The hipster haunts every city street and university town. Manifesting a nostalgia for times he never lived himself, this contemporary urban harlequin appropriates outmoded fashions (the mustache, the tiny shorts), mechanisms (fixed-gear bicycles, portable record players) and hobbies (home brewing, playing trombone). He harvests awkwardness and self-consciousness. Before he makes any choice, he has proceeded through several stages of self-scrutiny. The hipster is a scholar of social forms, a student of cool. […] He is a walking citation; his clothes refer to much more than themselves. He tries to negotiate the age-old problem of individuality, not with concepts, but with material things.
I feel like a piece like this crops up every year or so, and the consistent factor in all these articles is that the author feels left out of a culture that he/she does not belong to. This article feels about as accurate as those that came out of 9/11 declaring that irony was “dead.” If anything, the hipsters I have known have been excessively earnest people … the only way you might think otherwise is if you were extrapolating their entire person from their clothes, facial hair, and twitter feeds. Lady Gaga may wear a meat dress, but she also gives speeches about bullying. Those same smirking “harlequins” were the ones who started the Occupy movement.
More importantly, I disagree with the premise that earnestness is inherently superior to irony. Since when has the ability to laugh — especially at oneself — been a bad thing?2 The author points to 4 year-old children and animals as exemplars of earnest behavior. From where I stand, those are not necessarily things for adults to aspire to. To celebrate humanity is to celebrate the ways we are different from animals — irony is one of the ways we can do that.
Sure, there’s a possible danger to too much detachment. And, as I’ve discussed before, it can be used to hurt people. But none of these things are unique to one generation.