The End of Irony?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The definitive explainer on the hipster has eluded our culture. We have taken on this task, as many others have in the realm of cultural studies.

Christy Wompole, a professor at Princeton University, took this task on recently with our partner The New York Times. Her piece attracted hundreds of comments. People reacted negatively and positively to her analysis of why irony has pervaded our culture and why the hipster seems to be the edification of irony in post-modern culture.

We decided to assemble a small panel of people who either see themselves as hipsters or get accused of being hipsters. We wanted to see what they think about the cultural meme of hipster identity today and where they fit in.

Andy Mills is an associate producer WNYC's Radiolab, a radio program produced here at WNYC, which is pretty popular among hipsters according to our unscientific research.

Twenty-seven-year-old Elspeth MacMillan works in marketing in Portland, Oregon, the city made famous by the hipster mockery show Portlandia. 

Twenty-nine year-old Tyler Pratt, a student at Southwestern University and an intern at KUT Austin in Texas, says sincereity is far from dead.


Elspeth MacMillan, Andy Mills, Tyler Pratt and Christy Wompole

Comments [18]

Keith Malek from Brooklyn, NY

I'm sick of our illiterate culture's incorrect use of the word "irony." Irony is, for example, when you get run over by a truck containing coffins. It doesn't make you "ironic" if you go to see a movie that you have no interest in seeing. If you do that, all it does is confirm what everyone already knows about hipsters: they have way too much time on their hands (since they don't work) and way too much money (since most of them are trust-fund babies. The fact that you're thirty-five years old and wearing a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles t-shirt is not ironic. It means that you're an idiot who needs to grow up and acquire an adult wardrobe and an adult lifestyle.

Dec. 13 2012 06:48 PM
JR Evans from New Paltz NY

I view someone's reliance on irony as a stage in their mental development, right after the bubble of innocence is broken, when they truly begin to realize how hard and unforgiving life can be. They use irony and humor to help them cope. After that they'll hopefully reach a stage where they decide to rise up, be strong and try to contribute some positive energy to the world rather than stand by and gawk at how overwhelmingly sick and off-balance it is. This is where sincerity becomes a big part of their approach to others and life. I admit I'm not fully there yet, but I know some inspiring people who are. Irony is just too damn fun to give up yet!

Maybe, just maybe this rather large age of irony will give way to an equally large age of sincerity!

Dec. 12 2012 08:24 PM
Glace from New Yawk

VIVA Le Age of Sincerity!
After all: Life is a VERY. SERIOUS. THING.
I remain your forever humorless victim.
Glace xx

Dec. 12 2012 03:25 PM
unkerjay from Puget Sound, WA

This sounded a LOT like someone trying to explain what art is or is not or
as the late Johnny Carson once explained, the problem of trying to explain why something is funny (by the time you're done, it's not).

I didn't learn enough about hipsters, irony, or the people involved in this
piece to care about any of it / them.

A politician once gave an incoherent explanation to Ted Koppel / Nightline.
When afforded the opportunity to clarify his remarks, he replied, "Absolutely not. To attempt to do so would only further confuse you."

That's what listening to this felt like, sounded like.

Dec. 11 2012 08:19 PM

It seems as the only sense at all from the show came in the comments below. And I completely agree with dchriest from Seattle as far the definition of irony goes. The only truly critical rebuttal to Wampole's piece can be found here: Everyone else just took Wampole's words at face value. It seems like critical thinking is dead nowadays.

Dec. 11 2012 05:54 PM

Since when is it new for our culture to expect us to keep everything inside and keep our true feelings quiet? Our society has LONG appreciated people who put on a brave face, a unified front, a happy mask. Who don't bother others with their problems or air their dirty laundry or rock the boat with dissent or act outside the "norm." We appreciate heroes who are hard, don't show when they're afraid or hurt, persevere no matter what. When is the last time someone asked "how are you?" and actually wanted to know? See how quickly people get fed up if you talk about something bad happening to you-- it isn't long before they want and expect you to get over it already. Admit you're sensitive or sad and they think you're weak. Joni Mitchell reminded us in the 60s that "if you care, don't let them know-- don't give yourself away."
Animals often hide when they're injured or weak-- they know it makes them vulnerable. Why are we surprised when people do it, too? What does it accomplish to show someone they've hurt you? To air every grievance or pain? I've learned from experience-- they won't respect you. Some will take advantage of you. They won't want to be around you. IF putting on a hard facade is so undesirable, maybe our society should stop glorifying it and treating those who share their true feelings like pariahs.

Dec. 11 2012 05:52 PM
dchriest from Seattle

After listening to this segment I wondered if anybody really knows what "Irony" is these days. All I heard was *sarcasm* and *facetiousness*, not irony. Irony is quite different.

Dec. 11 2012 04:41 PM
johnny steel!

todays take away interviews brought up an interesting problem. i see people with very creative clothing listening to very boring POPular music. be interesting inside and out. if you must dress like a hipster, please stop supporting pop garbage. we will be judged by future generations more for our art than our clothes.

Dec. 11 2012 04:38 PM
picpdx from PDX

I heard nothing much from this segment but several self satisfied narcissistic souls. Take some time away from the mirror and help those who are in need. Silly people!

Dec. 11 2012 04:03 PM
david from ditmas park

I am surprised to find that anyone would identify themselves as "hipster."

Please don't encourage them by giving them airtime...

Dec. 11 2012 03:25 PM
izzalooloo from Brooklyn, New York

"Are we insane for spending any time on this at all?"

I rolled my eyes the whole segment but never turned the station. Couldn't. The pleasure of self-righteous eye-rolling is too too seductive.

But seriously folks, the age of irony wears on us earnest folks out here who go from deep empathy to loud raucous laughter in a nanosecond. I worry about the ease of irony and snark. It's just too too easy and disassociative. Is the Age of Irony dangerous? No - it's just a sign of being oversaturated and exhausted from the Age of Everything.

Thanks for the segment. I eye-rolled and LOL'ed my way through it. \:-D Always a big fan of The Takeaway


Dec. 11 2012 03:24 PM
Maria Reidelbach from Accord NY

False irony is a way of having your cake and eating it, too. You can have a position on something and then say "just kidding." I employ irony very judiciously. I am an irony snob.

Dec. 11 2012 03:17 PM
R-Writer from Manhattan

This whole conversation is going to sound SO old in 10 or 20 years.

Dec. 11 2012 03:16 PM
Mr. Kawakubo from Portland, Oregon

Hipsters are the liberal version of Joe the Plumber. They are terribly American and this is the crux of the irony, yet they don’t see it at all. It is true they are living on the defensive, they are only a reaction, in the same way that the religious live, insulating themselves from the allegedly devil-driven evil of the world around them. That is what is so repulsive about both hipsters and nature lovers, they share the same concepts and conceits, that the world has gone haywire and they have the true, authentic version. But hipsters are ever more thoroughly vacant because their response to world doesn’t even offer an external solace like an obsessive love of nature, they turn inward and have an obsessive love of their own inner idiot and relish in their filthy self indulgent quirks. Perhaps, many of us are so put off by hipsters because we feel they should know better, that they are so close, but they miss the mark every time, sort of in the way we want oppressed minorities to learn from the experience, but so often they don’t connect the dots and repeat the same barbarism that they were victims of--- they too become bigots. That is what worries us, that hipsters are so similar to many of us, they share some of the same ideologies and aesthetics, but they have gone only slightly off-kilter, but not so far off-kilter that their disease is instantly apparent, and this silent masquerade is more detrimental to society, because it has an easier chance of infecting all of us.

Dec. 11 2012 01:59 PM
Jerrold Richards from Lyle, Washington

Inevitably these ironic people, skittering so desperately on the surface like a waterbug, must face injury, illness, pain, suffering, NPR, loss, death. That should take care of the problem.

Dec. 11 2012 01:34 PM
Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, N.Y.

Our fathers grew up during the age of Iron, and we grew up in the age of Irony -
Hopefully, we will have so many moments of crisis strung together in a row, it will eliminate irony entirely... I mean that ironically.

Or perhaps the pharmacy will start having Anti-Irony pills...What should that pill be called?

Dec. 11 2012 01:23 PM
Zack Rouse from Portland, OR

Hi, all. Just wanted to throw my ironic opinion in the mix. Look: this is not a question of a generational lack of respect for things that came before. I believe there is a general problem of irreverence, a lack of respect for the "other" in our society. And some of the greatest perpetrators of this foul modus is the babyboomer generation. I think younger generations understand far too well the problems that face us as a country and the world in general. I think if anyone is in denial, it's the people who've spent their entire lives proving a way of life's validity that is now shown unequivocally to be outmoded.

Dec. 11 2012 01:22 PM

Depending on how irony composed and delivered and why it is used... Irony can have the impact of a poem. It's a creative tool that should be selectively used to communicate ideas that might be lost if irony wasn't included.

Dec. 11 2012 12:15 PM

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