers & Tiaras, Extreme Couponing, Sister Wives, Basketball Wives, Intervention and a shitload of other shows populate the television landscape, with more like this joining all the time. Why?
5. I thought of poor Marilyn Hagerty as a result of these other elements, and her review of the Grand Forks, ND Olive Garden. I even wrote about her at my old site and revisited that article only to discover I was having many of the same feelings and musings I had nine months ago.
Which brings me back to Christy Wampole. She dumps a whole bunch of unearned blame on hipsters for the world’s problems with sincerity and self effacement. It’s okay to be irritated by hipsters, but to pin this on them is wildly incomplete. They are but the dominant form of youth expression in our culture, which, no matter what particular aesthetic that takes at any point in history, always annoys at least a section of the greater populace.
We search for authenticity all the time and find it more and more difficult to locate, hipsters or no.
I used to read Bill Simmons all the time, but his shtick started wearing thin for me about two years ago. One of the chief reasons for this was (apart from his rampant chauvinism), I think, when I realized his sense of humor was incredibly mean-spirited. I’m pretty sure he was talking to Alan Sepinwall and lamenting how he didn’t have a favorite show on network television.
This was an absurd statement to make for a multitude of reasons, but the biggest one was that “Community” was absolutely melting everyone’s face (well, every smart person anyway, or anyone who claims to have any discerning taste in television whatsoever, as Simmons claims he does), and “Parks and Recreation” was wrapping up one of the greatest seasons of television comedy in history. Then I remembered this list.
“Parks and Recreation” is all heart, and all intentional comedy. The jokes are crafted and come from a very real place. Simmons has no interest in that. Unintentional comedy comes from a very nasty place. It’s watching someone act in a deliberate way and make an earnest attempt at something, and then making fun of them for how stupid they look while doing it. Daniel Tosh has made an entire career out of this practice. Joel McHale performs a version of this on “The Soup” with about 75% of the roughest edges sanded off.
We’re trained to ridicule. We default to snark. It’s not at all surprising that growing up in that environment caused hipsters to smother themselves in a billion layers of deadpan misdirection. If someone makes fun of them, a hipster just gets to say, “Ha ha! I’m not actually serious about any of this. Joke’s on you.”
This is why I think stuff like Honey Boo Boo and Hoarders and all that shit is so popular right now. For better and worse, these people are all blissfully un-self-aware. They are who they are, warts and all. And since that’s rarer and rarer, we put a camera on them and gawk at them wondering how they can lack the self-consciousness that plagues the rest of us. It’s a case of getting to have our cake and eat it too. We can mercilessly mock these people to anyone who cares to hear us, but we also get to watch and enjoy silently in our homes.
I have no idea what to do about any of this, if anything. But I guess it starts with self. You’ll notice the very first thing I ever published on this site. I promised this would be as close to the real me as I’ve ever written about. I’m trying to be more intentional, more forthright, more authentic every day.
And it’s liberating. Writing in this way is all part of the journey of becoming a better person (the same way Marc Maron describes his own journey creating the WTF Podcast). Thanks for being a part of it. I look forward to continuing to share it with you in the coming year.