Friday, February 08, 2013

What's Ironic About That?

A few months ago, the woman behind the counter at a grocery store asked me if I was wearing a nametag for any particular reason, or just to be ironic.

“Actually, I always wear it,” I smiled. “Makes people friendlier.”

She shrugged and handed me my receipt.

And on the walk home, I thought to myself, “Ironic? Why would wearing a nametag be ironic? And if so, does that make me a hipster?”

Confused, I did some research. And I came across a fascinating article from The New York Times that mapped out the cultural and psychological meaning of hispterism, once and for all:

“If irony is the ethos of our age, then the hipster is our archetype of ironic living. The hipster is a scholar of social forms, a student of cool. He tries to negotiate the age-old problem of individuality, not with concepts, but with material things. His irony is the most self-defensive mode, as it allows him to dodge responsibility for his choices, aesthetic and otherwise. To live ironically is to hide in public.”

So the more I thought about it, the more I realized, wearing a nametag is the exact opposite of being a hipster.

It’s not cool, it’s vulnerable. It allows me to be affected by the word around me. By standing out, I risk being rejected. It’s not hiding, it’s transparent. There’s no backstage. Instead, the nametag creates a social construct that enables accountability through attribution. It’s not nostalgic, it’s mindful. The nametag keeps me present. Instead of trudging along in a diminished state of awareness, it snaps me into the magic of the moment.

It’s not posturing, it’s personal. On a micro level, it builds social capital. The nametag teaches me the art of conversation, the joy of listening and the power of interaction. It’s not sarcastic, it’s earnest. The nametag is a simple, sincere expression. It’s a statement about what’s meaningful to me, and declares it without suppression. It’s not referential, it’s direct. I’m not pointing to anything other than the nametag. Not even Seinfeld. There’s no explanation behind it. I just love wearing it.

What’s ironic about that?