Monday, November 19, 2012

Urban Irony: yech

There is a very interesting piece over the weekend in the NYT blog about contemporary irony as a generational style and it aligns with so much that I've thought about in the past few years. I am struck particularly when I am in Mile End or parts of the Plateau: the girls with oversized 80s eyeglasses, the men with handlebar moustaches, odd posters on the wall (like the one below that I Tweeted about a couple of weekends ago: Lionel Richie on the wall at Flocon Espresso), high-waisted mom jeans on 18 year olds. Francophone young people seem less enamoured with this tendency than Anglophone young people do but the NYT writer captures perfectly an analysis of how it might have come about and why it's potentially damaging or if that's an overstatement, so pointless and banal.

Hello, is it me you're looking for?
What irks me about the whole urban irony thing is the sense that sincerity is almost subversive. Everything is one step removed from intention. Do the people who run Flocon really like 1980s Lionel Richie? Or is this a pose, an affectation? What would a poster of some funky cool new band on the wall communicate? Sincerity, so it's something you'd never see.

I think about when I was in my 20s, the kind of music and style I abhorred was anything that parents would have liked (now, of course, I appreciate Carole King and Neil Young and early 70s film) but now it's like certain allusions to the past allow young people to communicate that they are somehow capable of knowing everything that is cool now (which was how we measured how cool someone older was when I was in my 20s: if he knew Depeche Mode and the Violent Femmes and Erasure, then he was OK; if not, then he was old), not only are they aware of contemporary music and film and style, they know about everything that came prior particularly my generation's icons though it's always people who were terribly "uncool" in the 1980s: Lionel Richie (when I was young, this was middle-aged people's music), Barry Manilow (ditto: my grandmother adored Barry Manilow), etc.

This kind of ironic style isn't that new but the ubiquity of it is: in Montreal, in New York, in Portland, many cities where I have spent time recently, all have young people who look identical. I suppose that's been true for a while but I have to say that going to a new city where there is a unique kind of style is so refreshing. And it happens so infrequently...

It's odd that irony only relates to pop culture or fashion. This demonstrates the shallowness of the tendency: never do you see young people clutching paperback copies of Danielle Steele ironically.  Why aren't hipsters ever ironic about Billie Holliday or Coltrane or Henry James or Thomas Hardy? I guess that's too far away...? It's the contemporary link that contains all the resonance...? And it would require too much thought and analysis? I don't know but the piece linked above is certainly thought-provoking...


  1. Were you here in Montreal, a few years ago when Koodo was launching its services for the first time? They were targeting the demographic you write here about and their ads were terribly "uncool", as you wrote, but they seemed to be working.

    Here is one of their ads on youtube:

    As for all the Instagram pictures, in a moment of fed up, I wrote this on my blog:

  2. Haha, I used to have a friend who worked for Telus and I would complain endlessly about those Koodo ads. His attitude was that I wasn't their targeted demographic so too bad! (Not that I expected anything different, haha).