Last August I attended a live reenactment of Total Recall (the classic 1990 version, natch, not the remake). It was a deliberately shambolic affair, a loosely-focused variety show run by Everything Is Terrible and Odds N’ Ends, involving puppets, videos, intentionally bad acting, and dancing. It was, I suppose, what some would call “hip” or “ironic.”
At one point we watched a reedited version of one Total Recall‘s many chase scenes—the infamous escalator shootout where Arnold uses a bystander as a shield—now set to Drowning Pool’s “Bodies.” (You can watch the video here.) Which is about as cliched as it gets, but it totally works as comedy.
Part of what makes the video funny is that the Everything Is Terrible folks have upped the intensity of the Drowning Pool song: “Let the bodies hit the floor, let the bodies hit the floor … Oh, wait, they’re totally stepping on that dead guy’s squishy body—ick.” Here we must pause responsibly to acknowledge that Drowning Pool frontman David Williams has always stated that the song is not actually about “the violence thing,” but rather the “respect and code” of the mosh pit, or some such other bullshit. That hasn’t stopped Hollywood folk from using the song in numerous action movie trailers. Nor has it deterred legions of Drowning Pool fans from making their own YouTube versions.
In other words, the Everything Is Terrible video’s ironic effect depends on the pairing being a cliché. Like a lot of satirical and ironic art, it proceeds by imitating an otherwise naïve or sincere effect, then subverting it. (This is why “irony vs. sincerity” is often an unhelpful binary when thinking about phenomena like hipster irony or the New Sincerity; those scenes or movements aren’t strict artistic opposites, since they necessarily share a lot of their aesthetic maneuvers. Where they differ usually lies more in their degree of self-effacement, and in their authorial intention.)
Hipster irony is commonly perceived purely as dismissal: “You’re just making fun of Drowning Pool.” And there’s certainly truth in that—fuck Drowning Pool! But is that all there is? Because the EIT video, I think, and the entire Totally Recalled show, could be perceived as something more. Those behind the show, and those in attendance, I’d argue, were actually trying to appreciate “Bodies”—but in the only way they now can. Irony, in other words, allows hipster audiences to make use of material that would otherwise be off-limits to them.
It won’t surprise you that I want to turn here to Viktor Shklovsky, because he identified a concept that I think might help us. It is his concept of deterioration:
If it’s one thing hipsters hate, it’s being called a hipster. A couple weeks ago, I met this very nice hipster guy who told me a great story about how he was accused of being a hipster, and he was totally pissed, told the guy who called him a hipster that not all white guys who have tattoos are hipsters, which is true. However, a white guy with tattoos who wears vintage clothes who is vegan who rides a fixie, well, nope, the shoe doesn’t fit.
But the truth of it is that I’m guilty of calling people hipsters out of jealousy. I mean, I don’t have the style to be a hipster, nor do I have the money or general sensibility. My taste in music is about five years late, and that’s a generous estimation. I mean, I rarely intend to say the word in a derogatory way. It’s a compliment undercut with jealousy, which makes it sound like an insult, sure, but I’m not fooled.
Yesterday, Reynard started a conversation about the word hoodrat, which is funny in its own way, because the stated definition of hoodrat seemed to imply that a hoodrat is just a hipster of another color, maybe a specific geographic location based on socioeconomics.
September 3rd, 2010 / 1:26 pm
I’m tired of hipsters saying they hate hipsters. Every time I read some rant on how hipsters suck I realize I’m reading it in a journal or website written by and for hipsters. Self-hating narcissistic hipsters somehow think they are immune to the vague and broad fallacies of hipsterdom. What deepens this ingrown pathology and paranoia is that self-denying hipsters often subconsciously enjoy being called hipsters, because in some weird way it’s a compliment. This is not a defense of hipsterdom, but an afriendly suggestion that maybe we’re all in the same goddamn pond.
Hipsterdom’s got something do to with an impenetrable irony which results in shallowness, affectedness, smugness, etc. — but aren’t those just judgment calls, like things people have been calling other people forever? Jane Austen and Evelyn Waugh’s been calling out people like that for ages. Hipsterdom may be a new word, but pettiness is timeless.