Episode 230: There’s Nothing New under The Hipster Cowboy Hat

The Overthinkers tackle “How to Live Without Irony” from the New York Times

Ben Adams, Peter Fenzel, Mark Lee, John Perich, and Matthew Wrather overthink How to Live Without Irony.


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28 Comments on “Episode 230: There’s Nothing New under The Hipster Cowboy Hat”

  1. Pasteur #

    Amazingly lucid, given the topic. This may be a better choice for operation: “share OTI with someone you love” than the past few podcasts have been.

    Where does “earnestness” lie with respect to “irony”? Are they in opposition, or superposition?


    • fenzel OTI Staff #

      We’ve talked about earnestness vs. irony a bunch – some of the overthinkers ascribe to the idea that irony is by definition and popular ruse in enough opposition to earnestness that they coined the term “earony” to refer to when people are being earnest and ironic at the same time (like, say, when they are watching Adventure Time).

      Personally I’m a bit of a curmudgeon, and prefer to see instances of “earony” as examples of how irony and earnestness are not in opposition, but operate along different dialectical axes (earnesty instead being in opposition to things like suspiciousness, flippancy, insincerity or introversion, rather than to irony).

      Of course, there is a monumental canonical text on the subject: Oscar Wilde’s _The Importance of Being Earnest_, which both indicts earnestness as a fashionable social grace and form of preening without much actual substance, and also follows people wrapped up in inescapable self-reference as they seek out love and trust, if not authenticity.

      There is of course also the work of the legendary Jim Varney, which identifies earnestness as a form of ignorance – Earnest’s own life is terribly ironic, and to any degree that he escapes it, it is only possible because he is ignorant of it – that Earnest can’t live less ironically, but he can live obliviously, which has a certain charm and, in a rather dark and biting way, a certain virtue.


      • Pasteur #

        I had always read “earony”, but I had never gotten its connection to “earnest”! That finally makes a little more sense.


      • Vishal #

        Can you unpack earony v/s irony a bit?

        If I complain about my attempts to lose weight while ordering a Big Mac and large fries, am I being ironic or earonic? If I earnestly worry about global warming but still have to drive a car to work every day, which am I? To be ironic, is it enough to be aware of the inconsistencies of my situation? Or must I make a hipster-like statement, or revel in those inconsistencies like Jack & Algy from “The Importance of…” – where do you draw that line?

        Good podcast. I second Pasteur’s idea of using this as your starter episode for “tell a friend”.


    • MomentEye #

      I think the discussion of irony and earnestness is actually missing the point.
      The real activity of all of punk,glam,grunge,hipsterism etc is transgression. “Look at me I’m doing something outrageous.”

      So when everyone was getting into being all ripped and torn it became transgressive to dress up in tweed.

      When that ironic stance became an accepted and understood method of communication then irony itself became sufficiently commonplace as to lose it’s value (in the field of being transgressive)

      So witness the shock with which the bronies were welcomed into the discourse (drink). In shocked and hushed tones we would say “And it isn’t even ironic… they’re really into it”

      So earnestness as a kind of proscribed uncoolness has become the new ironic.

      So what I really think Wampole is railing against (besides, y’know, kids these days) is artifice and the desire to shock for its own sake rather than from an authentic expression of a self that others might find shocking.


    • fenzel OTI Staff #



  2. Kimbo Jones #

    And we’re sure her article was sincere and not one big troll? ‘Cause that would be amazing. Given some of the things mentioned in the podcast that she gave as examples of sincerity vs examples of irony, I have to wonder…


    • Laural #

      I read the article and it seemed to be sincere. The writer is the same age as I am and her examples of “non-ironic culture” did indeed make my jaw drop. Talking about the early ’90s and then bashing nostalgia was especially grim.


  3. Laural #

    I guess “Living Without the Post-Modern Lack of Sincerity” wouldn’t make a great title.


  4. The Eye Collector #

    Please don’t flame me, but I’m going to mention Alanis Morrisette ONLY as an introduction to an interesting point I PROMISE hey guys come back…

    Anyway. My point is that in the UK we have this expression “sod’s law” – I don’t know if it’s used in the U.S. too, but basically it brings in an element of misfortune that is present in that song – winning the lottery and then dying soon after, paying for a ticket and then it not being checked or (as happened to me last week) remembering your raincoat every day apart from the one day it actually rains.

    I was just wondering if anyone had thoughts on the role of misfortune in irony? Especially dramatic irony – for example, in Romeo and Juliet the couple are consistently unfortunate in terms of him missing the arrival of the vital letter explaining her apparent death and the like. Can there be an element of irony in tragedy? In which case, what do we think about the possible connection between irony and some eternal force opposing our will – crying “sod’s law” to me is a kind of complaint against those things over which we have no control.

    Now I think about it, given that dramatic irony is contingent on the audience having knowledge of things that the characters don’t, what do you think we know that the hipsters don’t? Or what do they know that we don’t? That asparagus from the farmers market really DOES taste better? I’m beginning to question my whole world…


    • The Eye Collector #

      ‘An *external* force opposing our will.’ Damn autocorrect.


    • The Eye Collector #

      Even though it’s obviously unspeakably vulgar to follow up your own comment (twice) I just had an idea so I’m going to do it anyway.

      I think it was Perich that said perhaps the author of the article was trying to advocate conducting oneself in a more open way – sharing more of our inner lives and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable in our relationships with other people rather than always using a shield of irony as protection. I think that links quite well to the idea that dramatic irony requires one party to have knowledge that is withheld from the other. By sharing knowledge of ourselves with others we decrease the possibilities for dramatic irony in our own lives.

      Is that going too far?


  5. Gab #

    So is it ironic for kids that are too young to have been around for Atari or even the original NES to wear Atari and 8-bit-looking Nintendo shirts?

    In thinking about it a little, would the underlying mocking nature of some hipsterism mean it’s more specifically sarcasm?

    FYI: “Father of Mine” = Everclear

    Wow, abortion jokes.

    Fenzel, Wrather, is it a stretch to say the two of you are getting at reverse psychology in Re: Adele? Or manipulation?


    • Lee OTI Staff #

      That’s why we’re The Most Interesting Podcast In The World. We don’t always go there, but when we do, we make abortion jokes.


      • Gab #



        • Gab #

          (Also, lol, for reals)


  6. LeighH #

    Do hipsters really exist? I saw someone on a flight once wearing Buddy Holly glasses without lenses – but that’s just some bizarre fashion trend, not really all that different from bellbottom jeans or parachute pants. Are there really people in Williamsburg or Silver Lake who live their lives free from sincerity? Or is that just a trait ascribed to cliqueish young people by older outsiders?

    As an example, I’m thinking about the website stuffwhitepeoplelike.com, which is funny, because it describes a series of well-known tropes and stereotypes. But really, it doesn’t describe anyone, because nobody is really like that. When I think of a so-called ‘hipster’, or someone “living with irony”, I think of the imaginary person that Christian Lander writes about on that site, not an actual real person.

    Also, I’d like to point out that even though David Foster Wallace and Wes Anderson may deal in “meta-self-referentiality”, they are using it to communicate sincerity and vulnerability. The Life Aquatic, for example, features many moments in which Bill Murray’s character has to be totally honest about who he is and what he feels, even if it hurts other people’s feelings or irrevocably damages his relationships. The rest of the film is just a vehicle designed to deliver us to those moments. So the film may operate ironically, but it’s not doing so in order to safegaurd against a real interaction or a genunine expression of humanity.


  7. Redem #

    The New York times bit remind me of why I came to dislike L’actualité (Québec equivalent to Newsweek or Time magazine) cause they spoke of thing like a month before everyone else so you kept hearing the same thing you already heard before.


  8. arthur johnston #

    Once again the podcast is my muse. For song written around 200 years after his birth it requires very little rewriting

    He was mad, bad and dangerous to know
    but wrote a poem called Beppo
    It’s the manic high, then manic low
    It’s a loving press, that becomes your foe
    Isn’t it Byronic, don’t you think

    It’s like being poor and royalty
    It’s being a gimp and called pretty
    It’s writing Don Juan and charged with sodomy
    Who would have thought it figures

    Mr. Play With Naifs was full of pride
    He fought the Ottomans, thought that’s how he’d die
    He waited his whole damn life to help the losing side
    And as the fever spiked he thougt
    “Well, isn’t this nice.”
    And isn’t it Byronic, don’t you think


    Well, life has a funny way of sneaking up on you
    When you think everything’s okay and everything’s going right
    And life has a funny way of helping you out when
    You think everything’s gone wrong and everything blows up
    In your face

    Trafficing with Lamb whey want a Leigh
    A no-swimming sign on your seaside holidy
    It’s like 10,000 girls when you’re feeling gay
    It’s meeting the woman of my dreams
    And her meeting my beautiful wife
    And isn’t it Byronic, don’t you think
    A little too Byronic, and yeah I really do think


    Well, life has a funny way of sneaking up on you
    And life has a funny way of helping you out
    Helping you out.


  9. Cody R #

    The article “How to live Ironically” when scrutinized points out that Christy Wampole’s generation hates itself both for the content that it is currently producing, and anger at itself for the bland cultural happenings in main stream media created by her generation.

    It seems like the antagonist in the these “hipsters” are the run off of the terrible pop culture. But this is really a simplification of the pop industry. Let’s take music for example- we’ll use Justin Bieber, as the article chose to have shirts of him in the first image.

    So, what’s going on here (in the articles opinion) is this simple cause and effect 1- justin beiber makes music that college age people shouldn’t like 2- people buy merchandise to wear it as a way to show disdain.
    This is the strawman which the model attacks- nothing good is being produced by this generation but said generation pretends to enjoy it.

    However, this presumption is very far from the process. Justin bieber isn’t working alone, he has older people who help him write songs, older people who sell the songs, even older people running PR campaign. The generation responsible for the production, marketing and distribution of this pop culture is more likely to include Christy Wampole than any of the people she writes about in her article.

    I think the sentiment that Christy Wampole is trying to convey (but can’t because she doesn’t understand) is a self-hatred from a generation who has figured out how to sell bad art. However, this hatred is chanelled at the face of the music and the consumers (the generation she writes about) instead of the press, producers and finacers of such (the generation she is in).

    Consider this; if there wasn’t this sense of malaise, and the sense of “pop culture is bad”, she would’t have had such a successfull/popular article. She is part of the industry that profits off of this just as much as the store selling the Beeber T-shirts in adult sizes.

    While this seems harsh, it is in itself ironic that a huge media outlet so influential in pop culture would complain about the blandness of current pop culture. So even if the author of the article has disdain the way things are, this article could have been about the best new art/thoughts/events but they decided it was in their best interests to print this one. They are just as guilty of perpetuating the sense of malaise.


  10. cat #

    “You have these warring impulses. The one being propriety and the other being passion. One being aspiration and the other being nostalgia. I am in the grip of all of these impulses. They are pulling me in separate directions. I recognize that they drive me to conflicting ends and I’m expressing them all to you at once in the form of this song.”

    Someone set that to music and get prepared for another hit single. ;)


    • Gab #

      What precisely is “the hipster question” that she thinks is unanswered, though? I think there are myriad questions about hipsters, irony, and earnestness, sure, but not a The Hipster Question- picking one, regardless of what a person cares to think about the most, will ultimately just lead to a slew of other questions.

      Unless, of course, she means it in the metonymic sense, and “the” is meant to represent an entire body of questions. Then yeah, sure, totes on board.

      Here’s a question (or, well, as with my above point, a few related ones). She demonstrates the sort of self-defensive, No, I’m Not a Hipster attitude of a lot of people that others would indeed consider hipsters. Why the denial? And with that, how come I’ve heard that if you call yourself a hipster, it is practically an automatic negation of your hipsterism? So, is she denying it openly because she privately wants to be a hipster? Or is she denying it because she genuinely thinks she isn’t?

      You should design outfits for her band, Cat.


      • cat #

        I have no idea. I haven’t read the original article or the one I linked to. I prefer to come to these discussions pure and disinterested. Also, I have a ton of work I need to do for the end of the semester.


        • Gab #

          Alas, me too (about the workload).


  11. Fred #

    “I thought ‘Cherry Pie’ was about pastry!” Thanks for the best laugh I’ve had all day. Well, so far. I haven’t finished listening to this episode yet. I thought you made the point that no matter how “ironic” we might think we have become (no matter how you define it), “All this has happened before, and will happen again.” It’s a new expression of the natural defenses we put up to entertain ourselves even as we keep a distance from each other, whether it is beneficial or not.


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