The other night while driving home from Boston, Molly and I were listening to the Overthinking It podcast about that New York Time’s Opinionator / Stone piece that ran a month or two back. It’s titled How To Live Without Irony and is largely a complete miscast of popular culture, hipster culture, irony, sincerity and blah blah blah. One of the Overthinking It guys aptly describes it as an “intellectual train wreck.”
So but anyway me and Molly got to talking about enjoyment as it relates to culture. It seems a central characteristic in what you might call stereotypical hipster-dom is the enjoyment of, advertisement of, or involvement in a culture which one does not necessarily possess any right to enjoy, advertise or be involved in. Why do you dress like a lumberjack if you’ve never worked in the woods a day in your life? Why such an obsession with bluegrass if you were born in 1985 and live in the largest American city? Why the cowboy boots and western shirt – you’re from Danbury, Connecticut. And so on and so forth.
This lead Molly to wonder if she did, in fact, have any claim to the things she enjoys: Taylor Swift, Felicity, Gossip Girl, Fred. And furthermore, in a panic, if she actually likes anything. This is the danger of hipsterdom – and arguably the nugget at the center of the New York Time’s piece. Would anybody ever do anything they don’t… actually… enjoy? I think the answer is yes, definitely, but the equatability of such a situation to hipsterdom does not come, I don’t think, a priori. At least not in the way the Wampole seems to think it does. And enjoyment is not as simple as it might seem at first.
To talk more handily about enjoyment, hipsterdom and claims to the availability of culture, Molly and I invented a kind of Enjoyment Matrix. On one axis is a continuum from love to hate and on the other is a continuum from enjoyment to dislike. Earnest enjoyment lies in the top left corner - I like Mark Fell because I find his music interesting and I enjoy listening to it. Earnest dislike happens in the bottom left corner - if given the option, without consequence, to not go into a Hollister shop, I would not. I dislike the store and find the experience of being in one maddening and suffocating. I see no return on my investment of entering a Hollister.
The remaining two quadrants, Hateful Enjoyment and Loving Dislike are where complication, and possible hipsterness, arises. These quadrants are home to complex enjoyment and are where our sense of ironic involvement in or enjoyment of a culture or media sits. Molly does not like Taylor Swift’s music. But finds listening to it fun in a self aware kind of way. Loving Dislike. Molly does not love watching Fred videos but enjoys learning about that corner of the internet and what people are watching and making on YouTube. Hateful Enjoyment.
Molly loves (loves loves) Gossip Girl. Molly hates (hates hates) watching it.
Now. If along with any of these pieces of media, Molly also engaged in a manner of dress, speech or affect in her every day life regardless of her complex enjoyment of these medias, you might then have a solid case for claiming an ironic, hipster style co-option of that media’s related culture.
This is complicated by the fact that once you start to pretend to like something, or have a complex enjoyment of something … you might start to earnestly like it. Through repetition, it’s possible to move into the top right quadrant from any of the other three. This is a phenomenon where ironic enjoyment - due to positive friendship or event experiences among other things – leads to non-ironic, loving enjoyment (none of this changes the fact that if you enjoy something, you enjoy it. You might enjoy it for strange, possibly self-destructive reasons as Molly does with Felicity and I do with Revolution
… but enjoyment is enjoyment).
This is why it’s unfair to make fun of all hipsters who have big belt buckles and listen to country music. Some country music is really good and some hipsters legitimately enjoy it and the values and dress related to it. Wether they always did is another story entirely.