As you well know, people accuse hipsters of being terminally ironic. I watched the Onion video you referenced last week, and I felt like the idea of going to Applebee’s “ironically” wasn’t quite right. The Applebee’s commercial hipsters seemed like they were just being condescending and sarcastic when they put down things that aren’t cool enough for them. I got zero satisfaction from Googling the subject, as it’s too complicated, so please help explain, what is the difference between sarcasm and irony?
— Kimberly, Golden Hill
The snarky, sarcastic witticisms that pass the lips of jaded hipsters as they express their disapproval for all things uncool need not feature irony at all. There’s nothing ironic about saying exactly what you mean, and folks prickle at thinly-if-at-all veiled condescension for Michael Bay movies, mainstream music, fast food, and business-casual dress. Vitriol over hipster condescension forms the backbone of lambastings that paint the hipster as unable to take anything seriously; as constantly putting anything and -one down; as the solipsistic, self-proclaimed keeper of the cool.
Critics see us hipsters as having a crippling detachment from reality, as if the entire world were a joke and only the cool kids were in on it. If that were true, it would be a kind of dramatic irony, and a very hard one to accept at that, which is possibly at the root of popular resentment over the matter. People need things to matter, to be important, and questioning that which is conventionally important is one of hipsters’ greatest gifts to humanity.
Still, many misuse irony when they speak of hipsters and how they seem to approach the world thinking, Wouldn’t it be funny if…
Wouldn’t it be funny if I wore this T-shirt with a wolf on it?
Wouldn’t it be funny if we did “Regulators” at karaoke?
Even, like the Onion video, wouldn’t it be funny to eat at Applebee’s?
“Oooh, those ironic hipsters, being ironic!” seethe the haters. But, that’s not really irony. Irony is a complicated situational, dramatic, and verbal construction whereby the intent of speech or action runs counter to the literal meaning, or where expectations are the opposite of results.
Tell me, what about a 26-year-old in an “ironic” Rainbow Brite shirt is anything other than exactly as it seems? It looks like a grown-up in a kid’s clothes, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Just plain hipster and proud of it!
Irony need not be funny. Imagine if, in the world of Rainbow Brite (let’s just run with it), the happy little critters from Rainbow Land were actually members of an invading alien race who had imprisoned the original denizens in underground forced labor camps. Murky Dismal, the only hope for the original inhabitants, fought a constant battle to liberate his people from the wicked machinations of Rainbow Brite and Starlite the Tyrant Horse….
How’s that for a little irony right in the childhood?
Of course, irony and sarcasm cross paths every now and again. Ask a hipster how he feels about the most recent sports bar to open in North Park, and he might say, “More drunken bros fighting and spitting up Bud Lite on our formerly artisanal streetcorners! Just what we need!” There’s something of irony in there, as the literal meaning of the words is exactly the opposite of the intended meaning. It may be a base form of irony, but it sure gets the point across.