Ironic Brewing

Lindsay Beyerstein

Hipsters embracing irony? The New York Times is on it. Christy Wampole accuses hipsters of living diminished lives because we’re* too chickenshit to really care about anything:

The hipster haunts every city street and university town. Manifesting a nostalgia for times he never lived himself, this contemporary urban harlequin appropriates outmoded fashions (the mustache, the tiny shorts), mechanisms (fixed-gear bicycles, portable record players) and hobbies (home brewing, playing trombone).

Wampole, an academic in her mid-thirties, is sick of her disengaged peers and their silly t‑shirts. She wonders how anyone can live nonironically nowadays:

Where can we find other examples of nonironic living? What does it look like? Nonironic models include very young children, elderly people, deeply religious people, people with severe mental or physical disabilities, people who have suffered, and those from economically or politically challenged places where seriousness is the governing state of mind. My friend Robert Pogue Harrison put it this way in a recent conversation: Wherever the real imposes itself, it tends to dissipate the fogs of irony.”

She’s missing the evidence in front of her. Hipster” hobbies are not ironic. Disco night at the bowling alley is ironic. Banana daquiris before Planet of the Apes is ironic. But brewing beer, baking bread, marching in a brass band, knitting, and container gardening are not.

Hobbyists genuinely enjoy these activities and strive to perfect their chosen crafts. When they get together with other enthusiasts, shared passions form a basis for human connection. Whether it’s a warm scarf, a cold draft, or a fragrant heirloom tomato, half the fun of these hobbies is sharing the fruits of your labor.

Hipsterism has morphed into permission to persue quirky passions unapologetically.

Urban bee keeping is catching on in my neighborhood, but nobody keeps bees ironically. Bees have a very poor sense of irony.

How does one brew beer ironically? Is the brewer like, Ha, ha, stupid yeast!”? The hipster brewer may delight in coming up with clever names for her brews but that doesn’t mean she’s making fun of brewing or beer drinking.

When my friends John and James got married in rural Vermont, some home brewer friends presented them with batches of homemade beer with labels that referenced the special bond between John and James of the Bible. Biblical beer for a gay wedding is all kinds of ironic. The gift was funny, but it was heartfelt, and delicious. 

*People don’t usually admit to being hipsters, but I can’t fight it. My partner runs an 18-piece big band and totes a suitcase bar to parties. I start my Thanksgiving baking a week early to fit it all in. We live in Brooklyn. Case closed.

Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The Nation, Ms. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times’ City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (http://​www​.hill​man​foun​da​tion​.org/​h​i​l​l​m​a​nblog), a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.
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