Wherein I Happen Upon a Cult of Personality Fit for the American Hipster and am Scared

2 Mar

[Edit] I make no money from this website.  If you are here to deride me for not liking what this podcaster is about please try to keep your comments civil, and they will be posted.

My heart jumps as I write this — for know that I have crested the hill and come upon the cynical equivalent of Shambhala.

I have not thought of myself in this light for some time.  But I think, far from being hateful, the cynic must emerge to lay down some lines of lambast where it is strongly deserved.

I assure you I strive, especially these days as I have taken to investigating Buddhism, to be nice.  But thankfully Buddhism allows for ass-kicking where it is needed, both verbal and physical.  I don’t know if this is one of those ass-kickings — I don’t want to be so confrontational as this man’s fans.  But it is certainly designed to shed light on this dark corner of the internet wherein lurks something most disturbing.

Preface

At the risk of sounding self-aggrandizing I consider myself to be apart from a social group.  I certainly do not look it, though, I admit.  Left and right it is assumed I am a stoner or a hipster.  I don’t take offense to either because, normally, I get along fine with either group.  Most stoners are agreeable, open-minded folk.  And, uh, hipsters have introduced me to a lot of good music.

One thing I have never been confused for, is a politically active young person.  I have never to my knowledge been mistaken for a film student.  I am, in the fashion of some portion of videogame enthusiasts, just some guy who loves videogames.  I try my best to ascribe to nothing, take nothing for granted, hear both sides of a conversation.  The man who acts like a college student is not a man I’d like to talk to.  He plays pretend to contribute intellectually while he seeks some self-confirmation.  I have always done my best not to belong to that group, or any other.

Because belonging scares me.  It scares the shit out of me, it does.  Nationalism scares me, unquestioning faith in religion scares me, pride — even deserved –scares me.  The empty-headed defense of what is associated with the ego — what has been allowed to help define a personality and identity — terrifies me.  It promotes a narrow-minded and defensive point of view.

The Business

This morning Penny Arcade delivered a comic about a man whom I know nothing about.  Knew nothing about.  This man is Jesse Thorn.  He tells me that he is “America’s Radio Sweetheart” I have read his blog, watched his videos, and listened to his podcasts in the hopes of drawing a profile.

This guy is a big fucking deal.  This guy has his own convention.  This guy runs a radio show/podcast which is, I guess, just for people in their twenties who enjoy film and MAXIMUM FUN.  It is, I suppose, for those who would ascribe to the cultural maxim he pushes — “New Sincerity”.  I am at this point highly skeptical.

The Penny Arcade comic that led me into this rabbit hole seems to be confirmed.  This Jesse Thorn has, after some bot picked up mention of his name on Twitter, retweeted my comment “Hey Jesse Thorn — you are the embodiment of all that I hate and loathe in this world. Thanks.”

What followed was a short stream of tweets from people that I hate and loathe, ranging from the polite but creepy “think you’ve got the wrong idea about @youngamerican. He’s really a great interviewer, an awesome podcaster, and a rad guy.” to the scary and creepy “why the hate? Is it because Jesse is likable and funny? Is it because he works so hard? Or are you just a mean-spirited asshole?”

Wait — What?

This is apparently a joke.  It is still weird.

Yeah.  So.  I simply said, into the empty void of the internet which I throw my thoughts regularly, that this guy is nobody.  Let me explain.

What I loathe is a happy man.  A happy man who, when I shoot spitballs at him, turns and smiles.  He waves and calls me friend.  I have met people like Jesse Thorn, and he is apparently a figurehead for these sort of people in “Young America”.  I am stereotyping, of course — how else does one voice his opinion other than truthfully with his own bias.

I have a problem with this sort of man.  I do not have a problem with Jesse Thorn.  I don’t know — and don’t care — who this guy really is.  But I despise his persona, which is not new to me.  He prescribes — as some sort of authority — a cultural perspective to American twenty-somethings that promotes the sincere, unabated love of all things for what they are.  When this man wears a flannel jacket he does so not because of the irony associated with wearing a lumberjack pattern as a lanky young white hipster, he does so because he fucking loves flannel.  With the intellectual equivalent of a cheesy shit-eating grin he asks that his followers have no taste, that they consume without judging and appreciate for the sake that appreciation is nice.

I hate what this man represents in order simply to represent the stance that his ideas are stupid, and should not be followed.  Because they are stupid.  I am trying to be a bit absurdist and entertaining here, so excuse my use of the word stupid — replace it if you like with “nothing new and profoundly un-profound”.  I would proudly stand amongst the individuals who look at this confident “radio personality” with a knack for writing in uncomfortable and straight highschool-english, and I would proudly shout him down — especially because so many daft young people think he’s the cat’s asshole.

His podcast itself seems normal enough.  He speaks in a careful radio voice with a professor’s vocabulary and proceeds to ask his guests how awesome their stuff is.  Fine.  Whatever.  Keep doing that.

The Cult

In this video Jesse un-ironically investigates the exciting world of designer-fucking-denim-jeans.

I guess the real question is, at what point does some niche NPR-like young hipster cult of personality surrounding a balding public radio host who steeps his image with a method for absorbing media become not just oddball and totally fucking batshit wacky?  I suppose it was the moment that Penny Arcade found this guy, and others, upon learning more about it, are equally creeped out.

This is either me being a jerk or these are the very pangs of sanity.

Excuse me now, for the wild plaid-coated masses that are Jesse Thorn’s entourage slam their fists up against my Twitter feed.  I go now to fend off madness, and mad hipsters.


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14 Responses to “Wherein I Happen Upon a Cult of Personality Fit for the American Hipster and am Scared”

  1. dukerayburn March 2, 2010 at 6:16 am #

    Cult of personality, eh? You refer to the six people that have responded to your Twitter account with regards to your attack as “masses,” and you wrote a thousand word article in defense of a couple of web-comic mass media moguls who certainly don’t need you defending them.

    Get some perspective.

    • nickhalme March 2, 2010 at 8:05 am #

      @Bawb I wasn’t aware that irony was so invasive a tenant of our culture that Jesse Thorn was required to act as the prophet of the absence of irony and act like he’s doing something.

      What this is, is hipsters changing their mode of hipness. Irony is out. MAXIMUM FUN is in — for this bunch, anyways. This offends my senses, which is why on my personal areas of the web I proclaimed, to nobody in particular, how I feel. I have been sought out and yelled at (which I’m used to, so no hard feelings) by this fun bunch of narrow-minded hipsters.

      While I appreciate your strawman attacks on my person as a supporter of Mr. Thorn, my job at Relic is very fulfilling as dev support for the highest rated studio in Vancouver — I’m quite proud to be one of the tight knit group of very professional internal testers.

      Jerry and Mike are far from my heroes, but they are the voice of reason in our community. They have merely pointed out another mutant oddity and, like discovering a forum for keytar enthusiasts, I have looked on and commented. Jesse Thorn is a pretentious dude, and the followers that have responded to me have done so as high school bullies.

      @dukerayburn

      I didn’t know there was anything to defend, I think Mike and Jerry described their weird encounter and that’s all.

      I’m not sure what sort of research and statistics you would expect, but I draw my claim based on his Stephen Colbert-like persona (which he displays on all his sites), his Youtube followers, number of Twitter followers, etc. He also runs a convention which some pretty big nerd-circle names attend. He seems to have enough followers to request they help him get on more radio networks (which is fine, I’m not saying this guy is evil incarnate — I’m saying he acts in a way that offends my brain).

      The continual stern and flamebait responses from the Fun Bunch implying I am an idiot for actively disliking everything this man stands for leads me to believe that a serious figure he is not — a man with many college students following him, he is that.

      • Rand May 1, 2010 at 7:55 pm #

        I think eventually you’ll look back on this blog entry in embarrassment. I had a blog full of these types of entries (well, maybe full is an overstatement), and I found myself cringing when I went back and read them. I just deleted the whole thing.

  2. Bawb March 2, 2010 at 7:15 am #

    He just loves things without cynicism. Jesse Thorn isn’t trying to invade on anybody’s space, he’s just saying “here’s this interview I did with Andrew WK, who makes awesome rock music that is awesome and doesn’t need to be seen ironically.” Hipsters love things purely out of irony, but this is the exact opposite. How can you be a hipster if you legitimately love the things you define your personal and professional life by?

    And because you’re going to respond to this with spite, the way you responded to everything everybody else wrote you, regardless of tone, I’ll just wish you luck in your testing job. Hope it rocks your fucking socks tomorrow. Hope it’s as fulfilling as a day spent pressing the space bar to make sure that everything inputs properly can be (this is an example of actual, dictionary-definition irony. The kind you don’t understand).

    Enjoy your mis-guided attempts at following whatever your heroes attack. Enjoy listening to BMSR, the epitome of all hipster psych-folk.

  3. wasd March 2, 2010 at 11:26 am #

    if having a (at least partially) kind of weird, vocal, creepy, obsessive fanbase is grounds for a LOOK AT THIS CULT OF PERSONALITY blog post, when can we expect the follow-up articles about every other popular thing on the internet?

    it’s the internet circle of life. nerds feel that person/thing they like has been unfairly wronged, and start vigorously defending it. seeing that happen and taking the opportunity to go “person/thing represents everything i hate and loathe” is going to get a response. if you had said “conan o’brien is an unfunny dickhead” a couple of months ago, you’d have gotten a lot of responses. if you were to say tomorrow “maybe now modern warfare 3 ca be good”, you’d get a lot of responses. you haven’t stumbled upon a scary hive mind, you’ve had a contrary opinion on the internet. it should be even less surprising considering the thing that got people pissed at gabe and tycho was attacking a guy personally because g&t were pissed over some logistical crap that was out of his control, and you took it as inspiration to [drum roll] attack the guy personally.

  4. wasd March 2, 2010 at 11:33 am #

    my previous post had more to it but it got cut off for some reason and replaced with stuff i had deleted, so here’s more words about this thing that’s super-important:

    and you’re suprised when people get upset when you jump from “this guy wears a bow tie” to “THIS GUY EMBODIES EVERYTHING ABOUT THE ENEMY IN THE CULTURE WAR IN MY HEAD”?

    for whatever it’s worth, my opinion on the matter is that the penny arcade comic and news post was petty and obnoxious but basically harmless. i can’t make a call on this post about what jesse thorn stands for (my complete jesse thorn exposure is reading about this pseudo-feud today and listening to a sound of young america where he interviewed the mst3k/cinematic titanic guys. the only thing i remember about that show is that it exists and i heard it), except to say that you can’t call other people bullies when you just said a guy embodies everything you loathe and called the people that like him daft, that, for someone who dislikes college pseudo-intellectuallism so much, the writing in your preface would make 19-year-old me proud, and to re-emphasize that jesse thorn fans are no more scary than any group of internet fans of anything at all, and that you were getting any polite reactions means they’re probably a lot less scary.

  5. Chaz March 2, 2010 at 1:43 pm #

    I think there might be a connection between the fact that you loathe a happy man and that you work with video games.

    • nickhalme March 2, 2010 at 4:49 pm #

      You have missed my point. I don’t want this guy to stop doing anything he’s doing. I have simply expressed my feelings that this guy is a happy-go-lucky tool posing as a new intellectual.

      @Chaz

      Please. I work at my dream company after years of chasing it.

      I loathe the happy man because he has nothing to be happy about, yet is happy. He abuses happiness with his stupidity — or his appearance of stupidity.

      @wasd

      I have, privately, held that everything this man represents is stupid. This man, intelligent and nice as he is, posted said remark on his twitter feed so his fans could see. You make a good point, but I have done nothing inflammatory in saying to myself “I hate this person’s work and ideals.” Now I dislike his fans too, especially since they seem to have a pretty low opinion of people working in the videogame industry.

  6. Typical PA Fanboy March 2, 2010 at 7:33 pm #

    Just stumbled upon this blog from the whole Penny Arcade controversy, and will soon enough stumble out again.

    For the most part I agree with you about Jesse Thorn. There is something the matter with an unconditionally open-minded, unconditionally happy, man. There is something the matter with believing — too much, anyway — in constructs like ‘fashion’, ‘style’, and ‘taste’.

    Going out of one’s way to talk about pop culture with perfect strangers is the mark of the insecure and the boring. It casts a broad net — yes, most of us watched Nickelodeon as kids; yes, I am familiar with ninjas, zombies, and pirates; yes, Steve Buscemi is an American film actor; yes, many people enjoy the music of Queen — and allows people who otherwise would have nothing to say to still say nothing while seeming to find commonalities.

    As far as this ‘New Sincerity’ goes:

    There is something disingenuous about filtering everything through rose-colored glass until it’s all alright. Haven’t we seen this same optimism 40 years ago, in the hippie movement, where everything was just, like, groovy, man? Haven’t we been seeing this same optimism in the art world, where, for the occasional charlatan, shitting on a canvas has replaced hard work and Renaissance mastery?

    Some things are shit, and should be called as such. In fact, if Theodore Sturgeon was right, 90% of everything is shit.

    There is something creepy as hell about Jesse Thorn. You are not alone in this belief. I think Mike and Jerry have social problems, there can be no doubt about that. I probably have similar ones. Maybe you do too. But I’ll take honest opinions and social tactlessness over this Orwellian ‘New Sincerity’.

    [Anyway, I *really* hope Jesse Thorn releases the podcast, because it’s probably pretty damn funny, and also, it would be New Insincere of him not to do so.]

  7. Shawn March 3, 2010 at 4:38 am #

    I don’t LOATHE New Sincerity, but I think it’s pointless as a concept. Why does someone feel a need to politicize the act of enjoying something? Why does having appreciation for a thing need to be a stance? It’s ironically disliking irony.

  8. rjtrick March 3, 2010 at 7:01 am #

    Hey man,
    I’d suggest taking another look at Jesse’s New Sincerity manifesto. (It’s a little less rambling and easier to read on wikipedia under “new sincerity.”) I’d like to take his example of Evel Knievel and apply it to Jesse. speaking of Evel, “But by the same token, he isn’t to be taken ironically, either. The fact of the matter is that Evel [Jesse] is, in a word, awesome.”
    Clearly I am biased. Jesse genuinely loves doing what he does, being who he is, and making the kind of cultural contribution that he can, similar to those who earnestly work to make video games as, dare I say it, AWESOME as they can be. He does not run JJGo and TSOYA ironically, just as Evel Knievel does not jump busses and canyons ironically. And, if you, or anyone else, does not find Jesse and New Sincerity awesome, or thinks Evel Knievel is lame, then so be it. But come on man, don’t hate.
    That is the point of New Sincerity — do whatever you think is awesome, whatever makes you happy, and do it earnestly, with passion, and do it with no regrets. I think that New Sincerity really attacks cynicism more than irony. And it is this feeling of encouragement, of love for live and that which is (subjectively) awesome, that has drawn people to him and given him the fans base which, it seems, you are now hearing from. So, at the least, if one disagrees with what is awesome, it is worth respecting another’s honest and sincere efforts to be their kind of awesome.
    I can understand how Typical PA Fanboy could see it as being akin to the hippie movement, or as blind opitimism. The difference, though, is that New Sincerity isn’t a social movement to change the world; I don’t think it’s an effort to make things better for everyone. It is really an effort to encourage people to create, to do what drives them, not necessarily to make a difference in the world.
    All that said, it’s not for everyone. And I completely understand where you’re coming from in your loathing of hipsters-for-hipsters sake. I live in Seattle (just visited your fair city for the Olympics actually), and we have our share of annoying, tight pants-wearing, PBR-drinking, Vonnegut-reading, ethos manifesto-espousing, never-worked-a-hard-day-in-their-life fake hipsters down here. I walk among them on my way to and from school. I care not for them. They are not awesome for awesome’s sake; they are who they are because it’s the current fad, because they want to be liked and want to fit in. They’ll all give up their Vespas and be wearing cowboy hats and carrying lariats if that become the next cool thing. Ug.
    I think you tried to attack Jesse for what you thought he stands for, and I think you thought he was a good example of hipsters who are trying to change or hide who they are. That didn’t quite work; the point didn’t come across very clearly, and that’s too bad.
    Nick, I’d just say, BE MORE AWESOME at whatever you want. We all ought to be more awesome.

    • rjtrick March 3, 2010 at 7:01 am #

      Didn’t realize it was that long. Sorry for the rant.

  9. Sasha May 5, 2010 at 3:49 am #

    What a complete waste of time. Fuck off if you don’t like the man’s shows, he didn’t go after you.

  10. nickhalme May 13, 2010 at 8:15 am #

    @Sasha This implies that he’s not free game, on the internet. And it implies that there is something to go after, and that you feel it’s best left alone. Nah. This post is impolite slander, but it’s also a style of cultural derision that I’ve been wanting to go at since I started reading Hunter S. Thompson.

    Most of you make good points. End of day this is where I write things, and when I read and listened to this guy, I had to write this. This is what I think of this guy. This is what I wrote about him on my website. I’m glad I did, and it has helped thicken my skin to derision directed toward myself, which I received a good deal of here and on twitter. And I deserved it — or at the very least should have expected it. Writing about games doesn’t get people slinging their deep-set opinions at you and telling you to stand down; I’m excited that this sort of rant can elicit that. It;s not the best piece of writing, but it’s a step in that direction.

    Since, I’ve come across a good academic accounting of subculture, and when I’m done reading that I’ll probably write something a bit less slanted. But for what it’s worth: I enjoyed this.

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