The cachet of clever

It seems unfair to scorn a hipster for merely wanting to be loved

It’s so easy, being mean...
  • It’s so easy, being mean...


Usually, I feel like YouTube gets me pretty well, recommends the right videos and whatnot, but every now and again I see some unsolicited, random video about things I don’t care about. The other day, YouTube suggested I watch a video about “The 10 MOST BORING STATES in AMERICA,” and I have no idea why. It’s not as if watch listicle videos. Anyways, I watched the video out of idle curiosity (I sent you a link so you can watch it too), and it wasn’t very good. It was basically some random internet hipster making fun of Iowa and Maine. I didn’t care about it, but it made me wonder, why are hipsters so mean all the damn time?

— Terry

I hear this more frequently than you might expect, and, I’m sorry to say, there’s a modicum of truth to it.

This is all because hipsters — and I count myself in this measure — like to think they’re clever. Among hipsters, cleverness carries enormous social cachet. Clever hipsters will more likely impress fellow hipsters, perhaps and especially even attractive fellow hipsters with whom the clever hipster relishes the possibility of sexy times on the distant horizon. Swipe right only if you have a sense of humor!

So, how does this lead to meanness? Being mean is a halfway decent substitute for being clever. When people laugh at a funny joke, a witty comment, or even a well executed pratfall (intentional or otherwise), they get this great feeling of camaraderie. Barbs, putdowns, lambastings, cutting remarks, digs, burns, jabs, and mockery make people laugh too, because they get the satisfaction of being “in on the joke,” usually with a group of other people. It produces a semblance of the same camaraderie, but in the long run it’s more like negotiating an uneasy truce with peers along the lines of “we won’t laugh at each other, because we are busy laughing at this other thing.” Thus, being mean is like an easy way of being funny without having to go to all the trouble of developing a real sense of humor.

Astute readers may have noticed that I am seldom mean. Sure, I can be glib, I daresay even “arch” when the mood strikes me, but I avoid kicking helpless targets in the metaphorical shins for no good reason whatsoever, so far as I am able. I get away with being nice because I’m actually clever, or at least I have convinced myself of my own cleverness to such a breathtakingly delusional degree that I believe I hear other people’s adoring laughter buried in the silences that follow in the wake of my unfunny jokes. Honestly, either option works for me, because both let me revel in the smug self-satisfaction of the self-proclaimed comedian.

Unfortunately, not everybody can be clever like me — or you, person reading this, as I’m sure you’re terribly clever, perhaps even more clever than I am. And in a world where appearing clever may be your best and only bet for the admiration of your peers, these less-than-hilarious citizens of hipster nation can’t rely on their wits to make people laugh, so they resort to the next best thing, being mean.

In closing, I would urge you not to hate the mean hipster. Pity him? Yes. Tolerate him? Perhaps. But it seems unfair to scorn a hipster for merely wanting to be loved.

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