Monday, April 23, 2012

The Triviality of Being Earnest


29.2 Million Views
            Earnestness is dying in American culture. Where passion and genuineness once resided now lies apathy and irony. The internet has provided an avenue to shoot trends and fads into the public consciousness faster than ever. My mother understands the concept of a lolcat and my father laughs at Epic Meal Time. But the internet also continues pushing this content past us at unimaginable speeds. Information disappears over the horizon before we can begin to recognize its details and message. Artists and entrepreneurs have a large market than previous generations could ever have fathomed… if they can stay relevant for any period of time.
            People have gotten used to this fact. On the internet, you blink and you miss it. It’s created an entire crowd on the internet, fighting to prove they aren’t part of the popular mob by staying one internet-culture-step ahead of it. Everyone has had run-ins with this mindset. The scoffs we offer in response to a picture we have seen before. The refusal to watch a video that you’ve seen only a week prior. I’m very definitely guilty of these crimes.
            This “beat-you-to-it” attitude has escaped its natural home of the internet. Free from the digital chains jumped our favorite cultural identity: the hipster.


76% Dislike Ratio
            The hipster rode from the World Wide Web on their fixie bike and set up shop in our cafes and studio apartments. Their entire existence is pinned on being ahead of popular culture, a group of ironically-mustachioed Lots escaping the Sodom and Gomorra of The Gap and Network TV. They are Hines Ward in the Dark Knight Rises trailer, except instead of a football field turning into a crater, they are outrunning their bands headlining concerts. Nobody has ever spent as much time and money proving to others that they don’t care what they think.
"Oh god, Glee got them. Glee got them all."
            But there is a problem. The same institution that birthed them is slowly destroying them. The internet has, through pure exposure, made hipster culture “cool.” The end result creates a popular movement, always chasing after the ground breakers in fashion and music. The tragedy lies within the very characteristic that defines hipsters- they can never rest. The V’s must be deeper, pants tighter, and music more obscure than the washed masses, consuming their non-consumptive culture. There is  no way to constantly stay ahead in real life as they do on the internet. The hipster is being run down by an oncoming train of popular culture and mass media. The only way to keep from being liquefied by MTV’s cowcatcher and J.C. Penny’s steam engine is also the simplest: step to the side.
"Oh god, it's the refinished Blu-Ray of Star Wars!"
            The hipster can only stay a hipster by abandoning earnestness. To escape the genuine appreciation of the popular culture, hipsters must take shelter in the realm of irony.

“So Bad I Can’t Stop Watching”
            I just want to admit something really quick. I am guilty of some of these behaviors I’m about to list. Nobody can escape all ironic behavior. The problem occurs when irony becomes your true motivation. I sometimes wear the thrift store T-shirt and I love watching terrible movies in a group so we can laugh and point. But even I can admit: Irony, objectively and definitively, is dumb. Not the Alanis Morissette type irony, poetic irony, or the oft-confused coincidence. The irony of doing things you don’t like.
            Drinking crappy beer. Listening to awful music. Dressing like you were caught in a tornado born from a gay hillbilly’s “maybe” pile. Knowing what you are doing and still doing it. Irony is dumb.
"Call me Maebe." -The opening
lines in my upcoming novel
Arrested Moby Dick-velement.
            By any sort of rational explanation, Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” is a terrible song. For goodness’ sake, it’s missing a comma in its title. But one is beginning to hear it on the radio. This isn’t a Zoidberg-ian “Your music is bad and you should feel bad!” I don’t like country. However, I accept that others genuinely enjoy it. This is a feud against the “I know it’s a terrible song, but let’s play it again!” statement. If you know it is bad, or gross, or terrible, or even ugly, step away! You’ll feel much better enjoying a world without it. You don’t purposefully date people you despise just because it would be so very wacky.
            The internet hates a lot of things: conservative politics, a lack of boobs in every female’s correspondence, and Justin Bieber. Things in popular culture astound me as objects of this kind of hatred. The loudest critics of Twilight often know the story best. Aggressive atheists list chapter and verse of Bible passages better than ministers. And everyone hates how much everyone else is talking about Justin Bieber. What they fail to understand is that items of popular culture are a product, and every time they are brought up, it is akin to being bought. If you want to stop hearing about Justin Bieber, stop talking about him.
            Irony proliferates the very things that the ironic are rebelling against. Irony ironically creates genuineness in the things that were being made fun of. The train has come off of the rails and turned for the hipster once again, and he is no longer safe from Jay Leno and popular radio stations.
            So the ironic turn to anything genuine and blame it for the popular culture attempting to encompass them. The ironic must hate the genuine. It is the most ironic thing possible. High school and college students with school spirit are ostracized for caring too much in the very thing that is expected of them. People with hobbies or passions not shared by the people around them are put out to the pasture. Anybody that actually has the stomach to go out on a limb and have something be emotionally important to them is ripe for criticism, deserved or not. Those that create things for their own enjoyment can see it ripped to shreds. I’m not doing this for my own benefit or in my own defense. I don’t get much of any reaction to things I write. I’m doing this in defense of the internet’s favorite whipping girl for the past year.

Gotta Get Down
            The person greatest harmed by growing cancer of irony is an unlikely subject. Pretty universally reviled, she’s been unwillingly thrust into the realm of the infamous. Rebecca Black, “artist” behind the landmark internet video Friday. This is a teenager that made a music video. Yes, it’s a terrible song and terrible video. There’s no denying that. But in a world that still widely believed in genuine enjoyment of entertainment, the video would have died outside the sphere of friends and relatives obligated to watch it, much like those of you that have read this post this far.
            But instead, irony rules our culture, and the worst things go the farthest. Friday rose to one of the most viewed videos on YouTube. Even with all of its views, no other video until Rick Perry’s “Strength” ad received more dislikes. Everyone hated it, and everyone showed it to somebody else. But it was clear that Rebecca Black was trying to do something well and seemed to be having a good enough time doing it, so the backlash was directed against her, instead of those that spread the video around. She received threats and harassment unseen in civilized life. All for making a video that wasn’t very good, and being unlucky enough to have it catch on in ironic fame.

Tomorrow’s Saturday
            So where do we go from here? How do we return to the days when what was actually good got worn, listened to, or watched? There is no easy answer to this question. Social trends are not easy to reverse, especially those that survive on the idea that effort is just failure waiting to happen. Irony can be overcome by genuine enjoyment again, but we may risk sounding like an after-school special. We each carry the burden of rejecting the idea that we’re too cool to like some culture, or know some piece of information. By admitting our own each individual nerdetry (and not popular culture nerdetry that hot girls think means “handsome guys with glasses”), we avoid the collective dumb-ing down of society and the shrinking of culture. At the same time, we all have to understand that people not sharing your opinions on certain subjects is not an attack. Only after managing to balance genuine enjoyment with genuine criticism will society be truly happy.
            Also if we have alarm clocks that use fart noises. That’d be a hilarious way to start the day.

He has feelings, okay?!

Mick Dickinson

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