Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Breakfast of Irony

Perhaps some of you in places like Seattle, Portland, New York/Brooklyn, Boston, etc.etc, have noticed the modern cultural and societal movement known as "hipsters". Hipsters are a bit hard to describe, but they're like porn in that you "know it when you see it." For those that have never seen it (hipsters, not porn) let me try and give a good description. give the definition of "a person, esp. during the 1950s, characterized by a particularly strong sense of alienation from most established social activities and relationships." This is great, but it's referring to the 1950's version, but that's an important tie to hipsterdom, so we'll keep it. The rest of the definition is great, remember that too. Now throw in a good sprinkle of post-goth aesthetic, so a good amount of dark clothing and eye make-up. Add anything that you can refer to as "indy" and you'll definitely be on the right track. But there are two ideals that can't be left out of any hipster description and those are "retro" and "irony".

Take anything that is obviously retro, like any previous fashion ideal, say the 1950's hipster aesthetic, 1970's disco, 1980's New Wave, 1920's Flapper, 1890's facial hair, and make it your own in some way, through fashion, decorations, hair styles, or mannerisms. So far I've not seen a lot of the 1990's in there, but I think they aren't officially retro yet, at least not in the areas I've seen yet. Anything "retro" is fair game, and mixing and matching is not only acceptable but encouraged, though not required. Sometimes people go for a very authentic look, but usually add a bit of an edge to it, like "pin-up-girl" with fangs, or something like that. A favorite band of mine, the March Fourth Marching Band of Portland, OR, all wear old high school marching band outfits that have been mismatched, ripped up, altered in all sorts of various ways to make them "edgy" (another key hipster word). They're fantastic, check them out here.

The other word to remember, and perhaps the most important of all, is "irony". Irony is sometimes an idea hard for people to grasp, made more difficult by the fact that there are lots of different types of irony (verbal irony, sarcasm, tragic irony, cosmic irony, both of the fatalistic and the historic varieties). The Wikipedias say "irony is a rhetorical device, literary technique, or situation in which there is an incongruity or discordance that goes beyond the simple and evident meaning of words or actions," or in other words it's when one thing is expected or assumed but another thing happens, and you're often amusedly or painfully aware of the unexpected outcome. For hipsters irony most often comes in the form of t-shirts.

That's right, t-shirts. Any t-shirt that has some saying or graphic, or a saying and a graphic, that plays with conventions or ideals in some way is a corner stone to the hipster aesthetic. For example, I have a black shirt that says, in muted 80's butt rock font, "I'm huge in Japan". Quite simple, that is all, but suddenly the fact becomes clear that I am not at all huge in Japan, nor am I a band that could be huge in Japan, but if I WAS a band that was huge in Japan that would be really fun, but I'm not, so it's ironic. Jesus often figures prominently in many of these shirts, perhaps riding a dinosaur with a nice glass of wine, or maybe listening to his iPod while hanging from the cross. One must be careful sometimes though, and not because offense could be taken to some of these shirts. In fact offensiveness is a plus most of the time. You have to be careful of being too obvious; Jesus smoking a joint. Really? That's the best you can do? "Look man, it's JESUS, and he's HIGH!!!" No no no, irony is a serious business, not for the feint of heart or the couch surfing stoner of yore. Creativity and juxtaposition of randomly funny/offensive things takes effort, smoke out AFTER you've put the shirt together.

The irony goes well beyond t-shirts though. In fact, anywhere you can infuse your persona with irony is fair game. Again more points for creativity. A good starting place is to embrace whole heartedly all things that have been rejected as stupid by the mainstream. Have a flock-of-seaguls hair style and wear it with pride. Be a fatty and wear bare midrif shirts, also with pride (and a nice pair of black thick rimmed glasses and peg-leg jeans). Perhaps you project disintegrating apathy toward all topics of conversation, but you work at a non-profit trying to save the world. Musicals have recently won a curious resurgence, and Glee is actually popular, partly because it's now ironic to like them.

If you want to get even more esoteric you can start to take on ironic personality traits. A hipster favorite is to look menacing and depressed, like you're going to shoot everyone in the room before opening your own veins whilst listening to old Smiths records (the fact that in this scenario you have taken the time to set up a record player and speakers in the place you're about to massacre is wildly important to the irony factor), but you would never do something so horrible and violent!! You're actually a strict vegan, the nicest person anyone has ever met, you read stories to kindergarden kids, and you still live with your mom, for whom you make breakfast for every morning, in your "save a cow, eat a vegan" t-shirt and spiked collar. But you do listen to the Smiths, on vinyl of course. Or perhaps you can be a neuroscientist, while looking like a hobo. The options are as limitless as your ironic imagination.

Corporations are, in hipster land, the personification of evil. For the longest time if you were in any way associated with a corporation you just could not be a hipster, period. But some brave souls have started to push the boundaries of irony so far that there are now full-on Hipster Corporate Execs, saving the world one public share at a time. The shear colossal amount of pure irony of this new form of hipster, and amount which really was too much for other hipsters to handle for quite some time, is enough to bathe yourself in. If you can pull off the Hipster Corporate Exec you might actually set off ironi-gasms all over hipsterdom. You would be a god. Except embracing your godly power would make you much less ironic, so you're instead really totally humble and really one of the nicest guys and really give a lot to local charities and farmers markets. "Wow," someone replies, in purposely yet ironically calm contentment, "he sounds really cool." "Yeah, he totally is.... You've probably never heard of his corporation though, it's like really obscure." "....radical...."

Hipsters breath irony. They eat it for breakfast. Without it they whither and turn into hippies, goths, emos and nerds. With it they transcend all these things to become something much more.

So this brings us to Berlin, of course. The connection from Berlin to Hipsters is simple; this city IS a Hipster. It's a mix of all styles, all of them totally retro and worn with pride. It's poor, and yet fabulous and sexy. You'll hear music of all genres and quite often from vinyl, because they never did bother getting some newer form of media. And irony abounds here, with a 22% unemployment rate in the capitol of Europe's biggest economy, a seedy almost dangerous feel to areas that are completely safe and family friendly, dense urban living amongst wide avenues and sprawling parks, the list of ironies goes on and on. And the people reflect these qualities too. Many of the 20-40 year olds look like they've stepped right out of Williamsburg, and have many of the same attitudes as hipsters all over the States. But when asked if they know what a hipster is they have no idea what you're talking about.

And there's the crux of the matter; can you actually be a hipster without knowing you're a hipster, without cultivating your ironic retro persona? Or is this perhaps the greatest, most hugest irony of all; without even really trying Berlin has perfected a trend that so many have strived so hard for years to pull off in the States?? Is the sea of irony that Berlin floats in so vast that one can't even see that it's there, and are we all at risk of drowning in it here???

I don't know man, it like really doesn't interest me that much, ya know? But that t-shirt is f#%king gnarly man, where did you get it?? You made it!! No way!! Here's a flyer for my art showing/techno birthday party. Wear something pink, with fake fur. It's gonna be totes awesome. Later.


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