An Age Beyond Authenticity: The secret lies of hipsters

–noun, plural -nies.
When, through any means, a stated meaning differs, or particularly is opposite, from an intended meaning. - New World Dictionary. J.L. Bathurst. 2004.

Montreal, the birthplace of hipsters1, is drowning in irony – no one even knows what it means anymore. Like a self-referential spiral, irony has created a cultural milieu where the actual meaning of the world is impossible to discern. Immersed in it, we have lost touch.

Example: I'm outside this bar smoking, my iPod in one ear. There's a group of people next to me, and I can't help but overhear them. One girl is doing most of the talking. She’s wearing a Gary Glitter tee-shirt and bright yellow pants, and she's pretty hot. Stunning actually. Blond. Gorgeous. Leather jacket. Think Patricia Arquette in True Romance.

The group of guys around her are in rapture. They're all “actively listening”, throwing in little "yeahs" and "rights" whenever there’s a pause in her monologue, and she’s saying something like:
"Of course, since Duchamp, art doesn't have to be beautiful, or even good. It just is.” She pauses and slyly smiles before adding, “Right? I mean, MC Hammer is as necessary as Brian Jungen..."
She drags on a cigarette, slowly exhaling, letting the smoke drift out of her open mouth. There’s a little chorus of affirmation from the boys.
“I love ThunderCats, right? I can say that. Cause they’re hilarious. But who honestly loves anything anymore? I mean, apart from Lil Wayne. Everyone loves Lil Wayne.”
"Art doesn't have to subsume itself to your expectations anymore... It doesn’t exist for you. Duchamp killed aesthetics, and content’s been passé since the dandies...”
She smiles again. Another drag. Another chorus.
"Of course, no one knows that. I mean, there are still people who try to make music that’s,” she raises her fingers to make air quotes, “‘good.’ I have no idea why..."
“Quality is boring,” she says, “and so is beauty... Mediocrity is the avant-garde...”
She ruffles in her purse and pulls out her phone, spends a minute listening then hangs up. “That was Chance. She’s up the street. Let’s go.”
As she leads them away, I hear her say, “You guys want to go to Aids Wolf on Saturday?” One guy asks her who Aids Wolf are and she replies, “Don’t worry, babe, they’re hilarious.”

If she were still alive, art critic and literary theorist Susan Sontag might have something to say about the monologue above. Her 1961 piece of writing “Notes on Camp” articulated for the first time the basic approaches and sensibilities of pop art, the obvious precursor to the hipster irony of the new millennium.
Writing on camp, she points out that the two main pioneering forces of the modern sensibility are Jewish scholarship and “homosexual aestheticism and irony”. Homosexuals, historically underrepresented, developed a playful relationship with a culture that had little regard for content in favour of style. In doing so, they were able to incorporate themselves in a culture that wanted nothing to do with them.

As a result, irony created a text that only the culturally initiated could read. “Notes on Camp” is dedicated to Oscar Wilde for a reason – look up gay slang at the turn of the last century and you’ll find that The Importance of Being Earnest is literally a coded script that only gays at the time could decipher. Earnest meant gay.

The ironic is still a coded text. Understand it and you’re in. Take the girl I described, slyly smiling while denying most of the conclusions of art and aesthetics in the 20th century. The guys she was with didn’t know whether to laugh or argue – but they laughed anyway, eager to be in on the ironic subtext to the whole conversation.

And while this originally served the purpose of strengthening the intra-communal identity of culturally repressed homosexuals, among mostly white, predominantly middle class hipsters it seems to have little purpose at all. “Indie” music and its ironic cultural milieu have become the prime cultural gift of the first decade of the new millennium, so no one’s excluded from anything, except from the actual nature of a joke that everyone’s pretending to get. Think of those boys traipsing off to see Aids Wolf even though they had no idea whether they would like it nor not.

This article is more of the same: it’s written for people who already know Duchamp and Brian Jungen. And if you don’t know Aids Wolf, how can you tell if she really liked them, or more importantly, if I do? (I decided to include it for a reason). No one’s “in on it” any more – in an age beyond authenticity, everybody’s out.

Cole Robertson

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