In an effort to combat the ridiculousness and insincerity that abounds on the first day of April, I have taken to celebrating this day by sharing an epic rant from Dave Eggers, founder of McSweeney’s and one of my favorite authors. Originally published in the Harvard Advocate back in 2000, it is an email transcript of an interview-gone-wrong that morphs into a sprawling monologue directed at Eggers’s 20-year-old self about the pitfalls of hyper-authenticity and the perils of “keeping it real.” The prose is profane and incisive and flows with the momentum that marks the Pulitzer Finalist’s best work. Having lived the life of the hipster absolutist, Eggers is well aware of the appeal of that mindset, sharing an anecdote where he empathizes with an acquaintance who had dismissed The Flaming Lips for appearing in an episode of Beverly Hills 90210 (this really happened):
“Oh how gloriously comforting, to be able to write someone off. Thus, in the overcrowded pantheon of alternarock bands, at a certain juncture, it became necessary for a certain brand of person to write off The Flaming Lips, despite the fact that everyone knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that their music was superb and groundbreaking and real. We could write them off because they shared a few minutes with Jason Priestley and that terrifying Tori Spelling person. Or we could write them off because too many magazines have talked about them. Or because it looked like the bassist was wearing too much gel in his hair.”
And it is comforting to be able to do that. To take something you had paid attention to, maybe even cherished for a time, and ignore it? It’s the real-world equivalent of mark all as read, a moment of trepidation followed by a wave of relief. Because it’s hard to like a thing if you are constantly compelled to justify your fandom.
I Come to Bury Irony, Not to Praise It
Jesse Thorn is a podcaster, blogger, proprietor of Maximum Fun, and the flag-bearer for unironic appreciation of things that are awesome. His groundbreaking piece A Manifesto for The New Sincerity puts into plain language the thread that runs through all of the Max Fun shows, most notably Bullseye (then titled The Sound of Young America). Distilled to its essence, it is the idea that it is impossible to enjoy something ironically. Or as Austin Kleon put it so eloquently, No More Guilty Pleasures.
Thorn and Kleon are not alone in this. While the continuing evolution of social media has made it easier than ever to find a community around even the most specific interests, it has also made it easy to identify, harass and denigrate those community members. This is untenable and we should all take it upon ourselves to be mindful of the impulse to ridicule others based on their likes. And yes, that means you might end up having to accept bronies as A Thing, but if you don’t speak up when they come for the bronies, who will speak when they come for you?
It’s Not Me, It’s You
In the olden days, if you wanted to be cool you had to worry that you had the right shoes, the right haircut, the right jacket, the right speed metal band logo on your Trapper Keeper. Today, all those signifiers are on the internet where they will remain for anyone to see forever. If you want to be cool, you can fill your life with anxiety over how your tastes will be perceived or shut out the entire world and remain a cipher, unknowable to those outside your real-world social circle. Or you could just give up on trying to be cool and focus on treating those around you with dignity and respect.