Irony of ironies at Hipster Runoff

Not a photo of the pseudonymous Carles, author of Hipster Runoff

Perhaps, like me, you had heard of Hipster Runoff but never actually read it. The site is a sort of parody of mp3 blogs, but to describe it that way is like describing Andy Kaufman as a wrestling comedian. Hipster Runoff is written by Carles, a fictional character whose style is defined by A) relentless use of chat jargon and B) a proliferation of scare quotes, which he seems to put around any concept he does not feel totally comfortable with. Here’s Carles on the vexing question of what he calls bubblegum indie:

What if MGMT’s “KIDS” had come out in 2011? Would they be able to morph into an intriguing ‘indie’ buzzband. When analyzing their ‘success’ in the context of a bubblegum indie MP3 that propelled them to super-mindie stardom, it is easier to understand their ‘drastic change in direction’ for their second album, just to attempt to get rid of some of the entry-level fans who ‘liked’ them 4 the ‘wrong reasons.’

I guess really those are scare apostrophes, but you get the point. Irony of ironies, all is irony. Besides the hilarious conceit of wondering how everything might have been different if it happened, like, three years later, something is being expressed here. What Carles means by “bubblegum indie” is never clearly defined, and he winds up applying it to pretty much every popular-and-then-too-popular hipster jam of the decade. That’s his point. Hipster Runoff is a blog about the existential bugbear of hipsterism: authenticity.

As literally every consideration of the subculture must now note, the hallmark of the hipster is his refusal to identify as a hipster. As with “grunge” and “yuppie,” that’s partly because the term is idiotically inclusive. Now that PBR and certain bicycles are hipster, it’s starting to look like an epiphenomenon. Yet if hipsterism is any way real, what’s real about it is the desire to live meaningfully in a way that is free from crass cultural influences—you know, like hipsterism. That’s the problem. You’re a hipster because you’re constantly looking for new, cool, untainted stuff, which means identifying inauthentic stuff and/or approaching that stuff from the safety of irony. As Steve Spillman puts it:

In a world fraught with multiple meanings, trends moving at the speed of light, and not enough language to capture it, Carles becomes (understandably) disappointed by irony. But, much like the langue of internet-speak, it’s the only thing he knows.

Irony is kind of the opposite of authenticity. Yet is is also the hipster’s—and really any thinking person’s—primary weapon against the inauthentic. That’s a problem, since irony is constantly being appropriated. Plus, things like MGMT that you like now might easily come to seem repellent, forcing you to ironize them later. Or you might still like them but watch other people turn against, in which case irony will allow you to keep consuming them while preserving a nominal authenticity. Basically, you can use irony on everything, to the point where you’re not even sure what you actually like.

And there lies the hipster’s dilemma. To be authentic, you must authentically like stuff. Yet the mark of the inauthentic masses, the not-hip, is that they like stuff that is not authentic. They think that “Lisztomania” is that song from the McDonald’s commercial, when really it’s that song everybody liked three years ago before we realized it was just bubblegum indie, as confirmed by its appearance in a McDonald’s commercial. We have to repudiate “Lisztomania” now, even if we still like it, which means our tastes are as much at the mercy of mass culture as everybody else’s. As Carles puts it:

These days, it kinda feels like indie music exists just 2 be used in commercials. Foster the People’s hit “Pumped Up Kicks” kinda makes us feel like there was never really any point in the whole ‘indie movement’ and the boring genre has been swallowed whole by corporate America. It’s a dark day now that one of the most beloved indie songs “Lisztomania” by Phoenix was used in a McDonalds commercial.

The joke here is that “Lisztomania” was never “one of the most beloved indie songs,” and that Carles is describing a phenomenon of disillusionment that has been happening at least since the Ramones. It probably started with Buddy Holly. For those of us who are horribly old, that may be the biggest reason for skepticism toward the hipster meme: it describes the exact same cycle of longing for authenticity, disillusionment and rejection that we saw with grunge, punk, and any other type of culture that posits itself against the mainstream. The difference is that in this age of the hipster, the mainstream/indie dichotomy is more false than its ever been. That’s why no hipster is a hipster: indie is fake, too.

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  1. Hipsters are 4chan kids too:

    That, combined with this post, and seeing the term “metal hipster” on my Facebook yesterday, lead me to conclude Hipster is everything to all people. It’s only meaning is “counterculture.” And so naturally, since they’re edgy and cool–though mostly infuriating since I’m getting too old for this shit–the mainstream appropriates many of its features. If your single defining feature is a commitment to critiquing the mainstream, you obviously have a problem with mainstream appropriation forcing you to change your favorite bands every month, hence Hipster Runoff and the almost indisiguishable Hipster Dinosaurs.

    The solution to the hipster dilemma is to stop being edgy and cool, as edgy and cool is what sells products to the majority. More to the point, hipsters need to understand that they’re defining what’s cool and stop posting about it on the internet or talking to friends who own a zine (do those still exist?). That’s the only way the mainstream can find out what you’re doing! Understand your role in the system, hipsters. If you want to stop corporate copting you need to stop being cooler than the majority who are just trying to keep up with the Joneses.

    The consequence of liking what you like and not telling everyone about it is that you cease to be an identity consumer, and it alleviates the pain when McDonalds coopts your favorite song. You just keep liking them and no one thinks you’re lame because you never made a big deal about authenticity. And it forces the mainstream to search harder for trends which help it sell stuff.

    I believe the above is true for any counterculture “movement” since the inception of mass culture, whether beatnics or hippies or grunge. The counterculture always drives what’s cool into new places, and the majority always struggles to keep up. The majority only wants to buy cool shit, and cool shit is whatever the counterculture is doing. As you said, the process just keeps repeating itself and so the Danny Glovers of the world remain skeptical. This should be part of school curriculum or something.

  2. I don’t know what any of this is referring to and I refuse to click on the links. The point, I suppose, is that fashion is transient, and folks can be fake. Wow.

    You guys should check out Brazilian music. Nobody has ever “liked” a samba ironically. Brazilians must be the most lovely, unironic people on earth.

  3. I wonder how much of this phenomenon is explained by the fact that we as individuals crave both stuff we like and originality (both of which, interestingly, contribute to “authenticity”) but it is hard to have them both when a billion other individuals are reaching for the same thing.

  4. Oops, looks like you missed something–Lisztomania isn’t in that McDonald’s commercial. It was an obvious ripoff of Lisztomania, and Carles was reporting on it as if he didn’t notice the difference (obviously, a pretty easy mistake to make). Further down the rabbit hole of HRO…

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