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Like wearing Ugg boots and board shorts

If you have to explain it, you’re missing the point

Genius is irreducible. Just enjoy.
Genius is irreducible. Just enjoy.

Dear Hipster:

My roommate and I worked our way through a half dozen cans of Steel Reserve the other night while we watched the majority of a new Netflix documentary series about obscure competitions called We Are the Champions. We agreed it’s a great show, but we couldn’t exactly agree on why, and we spent a huge amount of effort, probably fueled by the Steel Reserve, trying to articulate an intelligible principle that describes why the show works so well where other, similar concepts so often fall flat. For example, you could probably go to any film festival and watch half-a-dozen documentaries about obscure stuff without caring about them, so we can’t say it’s a virtue of pure randomness, yet that has to be at the heart of it because obscure and unexpected stuff is the most hipster-delightful. Is there a central principle at work there, or is it pure randomness?

— Killian

I know that feeling you’re trying to describe, and I agree it’s notoriously hard to pin down. It’s like wearing Ugg boots and board shorts when the weather is not too cold and not too hot so your snuggy warm feet are perfectly balanced out by the brisk chill of your knees, and you don’t care that everybody’s giving you side-eye at the office that day.

It’s like when somebody tells you there’s a band called BABYMETAL. You think it’s going to be either (1) actual heavy metal music for babies, which is almost impossible to conceptualize if you’ve ever met an actual baby or listened to actual heavy metal; or (2) a kind of KidzBop version of heavy metal songs, which is almost painfully easy to conceptualize if you’ve ever spent more than forty-five seconds around children with access to their parents’ Alexa; but in reality it’s a third kind of thing that is so much better than both of the other things.

It’s the difference between hearing someone describe a Colombian-style hot dog (a steamed dog playing host to a litany of toppings, including crushed pineapple, mustard, ketchup, mayo, raspberry sauce, and crushed up potato chips), which sounds unworkable; and actually eating a Colombian-style hotdog, which forever revolutionizes your views on hot dogs.

In reality, the magic formula here, the secret sauce, may prove ultimately inscrutable. The French call it the je ne sais quoi, which, if you translate it literally, means “I don’t know what.” That suggests something that by definition resists definition. Some might see this as a cop-out for the intellectually lazy, a means for those who can’t be bothered by specificity when enshrining their personal preferences and so appealing to the quasi-mystical quality of being somehow beyond human comprehension.

I disagree. I think that some things in life would be destroyed if they were reduced to anything less than being understood purely on their own terms. In some ways, this basic principle props up all of modern art. People will try, but nobody can really “explain” a Rothko, and any attempt to do so falls far short of a single good look at a scale of 1:1. Some things simply are the way they are, and if you can explain them, it’s almost as if you have to explain them; and if you have to explain them, you’re missing the point.

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Genius is irreducible. Just enjoy.
Genius is irreducible. Just enjoy.

Dear Hipster:

My roommate and I worked our way through a half dozen cans of Steel Reserve the other night while we watched the majority of a new Netflix documentary series about obscure competitions called We Are the Champions. We agreed it’s a great show, but we couldn’t exactly agree on why, and we spent a huge amount of effort, probably fueled by the Steel Reserve, trying to articulate an intelligible principle that describes why the show works so well where other, similar concepts so often fall flat. For example, you could probably go to any film festival and watch half-a-dozen documentaries about obscure stuff without caring about them, so we can’t say it’s a virtue of pure randomness, yet that has to be at the heart of it because obscure and unexpected stuff is the most hipster-delightful. Is there a central principle at work there, or is it pure randomness?

— Killian

I know that feeling you’re trying to describe, and I agree it’s notoriously hard to pin down. It’s like wearing Ugg boots and board shorts when the weather is not too cold and not too hot so your snuggy warm feet are perfectly balanced out by the brisk chill of your knees, and you don’t care that everybody’s giving you side-eye at the office that day.

It’s like when somebody tells you there’s a band called BABYMETAL. You think it’s going to be either (1) actual heavy metal music for babies, which is almost impossible to conceptualize if you’ve ever met an actual baby or listened to actual heavy metal; or (2) a kind of KidzBop version of heavy metal songs, which is almost painfully easy to conceptualize if you’ve ever spent more than forty-five seconds around children with access to their parents’ Alexa; but in reality it’s a third kind of thing that is so much better than both of the other things.

It’s the difference between hearing someone describe a Colombian-style hot dog (a steamed dog playing host to a litany of toppings, including crushed pineapple, mustard, ketchup, mayo, raspberry sauce, and crushed up potato chips), which sounds unworkable; and actually eating a Colombian-style hotdog, which forever revolutionizes your views on hot dogs.

In reality, the magic formula here, the secret sauce, may prove ultimately inscrutable. The French call it the je ne sais quoi, which, if you translate it literally, means “I don’t know what.” That suggests something that by definition resists definition. Some might see this as a cop-out for the intellectually lazy, a means for those who can’t be bothered by specificity when enshrining their personal preferences and so appealing to the quasi-mystical quality of being somehow beyond human comprehension.

I disagree. I think that some things in life would be destroyed if they were reduced to anything less than being understood purely on their own terms. In some ways, this basic principle props up all of modern art. People will try, but nobody can really “explain” a Rothko, and any attempt to do so falls far short of a single good look at a scale of 1:1. Some things simply are the way they are, and if you can explain them, it’s almost as if you have to explain them; and if you have to explain them, you’re missing the point.

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